I am deeply saddened by the shooting of two unarmed black men that occurred in our town this week, and even more so by the fact that in the larger context the question is “how can this happen again?” I gathered with community members at Temple Beth Hatfiloh yesterday evening, and was moved by the many citizens who came forward to speak and express their feelings, their sadness, their frustration, their fear.
If this was an isolated incident, it would still be a tragedy. We would still want to talk to our children about what happened, and my heart would still go out to all involved.
But this is not an isolated incident. This fits within a pattern of systemic unfairness and racial bias that we have been talking about and seeing all around the country this year. It is not a new problem, by any means, but is a new face to the old problem of racism and discrimination in this country.
At yesterday’s forum at TBH a 6th grader stood to say she wished for a better world. A teenage boy spoke about seeing his mother cry as she held his hand and watched the news coverage on this latest shooting, and the moral example she set for him. College students spoke of their understandings of privilege and systemic racism, and their fears that nothing would change.
As Unitarian Universalists, we often quote Theodore Parker about the moral arc of the universe being long, but it bends toward justice. It’s a lovely thought, as it can be so discouraging to look at the long arc of history and see that the just world and the beloved community we dream of is still so far away from the reality we live in. But the only way that arc will bend is if we make it bend. We must be justice-makers, and we must also raise the next generation of justice-makers if the world will change.
You may be wondering how to talk to your kids about racism, violence, and the Black Lives Matter protests. Here are some tips to get you started:
1. Don’t ignore it. You may think your children are too young, or are sheltered from it all and you don’t want to expose them to it “yet”. But there are three main reasons I encourage you to talk even to your preschoolers: 1) it’s unlikely they really won’t hear or see something, and it’s better it comes from you than from another child on the playground; 2) there are families of color that have no choice but to talk about racism with their children and if those mothers must talk to their children, then those with the choice should join them in solidarity; 3) in education we talk about the “null curriculum” and that is what the students learn from what we don’t talk about or what is absent, and what do you think your children learn when you avoid a topic?
2) Don’t be colorblind about it. Yes, it is fair to call this a tragedy, and to speak about “wishing the best for everyone involved”, and it’s true that All Lives Matter. But there is a racial aspect that we must not ignore. No one is really colorblind – our children see race and difference and understand it. Be honest with your children about the reality of racism in this country.
3) Be honest about your own feelings. If you are sad, mad, afraid, or confused it is fine to show that to your children. As parents and adults in their lives we need to make them feel safe and secure and like they can rely on us to be the grown-ups in a situation, but we also need to show them that complicated feelings are normal and a grown-up can have complicated feelings and still moves forward anyway. This models for them how they can process their own complicated feelings and how they can be justice-makers without thinking they must first have all the answers or be perfect.
4) Be an “askable” parent. It’s similar to how we talk about sex or drug use with our kids, in that all difficult or sensitive conversations are not only an opportunity to talk about that subject, but are also part of the ongoing relationship you have with your children. Each time you are open to their questions or concerns, they are more likely to bring future questions or concerns to you. If you are asked a question, it’s good to ask “what have you already heard/already know”? “What do you want to know?” or even “Why are you asking?” If you bring up the topic and the kids seem indifferent or uncomfortable, you can always leave it as “I’m here to talk more if you have any questions or you want to talk about it”.
5) Talk to your kids about how to interact with law enforcement. Don’t make them overly afraid of the police, and of course emphasize that the police are there to help us when we have an emergency and that most police are good people who have chosen to serve. But, be honest that sometimes interactions with the police can be tense and that we must all be careful how we act in those situations in order to stay safe. This video has good tips for us all: Get Home Safely https://vimeo.com/116706870
Lots of resources aimed at teachers here http://sfusd.libguides.com/blacklivesmatter
5 Tips for Talking to Kids About Racism from Parenting Magazine: http://www.parenting.com/article/5-tips-for-talking-about-racism-with-kids
Talking to Our Children about Racism and Diversity from Civilrights.org: http://www.civilrights.org/publications/reports/talking_to_our_children/
14 Children’s Books Exploring Race and Racism: http://humaneeducation.org/blog/2014/06/26/14-childrens-picture-books-exploring-race-racism/
Racial Justice Resources gathered by the UUA: http://www.uua.org/multiculturalism/new-jim-crow