So, the recent events that unfolded in our nation’s Capital brought Americans directly in front of their mirrors-PAST meeting PRESENT, to reflect on who this country is, and what we stand for. Are we the democracy that we are so proud to tell ourselves and everyone else? What do we tell our children is America?
COVID-19, for months now, has forced everyone to stay at home. As a result also, this pandemic has presented many learning opportunities-“teachable moments” –for children and adults alike. We were rendered captive audiences, forced to watch television, for entertainment and for news. The nightly news, where ratings had continued to decrease, all of a sudden caught everyone’s attention. George Floyd, BLM, and then came- the ‘Insurrection’. Adults watched. Children watched. Families watched together. America in action. Those who didn’t watch right away, heard talk of the events at the Capitol Building, and were compelled to see for themselves. What a revelation!
What was thought to be impossible, exaggerations and complete lies about the actions alleged to have been taken by our police men and women and our elected and appointed officials, was played out in front of our eyes. There was no denying its truth. What was equally as shocking to watch was the heinous acts committed by our citizens themselves-and they were also white Americans.
Tough enough for black parents regarding necessary conversations to have with their children, was to warn and prepare them for the potential, and highly probable interactions with law enforcement- the protocol, rules of engagement and the consequences. These discussions had become a ‘regular’ aspect of parenting. It was an unfortunate routine out of daily concern for their children’s safety; not about any criminal acts that their child may or may not have committed. It was about the assumptions of guilt held by police and the narratives that law enforcement held as justification for disregarding their rights. Seen as threats, not cautioning children against committing criminal acts, parents had to teach them how to act, what to do and what not to do in their presence.
You see, there has always been a double standard, two separate sets of rules and race-based experiences in American society. What was permissible behaviors and attitudes for whites, was impermissible for blacks. Everyone understood that, and children grew up learning that as a fact of life as a black person in this country. Whites could exercise freedom of speech, and expect the presumption of innocence first. Whites could engage in conversations with authority figures without seeming ‘uppity’ or ‘sass-mouthing’. That was tolerated and accommodated.
Ask questions? If a black person dare question whites or law enforcement specifically, it was seen as defiance, an act of violence of sorts against them. After all of these years, there was still a ‘place’ for black folk. Worse than that, children were taught to understand that they had to stay in their place around whites, or anything belonging to or associated with white people.
Protests? With the knowledge that there was always a separate set of rules to abide by, their collective and unified voices of dissatisfaction are almost always peaceful, non-violent and definitely not destructive. Black people, when in protest mode, fight for total equality, equity and access- as no different from all others. The fight is never to destroy the democratic process or property, but rather to insist that we uphold its tenets in practice.Thus, discussions about the Capital and the ‘insurrection’ impacts black families much differently than it affects whites.
When we explain to ourselves or our children that which played out on television, it is not as life-shattering an issue for black parents. It rests upon the non families of color, to do the explaining and make sense of what they and their children saw on TV. Their messages are different and less confusing, mainly because by the time they become parents, they already understand America better than America understands itself.
In other words, blacks look at those images and tell themselves that it is confirmation that there is a double standard. They tell their children that these are acts that they could never imagine themselves doing and getting away with it or imagine surviving. For black people, it was evidence of that contradictory American standard practices.
They can say to themselves and their children, with certainty that this would never be allowed to happen at all had they been black. The National Guard, Local police and even the Marines would have been at the gates, steps with full riot gear. Rubber and real bullets would fly and people would lose their lives, be beaten and/or arrested, long before they made their way to the top step.
They tell themselves ‘see, that’s white people!” That is not their concern, because theirs is deeper and more basic than that. Many black families are certainly saying to one another, “Thank goodness they weren’t black people involved here.” That is the extent to which they must explain the way people terrorized the very foundational pillars of government.
So, the many articles that are written and conversations that center around ways to explain that scene to children, it is a white conversation. What happened at that federal building, proved confusing and difficult to speak about, because what was shown was not black people in action. They were people who looked like themselves and their children. Whites teach and tell themselves to expect raw mob violence from black people. It is what the media reinforces. This latest scene dictated that it is this group who must explain to their children.
These people weren’t the Klan, wearing white robes, and they weren’t seeing Middle Eastern or indigenous folks either. They saw themselves and it was shocking. Certainly none of them thought that they would ever live to see such acts committed by the people for whom this country was structured and intended to benefit.
Explanations? I can’t lie and tell you that I know what you should say to your children. What I do know with certainty is that it is time to reflect on your values, your core issues and concerns about this democracy. As flawed as we may be, this is certainly among the best governments designed for white people. Its documents suggest all people, but somehow white people, still reaping the benefits of this government, are apparently feeling threatened, fearful and incredibly angry and destructive.
