A Call for Understanding
With the recent events in Charlottesville, I've been reading a lot of articles on helping students process the violence. Parents and teachers alike have been urged to allow time and space for kids to ask questions. Adults influential in a child's life are encouraged to affirm the need for understanding and try to explain - in age-appropriate ways - what is happening.
I applaud the effort to affirm and educate. Helping kids dissect these events in a way that promotes tolerance will certainly positively affect future relations between races with the goal of stamping out racism altogether.
But it does make me wonder...
Before you read on, let me just preface this all by saying I'm thinking aloud, trying to make sense of all this mess for myself, and trying to honestly evaluate my part (and place) in all of it.
So what I wonder is this...how do I, as a white middle-class woman, living in a very white, very middle class town, share about the injustice of racism and the absolute, unquestionable need to be actively involved in eradicating it from culture? What do I know of racism? I've never experienced it personally; I've never known anyone I would consider a bosom friend who has experienced it. I do not live in an area where I am regularly confronted with the consequences of racism, and my life is not really impacted by racism in any way, shape, or form.
What I want to get across in this post is to challenge each of you - whatever your background or experience - to become students of race. Learn all you can in order to impart the information to your students or children. I'm in full support of teaching kids tolerance, but I'm becoming even more supportive of sharing the historical truth to children (again, in an age-appropriate way). Knowing why and how racist sentiments begin arms kids with the tools to identify an stand against them. Exposing the socially-accepted polices that keep certain races in a perpetual state of powerlessness brings awareness to institutional racism.
This summer, I've read two books the completely changed my outlook and understanding of race in America. The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson chronicles the movement of African-Americans out of the South during the Great Migration. Through detailing the lives of three individuals, Wilkerson illustrates how segregation in urban areas (and white flight) spread as blacks came north seeking employment, places to live, and hoping for equality. For me, this book was incredibly revelatory. Seeing the ways in which southern blacks suffered the same injustice north of the Mason-Dixon erased the misconception I had of a racially-blind North. As I read through the book, I felt I better understood the pent-up frustration that helped to fuel the Civil Rights movement.
After reading, I want to humbly suggest reading Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow. This books is the single most important book to read when considering race
relations today. Through meticulous research, Alexander unveils the calculated manipulation of punishment for drug offenses to successfully incarcerate unproportionally large groups of black men. The consequence of this is a modern-day way for those in power (white people) to maintain control and authority over an entire segment of the population. Reading this book was a hard pill to swallow. I wanted to believe this all just happened by accident. I wanted to believe that our government justly punished those who deserved to pay for crimes. But the fact is, the evidence does not support that naive view. Read this and better understand why black parents have to teach their children how to "properly" act in the event of a traffic stop.
For sure, plan on spending time at the beginning of this school year talking through the difficult work facing our nation - the work of repairing race relations and righting centuries of wrong. But take some time to do the difficult intellectual and emotional work of educating yourself on the history leading up to these chaotic, dysfunctional times. Then share it. Share it so that racism will someday too become a thing of the past.