I Told My 4-Year-Old the Truth About Slavery
Our ancestors lived it so our children can learn it
There will never be an easy way to introduce the painful aspects of Black history to a Black child in America. On a cold day in February, I headed to my four-year-old son’s preschool to pick him up. Unbeknownst to me, his life had changed that day. Usually, he would run to me and greet me with a huge hug and smile. This day he ran to me, trembling and sobbing. He fell into my arms, his voice barely audible as he whispered, “I’m scared of the Underground Railroad.”
Sobbing uncontrollably, he recapped what his class learned that day: a Black history lesson about U.S. slavery. They learned about slave abuse, kidnappings, and escapes through the Underground Railroad. Although my ears listened, my heart sank as I watched the innocence seep out of his little body. It saddened me to hear him so afraid of something that happened so long ago. I hugged him and told him we would talk at home.
Later that evening, I tried my best to explain slavery and the Underground Railroad. It was difficult and quite uncomfortable to squeeze centuries of hurtful events into a summary suitable for a toddler. However, I tried my best, all the while also reassuring him of his own safety today. He went on to play quietly as pain etched his little face and thought wrinkles started to form, clearly upset from everything he learned that day. That night wasn’t any better; he tossed and turned from nightmares of being kidnapped. When he awoke the next morning, he ran to my husband and whispered something I will never forget.
“Daddy,” he said, “Always make sure you have your glasses on.”
“If we ever need to escape in the Underground Railroad, you need to be able to see.”
I was sad that his seemingly perfect life, free of injustice and pain, was disrupted without warning. I was entirely unprepared to have these discussions with my little boy. I thought I had more time. Besides telling him his Black skin is beautiful, we never ventured deep into the more painful aspects of Black history. Those conversations seemed too premature for his young age. I also have a teenager, and discussing such matters with him is entirely different. I…