01/14/2014 12:05 pm ET Updated Mar 15, 2014

Martin Luther King and Gingerbread Dreams

I'm passing out paper gingerbread people for the first graders to decorate. There are eight different shades of skin tone -- from light taupe to dark brown -- and I fan them out like a color wheel for kids to choose from. I remember when I was a kid there was just one: pink.

Chloe is describing a character on her favorite show who's African-American. "The black girl?" I ask. "No," she says, confused. "The one with the curly hair." I realize at this moment that she has no label for ethnicity. That when I said "black" to describe a person she thought I was nuts. I ask her, "The one whose skin is tanner than yours?" "Yes," she says.

Her friend Sam describes people by the color of their clothes. For example, "the blue guy," if someone is wearing a blue shirt. I think it's probably because at some point somebody said "the black guy" and he looked at the guy wearing a black shirt and thought that's what they were talking about. Because of course the guy's skin is not black, but his shirt is.

Martin Luther King once said, "I have a dream that... children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

Can that still be just a dream? We are all just different shades of gingerbread. Our children have not been taught yet to label. I hope they resist for a long, long time.