I am reminded of an awkward moment in February 2019.
I took my children to a theater and was standing in line for popcorn with them. February is Black History month, of course, but I feel compelled to share this context because it is essential to understanding this next part. My children had been learning about Dr. King and his fight against segregation.
A black family of about 12 people walked in and stood behind us in line.
My son, who was 6 at the time, looked at this family, smiled and said (loud enough for everyyyyybody to hear)…
“I’m so glad there’s no more racism and black people can go to the theater with us.”
You could hear a freaking pin drop.
My son was expressing his happiness based on what he learned in school.
But what he learned in school wasn’t the whole story, and more close to a lie than the truth.
I stared into my son’s face and resisted the urge to turn towards that black family. A woman was standing about a foot behind us and I knew she had heard.
“Okay Sandi.” I thought. “Time to put that sociology degree to use and educate your son.”
Without looking away, I began to speak. “Baby. The truth is racism is still a thing.”
Judah’s face fell. “But Dr. Luther King Martin fought against that and won.”
I still resisted the prickling sensation to look towards the black family. To what? Apologize with my eyes? Awkwardly shrug? Look for approval? Make sure it was okay?
No ma’am. Not today. Your kid.
I sighed. “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., baby. That’s his name. He fought and made amazing strides, yes. But there’s still racism.”
“Mhmmmmm.” I heard the woman behind me say like she was humming a gospel tune.
Yes. Please say a prayer for me, ma’am.
I could still see the question in my son’s eyes. Then why can the black family go to the theater with us?
He struggled with what I struggled with. I was taught in school racism was over. I looked around and saw my black friends in the hallways of my school.
So everything’s alright? Right? The war is over?
But I refuse for my son, and daughter, to grow up with the same whitewashed truth.
“So.” I began. “You’re six, baby. It’s hard to understand something you can’t see. But racism is a system, a system that still exists. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was an amazing man who did great things to get us further down the road to equality. But there is still work to do. So here’s what you can do. Understand that in the Lard family, we respect everyone. We respect them because they are people. And number two, if you ever see anyone treated differently because of their skin color or otherwise, I expect you to stand up to those bullies. That’s what you need to know right now.”
This is one of the first of many conversations we’ve had in our white family. This morning, we told the kids what was going on in our country. Because if we don’t tell them, who will?
We have to actively, as a white family, speak to our kids about systematic racism. It’s important for our kids to be educated by us. It’s important for them to know this is a conversation worth having.
Just like I have intentional discussions about gender norms.
“Boys can’t like My Little Pony!” Says Lorelai.
“Yes they can.” I reply. “Boys can like My Little Pony.”
Correction here and there.
It’s not hard. But if I’m not aware of it, I’ll miss opportunities to teach.
Passivity about systematic racism is what keeps those systems in place. To dismantle these things, we have to intentionally have these conversations.
It has to be at the forefront of your mind. That’s what awareness is.
What the movie theater moment taught me was that I have to be intentional. I have to check in on where my kids are at in this discussion. I have to paint a more complete picture for them. I have to bring it to their attention, because it doesn’t affect them directly.
To do this effectively, I must listen. I must learn and then communicate new information to my children.
It’s my duty as a parent to shape my child’s worldview. Sometimes this requires uncomfortable moments to be embraced.
How else will they learn?
It’s not about being perfect. It’s about doing better.
Let’s do better.