Being a parent means constantly improvising. Every day, new challenges are put before us and we are forced to react. Life is full of that kind of thing anyway, but with little kids, there is the added pressure of having to at least appear that you are steady, confident and know what you’re talking about.
This is hard enough to accomplish on any given day. Countless are the instances I’ve had to explain to the kids why they can’t eat only chips or why it’s important to floss, when the reality is that I would absolutely love to subsist on chips and dip and strongly feel that flossing sucks.
But the last few months have presented so many challenges unique to my time as a parent. How do you explain a scary pandemic in terms that communicate both the severity of the threat, while also delivering the reassurance that children need? How do we tell our kids that people are dying and this is serious enough to account for the fact that we can’t go to the children’s museum without filling their minds with images of fear, pestilence and death?
We’ve spent months trying to navigate COVID, while also trying to balance our own fears and concerns. And now, George Floyd.
Our kids are young and aren’t plugged into the news or daily events. They aren’t seeing this roll out in real time. Regular readers see that my kids are playing, expanding their imaginations and being children.
But we can’t and shouldn’t shield them from this, because this is a reality that is much, much bigger than any of us. We can’t teach them about the ideals humanity strives for without talking to them about the gut wrenching failures we experience on the path.
And failed we have. In so many ways. I struggle because I have spent most of my life wanting to believe in the inherent goodness of humanity. But it is impossible to deny that there are strong forces of injustice always blowing the face of progress. But we can’t let those forces prevail. We need to acknowledge the poison of racism and to do something about it. All of us.
Sadly, what happened in Minneapolis is not a new story. And that’s exactly the problem. It has happened so many times before, and it should not ever happen again. This has to change, and there are many facets to that. One part is truly accept as a society that there is a problem and start taking steps to do something about it. Another piece is for each one of us to do our part to advocate and to fight institutional and societal racism. And yet another piece is for we parents to educate our kids. It isn’t enough for them to simply learn to treat everyone equally. They also need to understand that not everyone shares that view, and that we all have to advocate together for true equality to ever happen.
Erin and I have spent a lot of time discussing how to approach it. How do we teach our kids about this? How can we stare down something this ugly while instilling in them the will and faith to make a better world for the future?
Thinking about that also means taking a hard look at myself. I’m a middle aged white guy who has had it reasonably easy, so I know I’m the last person anyone needs to hear from right now. It is my job to listen, learn and advocate the best that I can. Part of that for me personally is acknowledging my own failures.
The biggest epiphany I’ve had so far is so embarrassingly simple, I am ashamed to write it. It is simply that just not being racist myself is not enough. And the hard truth is that is probably the fallacy I’ve operated under for a long time.
Yes, treating people fairly and equally is great and clearly an important step. But that just isn’t enough. Because that means not stopping to understand the challenges that people of color go through every day at the hands of those who don’t take that very basic first step. It also means not standing up and advocating when the moment calls.
And here is where I know I have failed. I have been in conversations and meetings and interactions where people made racist comments and I let them stand because I didn’t want to get into an argument. I am a generally non-confrontational person, so I allowed myself to think it was OK to just walk away because I didn’t want to rock the boat.
It’s not OK. And that is something I really need to work on.
Notice I’m not offering any advice or answers here, because I openly admit I do not have any. It is my feeling that we all have a lot to learn in order to best hear each other and begin some process of healing. Erin ordered some books for us and for the kids last night. We want to learn and understand. It’s not the responsibity of people of color to guide us. We need to take the initiative to learn and do what we can to help.
I realize this will of course fall into the usual groove of becoming a political issue in this country. Because everything does. Climate change, health, gun safety and even COVID-19 have all been used to deepen political divisions, and I’m sure law enforcement reform and addressing institutional racism will too.
But here’s the thing, it should not be that way. This should not be an issue that divides us. It should bring us together. This is a basic issue of human decency and respect. I don’t care who you vote for or what you believe, we should all be able to agree to basic fairness and to the fact that no one should have to fear for their or their childrens’ lives on a daily basis.
We are better than this. We have to be better than this. There is a heartbreaking video making the rounds on social media that shows three generations of African-American men at a protest, expressing their frustration about having to keep coming back to this place over and over again. A man in his thirties, nearly in tears, pleads passionately with a younger man in his teens, saying that it’s up to his generation to find a better way, because the way we’ve been doing it isn’t working.
He’s right…the way it has been is not working. But it should not be up to the younger generations to save us. We need to do better than that. So please, learn, listen and reflect. And talk to your kids. Be honest. We are starting the conversation. It’s difficult and clumsy, but we all need to do it. I don’t claim to have many answers yet, but I sure want to find them. I hope you’ll join Erin and me on that journey.
All of our kids’ deserve a much better world than this. I know they are superheroes, but we shouldn’t rely on them to save the day. We need to put on our capes, too.