What has to be explained to children is why there is so much anger, fear and why things like this can happen when they are the actors- perpetrating such violence. Explanations must center around how fear can become anger and rage and then violence; pure lawlessness.
Why was the law rendered helpless? That is never seen in real life, on TV and truly not what we lead children to believe ever happens. The ‘good guys’ did nothing. They allowed themselves to be overrun, overpowered and made to look either inept or complacent, and otherwise nonexistent in that situation.
Try to explain, first to yourselves, to make sure that it makes sense and that you can answer these questions honestly. Ask those very basic questions and try to come up with answers that are the real true answers. Children can no longer stomach lies that we have been telling ourselves and them for generations now. This generation has their own sources of information, and they can compare notes, easily.
Be honest. If you don’t have any answers, begin by reading the various accounts of what happened. Look for information that contradicts your belief, and explore them all. Your jobs are made more complex if you believe that children aren’t going to go online and look for their own answers. They will hear from other people.
As the saying goes-“keep it real”. This may be one of the most important discussions to hold with your children. What you tell them needs to be well thought out. As much as we know about children’s brain development, we should know that they know, fundamentally, when we aren’t being forthcoming. They may just ignore you. You will have to tell your children about white privilege, and identify its roots as being white supremacy. What you have to tell them is that both of these are fallacies, myths, and reasons to be lazy and get automatic rewards and allows one to be rewarded absent merit, hard work, but by melanin content alone.
You will have to engage in the examination of all that Confederacy means, and what it has meant in this country. Above all else, explanations to children will certainly center on and connect to racist ideologies. Explain how they connect. Explain that racism became a prevalent perspective that influenced practices, including laws. You may even have to show evidence of where and how these laws were written. Finally, you may be called to connect the past with the present, as they are still so clearly inter-related.
Don’t let them tune you out now. There will come a time when children will need you to tell them the truth, and are counting on it from you. Disappoint them and you may just set a terrible precedence, from which you may never recover, as parents to whom your children look for guidance. The truth is always best, but you must be open to that truth first. All conversations are that much easier when you are sure of the truths and also recognize the tendency for people to embrace their own manufactured truths.
Children need to know why those people did what they did. Although no one can say with absolute certainty, there is a root cause and factors that influenced them as well. American parents, white parents, it is this latest incident that will force everyone to reflect. Reflect? The incident at the Capitol Building just presented another opportunity for us all to get things right. We can now begin the process of either, being strong enough to stand up for what’s right versus what’s not. Or we can pretend that we don’t know what happened or why or where the initial seedling came from. It wasn’t President Trump, although he had a big hand in these events. It is deeper rooted than he alone; he just tapped into it as it had been cleverly hidden to the masses.
Will you tell your children the same old stories? Will you tell children or each other that this was a sad look at American hatred? Did this arise out of love for this country or a hatred for the ‘other’ in this country? That hatred is an outward symptom of an inward fear. How do you feel about these issues?
How do you wish your children to feel, grow to believe about themselves? Do you wish them to feel ‘entitled’ or ‘competent’? Competent implies a sense of self-esteem, confidence in one’s own ability and worth by deeds. Entitled implies a feeling that one is owed something just because. Rather, because they put in the work, met the competition unafraid and fully prepared, certain that they are qualified, with the strength of character to accept the possibility that someone else may be more qualified and prevail. A fair fight throughout life. Is it helpful that it is skin color that determines what one can do or where one can go in life?
Decide to take in some harsh truths about who we are as human beings, American citizens and as parents and teachers of the next generation. Do we wish this for their future, too? Remember that the future you may want to see for your children may not be the world in which they wish to live. This is an opportunity for America to take the ‘blinders’ off to face some harsh truths and show our youngest people that we are better, stronger, more informed and educated than our past.
If we recognize a problem, we have to openly admit that there is a problem. This is a problem for America, and not a novel one. Don’t ‘whitewash’ it. Also, remember that, if anyone is even the least bit proud of their actions on that day, there would be no national efforts to identify and apprehend these folk. They would speak out and stand proud of their participation. To me, it sends a message that there is deeply felt shame for what was done. Tell the truth-shame the Devil! Your children will respect your honesty.
This latest stain on history was an event that also serves as an opportunity to commit to growth and positive change. Show who you really are, the values you hold dear and demonstrate that, above all else, you are willing to uphold every one of the values you teach and sometimes preach to your children, with consistency. In the end, it remains a personal decision. What and how did you tell your children?