My two-year-old’s passion for consciousness-raising
In a conversation about stereotypes and children’s books, a colleague (at the school where I teach Spanish to kindergarten and first-grade) mentioned that the song “Baa Baa Black Sheep” contained references to slavery in the United States: “Yes sir, yes sir three bags full” and “One for my master…”
I accepted this communication as fact, until a bit of research turned up that the connection to slavery is questionable. It seems the “master” referenced in the song is actually the King of England in the year 1245. Though this certainly relates to our worldwide history of enslaving others, it is not a reference to slavery in the United States.
At the time of the following conversation, however, I was taking my colleague’s information as fact. That day, I came home to my daughter singing:
“Baa Baa Black Sheep, have you any wool?”
“You know,” I told her, “a friend just told me about the history of the song Baa Baa Black Sheep—part of the song is talking about the history of slavery in the United States (Note: See above regarding questionable reference to slavery in the United States). Slavery was when people with Black skin were slaves. That means people with White skin owned them and they didn’t have any rights or freedoms. And because of this history, people with Black skin are still treated unfairly. So I don’t like the history behind this song.”
My daughter listened intently and responded: “Grandma likes the song though. And so do I.”
“Well,” I replied, “I like the music of the song but some of the words make me sad and mad. How about if we are going to sing it, we also tell people about the history behind it? Maybe Grandma doesn’t know the history behind the song. Should we tell her?”
“Yes!” she said emphatically. “And also Grandpa and Uncle D, and Papi.”
We proceeded to make phone calls to various family members about (what I then believed was) the history behind “Baa Baa Black Sheep.” For weeks, my daughter asked me to re-tell this story, to her and to others in our life/who might not know it. One of her teachers at preschool even reported that another child had requested to sing “Baa Baa Black Sheep” and my daughter shared “Mommy doesn’t like that song.”
Even our smallest children have the ability and desire to raise consciousness in others.
Click here to read a related post about the song “Ten Little Indians” by Jennifer Harvey.
Sachi Feris is a blogger at Raising Race Conscious Children, an online a resource to support adults who are trying to talk about race with young children. Sachi also co-facilitates interactive workshops/webinars and small group workshop series on how to talk about race with young children. Sachi currently teaches Spanish to Kindergarten and 1st grade at an independent school in Brooklyn. Sachi identifies as White and is a mother to a three-year-old daughter and newborn son.