Discussion with My Child About Charlottesville

Usually, I don't listen to NPR when my kids are in the car. It has the potential to give rise to conversations I feel completely ill-equipped to navigate or contain details about gruesome deaths. Yesterday, I didn't turn it off when Darla got in the car. I kept it on. The program covered the white supremacist protest in Charlottesville from the perspective of a counter-protestor. She spoke of how the police did nothing but stand by while counter-protestors were attacked. 

As I listened, I wondered what everyone else with a heart wondered: if the demographic of the protestors had been different, would the protest have been as peaceful? The answer seems obvious. If it were a Black Lives Matter march, it wouldn't. Something about white men in polo shirts with tidy haircuts doesn't convey violence despite the fact that they're screaming grotesque, racist words with hate filled hearts. Their whiteness shines like an assurance that terrible things won't happen by their hands, despite the fact that white men have been involved in some of the world's most gruesome violence. 

As I thought this over, I forgot that there was a little girl in the back seat listening to the same broadcast. Her small voice chimed in from the back seat.

"Why were people hitting people?" Darla asked.

I left the radio on for a reason. I didn't want to shield her from the truth of violent, white supremacists. I wanted her to understand that there are people in the world who believe that white people are superior to all other races. I wanted her to know this and know the darkness so she can understand that such thoughts are evil. I wasn't prepared to actually answer questions about it. I was hoping the radio would do all the talking for me. I had no option but to stumble my way through a complex topic and hope I didn't make a thousand mistakes.

"There are some people who decided to protest because they don't like people who aren't white," I said ungracefully. "They're angry people who hurt other people. They're known as racists. People who aren't racists showed up and said that what the racists were doing wasn't right, so the racists hit them."

"But I thought we were supposed to love everyone," Darla said. "Shouldn't we love the racists?"

I knew that I had misspoke or she had misunderstood. The message received was that there were people we could hate and that we could hate the race of people known as racists. I was already failing as a parent raising a socially conscious first grader. In trying to get her to understand that we can't judge based on the color of one's skin, I had told her that there were races it was ok to hate. I had to try, again.

"Racists aren't a race of people," I said. "Racism is something people believe in. It's an idea that white people are better. This idea isn't true and it makes people do violent things."

"Oh, I see," said Darla, still confused, but unwilling to admit it. 

I tried my best with this conversation, but knew that it was weak, ineffective, and ineloquent. The impassioned speeches I envisioned myself giving as a parent were not becoming a reality. I was disappointed in my effort. Despite my frustration with myself, I'm working hard to not let that conversation prevent me from keeping an open dialogue going. I can't be afraid to speak truth because I'm afraid I'm going to be the worst at it. These conversations are too important.

Since the election of Trump, a man who can't even bring himself to admonish Nazis, we have been confronted by incredibly terrifying realities. We inch ever-closer to nuclear war and white nationalists are coming out of the shadows and loudly declaring their beliefs with phrases like "jew will not replace us." And I sit here and feel paralyzed; feeling so small and unable to combat such bigotry. 

I know that I have the power to affect some small change, however. I can help the world by raising a child who doesn't have hate in her heart. And I know I can be a responsible parent not just by admonishing those "out there" who propagate overtly racist ideas, but by showing that racisms can be very local. There's racism everywhere and, as white people, we're the beneficiary of a racist system. I will not raise a color-blind child because that masks the racism in the world. It protects my kids from a reality that people of color have to face every day. It's the reason why white liberals have become so tone deaf and unable to see how we contribute to this racist system. 

I've been struck over the past few years, ever since the racist violence at the hands of police officers came to light for the white audience, that white liberals love referencing how we live in a bubble. Often, it's said that we're in a reality full of rainbows, sunshine, and acceptance; that we had no clue that black men are routinely murdered by police officers. 

I don't want to create such a comfortable environment for my kids that they fail to understand that this country isn't doling out fair hands. As long as we live in a country that believes the sight of a black man walking down the street in a hoody is terrifying, but a white man carrying a tiki torch and spouting white supremacist hate is fine, we need to work. I'm going to do my best to ensure that they do everything in their power to fight racism in all its forms. So, we'll continue to listen to the radio together and discuss (however clumsily) all the ugly topics this country has to offer. Or, maybe I'll just buy a really great picture book that explains all this for me.