“Recently, I’ve talked to a lot of white people who are exhausted by current events. Imagine being a person of color talking about KKK every day.” – Abby D. Phillip
What happened in Charlottesville – from the Tiki-torch wielding throng to the gathering on Saturday of white supremacists, neo-nazis, anti-semitists – is appalling. It is pure evil. We must condemn such violent hatred.
As Maya Angelou often noted, hate has caused many problems but it has never solved one.
However, the violent display of hate last weekend was nothing new in American history. Our country has never truly functioned as if “all men are created equal”. From the beginning of colonization, white people in this country have profited from the abuse of those deemed less-human. What happened over the weekend was the natural, demonic result of centuries of systemic racism.
If it’s hard for you to believe that this is “my America”, it’s because denial protects the privileged and the comfortable. And that attitude – the one of “this is not my America” – is one of privilege. It is privilege that allows us to make excuses for hate that is aimed at someone else. Fellow white people, if you do not want this to be our America, what are you doing to change it? Because it won’t get better if the privileged people of society continue to live in denial. The radical hatred is dangerous; so is silence.
Nelson Mandela said that no one comes into this world hating another person; hatred is a learned behavior. Abuse is a learned behavior.
I believe that all forms of abuse can be combated through the education of the next generation. That means parents need to start the conversations. And start them early.
If hate is a learned behavior then defeating it has to start in the home.
Mandela also said that, when determined, people can overcome anything.
For white parents who want to do something about systemic racism, Caroline Bologna recommends, among other things, using children’s books: “read them books with main characters who are different from them. Normalize diversity at every opportunity”. This was my mother’s go-to method. It’s not necessarily easy: as a testimony to white supremacy, most main-stream media features white people as the central characters. But as Mum filled my childhood hours with reading, she regularly, purposefully chose books that would normalize diversity rather than my rural, white-people-only environment. She favored historical children’s books, in particular, like Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, Knots on a Counting Rope, and Pink and Say.
About her decision to begin combating systemic racism in our lives through children’s books, Mum has said, “I wanted you to grow up knowing that everyone was just as valuable as you, no matter what they looked like or what they believed or where they came from. I was determined to raise kids who weren’t bigots like my father.”
Just as you can begin teaching consent during toddler-hood, you can combat the message of white supremacy from a very early age. And you ought to. White parents, please: talk to your children about racism. Talk to them about – and celebrate – diversity. Talk to them about white privilege. Study out the truths of history and talk to them about it: colonization and genocide, forced relocation and slavery. Do it in age-appropriate ways but do it. Do not whitewash history if you want the future to look different.
No more complacency. No more excuses. No more of the “Racism is bad but…” BS. Let your kids see you actively combating racism. They’re watching you to know how to treat others.
And for the love of diversity and equality, listen to POC as you do so! What can we possibly say that POC have not been saying for years and years?
“White parents need to seek understanding from writers, artists and scholars of color who are trying to tell the world how racism continues to operate. If white parents are only getting their news and ideas from white people, they will not be able to help their children fight against racism effectively. White parents should tell stories, share events and offer insight to their children that comes from the experiences of people of color” (Bologna).
“In a racist society it is not enough to be non-racist. We must be anti-racist.”
Whether you’re a parent or not, I highly recommend reading Caroline Bologna’s article White Supremacists Still Exist. Here’s What White Parents Can Do About It. She gives 15 practical ways to raise kids to stand up for equality and justice. She also includes resources for white parents, including a list of children’s books.
To my fellow advocates, activists and feminists who are also white: let’s not fall into the trap of making what happened in Charlottesville about us. It’s not about us.
My advice to you: speak out against hate but please, as you do so, amplify the voices of people who understand systemic racism the best: those it targets. Amplify the voices of people of color. When we talk over them, we perpetuate the problem.
Don’t take my word for it. Check out Danielle C. Belton’s piece from The Root, entitled Maybe Now Isn’t the Time, Guys.
Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images