My wife and I couldn't possibly have been more shocked when we heard those words come out of our 4-year-old son's mouth last night. After assuring him that this simply wasn't true, we asked him where he heard this. The answer he gave was even more shocking: from us! When pressed to explain, he reminded us of our recent trip to the Polar Caves here in New Hampshire. One of the caves we went through had a varied past. Not only had it been used by smugglers as a hideout during prohibition, it was also used as a stop on the underground railroad for folks who were helping slaves escape to Canada. This was the first time we had explained slavery (or smuggling) to the kids (yep, right there in the cave), and obviously it was a concept they had trouble grasping (thank goodness!). Apparently, my son had confused things and thought that the slaves WERE the smugglers... AND, well, he assumed that because these smugglers were doing one thing that was illegal, they were probably thieves as well.
We set him straight, and he's good to go now, but man... wouldn't it have been horrible if we hadn't nipped this in the bud, and the kid had developed the foundation for a life-long prejudice based on our comments?