Today is way back Wednesday and, my oh my, how that phrase truly resonates these days. Senseless killings, police brutality, protests, riots, looting, division, and full out chaos are all around us. At times I cannot tell if this is my actual reality, or a scene from one of the stories I would often hear my late grandfather recall about living in the South during the Jim Crow Era and Civil Rights Movement.
It is all too much. I am saddened, exhausted, and mad.
When it comes to my husband, sadness fills my heart thinking of how he could easily be one of the unfortunate black people whose name is now attached to a hashtag tied to injustice. Then, when I think of that fate as a possibility for my babies, I get mad. You see, the reality is this: while safe sleep practices, car seat safety, vaccinations, or even the Coronavirus can cause me worry at times, none of these can compare to the anguish of raising black sons in America these days.
I can remember so vividly being pregnant with my first child. At that time, you could not turn on the television or open your phone without seeing the horrifying events unfolding in Charlottesville, Virginia. That national outrage had local effects that spilled over into my personal life. My husband’s job would require him to travel around the state. Oftentimes, he was required to go to towns decorated with confederate flags and full of people who made it pretty obvious he was not welcomed there. He was typically sent out alone and would sometimes be unable to answer his phone.
Have you ever listened to your husband run down a checklist of everything he had in his possession to prove his identity, without a shadow of doubt, in the event he was pulled over? Has he ever shared his location with you in case there was an issue of him not returning home from one of those said places? Have you ever told him to hurry home before it gets dark out of fear that he might get stuck somewhere he was unwelcomed and maybe even harmed?
Has he ever been assigned a white partner to accompany him so that he would be better received in those kinds of areas? Neither of us could believe all that had to be done in this day and age, and it made us question even more the kind of world we were bringing a child into. Now, here we are with not just one, but two little black boys, and the uncertainty and disbelief still remain.
Over the past week or so, there has been what some consider an awakening in America. Regardless of where you stand on current events, I think we can all agree that we have come to a boiling point. The elephant in the room — racism — has officially been identified and now we are taking steps as a nation to address it. I have seen so many of my peers, who do not look like me, ask what they can do to help with our country’s current state. Protesting, signing petitions, or social media solidarity might not be your cup of tea, but there are indeed efforts you can take to do your part.
A good starting point is to simply speak up and speak out. Never be silent.
Now, this is twofold. First and foremost, call racism out immediately. This is extremely important in your family unit, as you will likely have the most impact there, but also crucial to do in your community. It does not matter if it is your grandfather who makes a snide remark or your coworker who does something inappropriate; do not let it fester; immediately make it known. Explain to them why what was said or done is inappropriate and promote kindness. Even if your advice falls on seemingly deaf ears, maybe something you said will cause them to reevaluate their ways and spark a change in them. Or, if nothing more, you have now forced them to alter their behavior around you because they know you will not allow it.
Secondly, speak to your children and be their example. They are most certainly watching, listening, and learning. My oldest son currently attends a preschool where he is the only child of color in his class. None of the children in the classroom, including my son, have realized any differences yet. However, there will come a day when they will. The tone you set in your home right now will linger on, having lasting effects on how they view others. It will be the difference between love and hate. Choose love.
Something else you can do is educate and expose your children.
The history of our country may not be pretty, but it is ours to own and must be shared. This is vital, as knowledge of our past explains our present and helps shape our future. And what better time to do this than now? Summertime is upon us so consider including some different stops this year on your family vacations. Just an hour and a half’s drive to Atlanta, Georgia lands you at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, as well as the King Center. Then a drive down to Memphis leads to the National Civil Rights Museum. If you are heading to the beaches of Alabama for a getaway, be sure to check out the Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham, the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery while you are in the area. I have visited each of these places and highly recommend them. Though some content can be heavy, it is presented in an interactive way that engages young minds and enlightens seasoned ones.
Then, with the pandemic closing schools for half of the spring semester, summer reading is more important than ever this year. Here is another opportunity to touch on the sensitive subject matter of our nation currently. If you have teenagers, the #1 New York Times Bestseller, The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas or Dear Martin by Nic Stone, are great choices to initiate dialogue between you and them. If your kiddos are a bit younger, All the Colors We Are by Katie Kissinger, is a great read to open their eyes and minds to racial differences. For us mamas with the tiniest of littles, we are not exempt. The Skin You Live in by Michael Tyler is an age appropriate guide to introducing them to the concepts of diversity and more importantly, acceptance.
Once children have been exposed, educated, and have seen the adults in their lives lead by example, naturally empathy will follow.
They might not have firsthand experiences with racial disparities, but they can learn to show compassion and support for those who do. Making sure your children are exposed to people of various races and ethnic backgrounds can help here. This is something my husband and I are very cognizant of in all regards, but today we are focusing on race relations. We will not teach our children to not see color. We will teach them to see the differences, learn to understand, and most importantly, respect and value them. I implore you to do the same because a colorblind world is not realistic, but a world of people who have mastered acceptance, could be.
Finally, when it comes to our children, we must etch into our minds this renowned Chinese Proverb, “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.”
When we have talked all the talks and acquired all the knowledge, let us ensure we involve them in the action. If you are a frontlines person who wants to show your support by making signs and peacefully protesting, encourage your kids to tap into their artistic side and then accompany you. If you would rather write a letter to your local government voicing your concerns, let your child write one, too. If you choose to sign petitions, also let your child. If they are too young to sign, just let them go through the motions to feel a part. Or, if you would simply rather watch the news to ensure your children are in the know, be sure to help them process the information and share their truth as well. Remember though, in order for these measures to happen, you, mama, must be participating yourself.