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  • Sam Darling

A post about my kids but also science and society

[The almost-11 stops her drawing and comes over to me to ask a question.]

Mom, can I ask you something?

Sure I saw a thing on a a computer and there was a word that the boys told me it was bad when I said it out loud. They were all, whoooa.

What was the word?

Promise you won’t get mad.

Don’t be silly. It’s words.

It was N-G or N-I or something.

Ohhhhh, I know what word that is.


This requires some explanation if you want to understand it.


Okay. So. You know how brown-skinned people in some places like North America get told they’re not as good as pink-skinned people and how some people believe they’re not as good, right?


You remember how that’s because there was a time people with power wanted to keep slavery around even though it was wrong. So they said to everyone, these brown-skinned people are more like cows anyway, they’re not as good as real people, and they said that just so they could treat them like property, right?

Right. So stupid.

I know. But anyway, back then, there was this word people used — lots of words, actually — that we don’t use anymore, like saying they were colored or that word you saw on the computer, which is spelled N—–, by the way. But if you use that word now it’s like telling a brown-skinned person you want them to be a slave or you think they’re not as good as a pink-skinned person because you’re using the old words. It’s like saying you want to go back to the old ways when society thought they weren’t as good.

Oh, okay.

Here’s where it gets complicated though. That word is called a slur word and there are lots of them. Slur words exist for any group of people that someone thinks is inferior to them, not as good, not as worthy.


Right. So but, like, you know if you call your friend a female dog, the b-word, but you’re using it like a joke, like, you’re such a stupid B, I hate you, but you’re laughing and it’s a joke? Don’t worry, I know you’ll say that sometimes.

Yeah. *laughs*

That’s okay, right? You’re laughing, right? But now what if a boy or a teacher called you the b-word?

Whoa. Not okay.

Exactly. Well racial slurs are like that, too. So sometimes a brown-skinned person might write it into a song because they’re calling each other that as a way to identify their own group. So it might be okay to listen to a song with the N-word, and may be even to sing along with it by yourself in your room but yet it’s still never okay to say the word to each other. Isn’t that weird?

Yeah, the thing I read on the computer were words to a song actually.

See, that makes sense. Slurs are weird words. They change depending on context and the person saying it.

What are the other slurs?

I’m not going to tell you but you’ll hear them sometimes so just pay attention to who is saying it and why. If there’s a slur then it probably means that group of people were or are being oppressed for some reason. That means, society is keeping them down for some reason — usually because they want to use them for labor or money stuff. Use them for cheap labor.

Why did girls have those words when they weren’t even allowed to have jobs?

Well, but they were being used for labor, weren’t they? You can’t get a job for money but you do have to stay home and cook and clean and do all the housework.

Oh, yeaaaaah.

See, those words mean that a group of people were being used in some way.

It’s so stupid that they think brown-skinned people are bad.

I know, right?

All people are terrible.

Ha! You’re not wrong.

Okay. …. Thanks, mom.

No problem.

[The just-turned-5 refusing to go to sleep because of big thoughts with big pauses in between the big questions.]

Mom, I have a question.

Oh, boy. Okay.

Why is there night?

Because we’re in the shadow of the Earth with the Sun on the other side of us.

How does the Sun make light?

It’s burning with lots of big explosions. You know how a fire in the fireplace makes light and heat by burning wood? It makes light and heat by burning itself. Tiny atoms splitting and creating huge explosions. It’s pretty wild actually.

Will it burn out?

Eventually. But not for millions of years. All stars burn out eventually.

How do the trees make the air we breathe?

They absorb gas from the air, that means take it through their leaves, and they turn the things they absorb through their leaves and roots and turn it into new things inside themselves, and then they expel other gasses, sort of how we breathe out a gas called carbon dioxide? Only they breathe out oxygen. Oxygen is one gas we need that is in the air we breathe and the trees make it.

How did the trees get here? Wait. But how did people get here?

Well, first there was a planet. Then, there were plants. Then, there were trees. Then, there were flowers. But before that there were tiny life forms called bacteria, you know the little guys that we can’t see that are everywhere that some can make you sick?


Well, they can become new stuff after a long time. They can change and grow and change. The bacteria can be something new, like fish. Fish became other animals. Insects. Reptiles. Other new animals. One looked like a lizard that eventually its babies started to look more like a mouse. The little mouse one started to look like a little monkey. The monkey-looking ones lost a tail and walked around a bit and looked more like an ape. Then, the ape started walking on two legs and lost its hair. Then, it started to look more like people. Then, it started to act like people. And eventually its babies started to be people.

Are you telling me that people are monkeys with no hair?


But people make popular things like candy and emojis and posters. How do they do that if they’re monkeys?

That’s true. And actually popular things is one of the ways you know a human from an animal. We’re animals, too, but we’re more creative than other animals. That means we create things out of nothing and share it with each other. Drawings and stories and music and nice food and things like that. Like candy and posters.

Mom, I have a question.


How does the air we breathe stay on Earth. Why isn’t there air in space?

Well, okay. *sigh* So you know the planets are big and they spin, right?


Well, that spinning and size creates something called gravity. That’s the thing that pulls everything to the center of the planet, it what keeps all things from flying off into space. It’s why things falls when you drop them, they’re being pulled in by gravity. Well, so, we breathe an atmosphere. Our atmosphere stays on Earth because of gravity. But you know how when astronauts go to other places they have to wear a space suit?


Well, they do that also to give them air to breathe, right? If you went to another planet you couldn’t breathe the air there because you didn’t evolve to breathe the air there like humans evolved to breathe the air here on Earth.

*excited* Oh, that’s like (says incomprehensible name of some Pokemon).

Eerrr, yes, Pokemon evolve into new forms like how the monkey-looking animal evolved into being more like a human.

Mom, I don’t need to be an astronaut.

You don’t have to be an astronaut, honey.

I don’t need to because I’m already an astronaut. We’re flying in space on Earth and its flying in space very fast like an astronaut and its like our space suit with air we can breathe.

That’s… yep, that’s true.

Rocket ships scare me. I don’t want to be an astronaut.

That’s okay.

I want to be a Lifemaker.

Is that a Pokemon thing?

No, it’ll be my job to make life grow. Make new trees and new animals and new things on planets that don’t have them. Then, I will give them candy.

Okay, well if you’re going to be terraforming you should probably study to be a geneticist or something like that. That’s a kind of scientist that will know how to make life stuff happen.

They should call it being a Lifemaker.

You’re much better at naming things. I agree. Do you think you can sleep now?

Oh, mom. I told you. I only fall asleep when I’m bored with my thinking. I’m not bored right now.

Yeah, but I’m really tired and you can think about this stuff tomorrow. And your brain needs sleep to grow.

You go to sleep mom, it’s fine. *pats my arm* I’ll keep thinking for a while.

[And, so, dear reader, I did.]

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