• Leslie Crews

What A 3-Year-Old Taught Me About Racism

Updated: Oct 24, 2020

Image by Dirk Healy from Pixabay

I was 6 years old when I was introduced to racism.

It happened in first grade. Before my elementary school was predominantly black. Before white flight. Susie introduced me to it.

A chubby white girl with brown hair and a round face. She wasn’t the nicest kid. In fact though I can’t recall having issues with most kids my age back then, Susie made it a point to remind me that she didn’t like me.

Imagine a 6-year-old coming home to unsuspecting parents in tears because, “Susie said that Ronald Regan is sending all black people to the moon.”

I was terrified. This was what Susie said to me early on in the school year of first grade.

Ronald Regan is sending all black people to the moon.

I didn’t understand why he wanted black people to go to the moon.

Why would all black people have to go to the moon? How were we going to get there? Would I see my friends there? Would it be safe there? I didn’t want to go.

I was mortified.

My mom assured me that I had nothing to worry about and that there was no way possible for all black people to be sent to the moon. Mom’s words and affection brought me comfort, but 30 years later I’m still uncomfortable with the idea of a 6-year-old introducing me to the realization that some adult in her life must have explained that to her.

Sure, we’ve since had a few black astronomers share stories of their experiences in the firmament. And the stories are fascinating. But still. I have no business on anybody’s moon. Hard pass. No thanks.

In 2004, I worked at my undergraduate university’s on campus daycare. A place where students and staff could leave their kids in the capable hands of certified teachers and students aspiring to work in early childhood education.

Though I had no interest in being a teacher, I enjoyed working with children.

I got my first job at the age of 15 as a daycare provider at a sports complex. I’d been babysitting my younger siblings since I was 10, and I was in the psychology program. I had plenty of experience.

I was a teacher in the three-year-old class room and worked with kids from different backgrounds.

One kid, Charlie, enjoyed hiding under the lunch table. Scaring us to death because he’d randomly disappear for his own amusement. Cute kid, but the panic of losing someone’s child is something serious.

A girl named Ellie got Jelly Belly jel