This weekend marks the 36th year of celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Junior. I could tell you that people lobbied for the holiday since his assassination in 1968. I could describe the countless city streets named after this iconic hero. But it wouldn’t do justice to the fact that racism is still alive and well. I’m not even bringing up the overt racism of Neo-Nazis and the KKK, although there’s a special place for them in the afterlife, but of the implicit bias of our white society.
From the accidental slip of a micro-aggression, “The crows are so negative because they’re black,” to the doll test where African American children choose the white, blue-eyed baby doll as good over the brown, brown-eyes doll, we are right from a young age that white is good, and black is bad. Call me an SJW. Mock me for trying to be “woke,” but the crux of “Political Correctness” is not being an asshole; be kind to your fellow humans.
And that’s when I found the book “Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness,” by Anastasia Higginbotham. It’s part of a series called “Ordinary Terrible Things,” which sums up the theme nicely. I ordered it from Amazon with some trepidation, although I knew it was important that I have this conversation with my seven-year-old, and on previewing it before reading I said oh.
“Who is that with their hands up? Why is that policeman screaming at him?
Oh crap, what have I gotten myself into? How could expose my seven-year-old, who has never even heard 2/3 of the creative swear words the English language contains, to this violence?
Oh, I see.
It’s definitely part of my privilege as a white person to try and shield my children from it. Children of color are exposed to police brutality on such a large scale that the mistrust of police begins in preschool: “Then daddy threw the chair at mommy and the police took them away (actual quote from a four-year-old).” Being mistrusted by the police stems from old biases that African descendants are lazy, shiftless, uncooperative, and unintelligent. Why else would they have such problems with the law?
…No. the law is an attempt to make this land safe for its inhabitants, to support democracy, and to set a code for behavior in the different aspects of our society.
As a white person, I have a duty to show my children their privilege; to let them know that the “I have a dream” speech wasn’t a panacea that solved the problem of racism in the U.S.A., that people are still treated poorly because of their skin color, and that color blindness is nothing more than an ostrich, it’s head buried in the sand. Higginbotham explains this by saying “When grown-ups try to hide scary things from their kids…it’s usually because they’re scared too.”
So I sat my seven-year-old down and we read the book. She wasn’t as visibly struck by the police shooting element as I was, but she hasn’t been exposed to gun violence. We read about how racism still lives, that we are allowed to combat it by saying it’s not our idea, and that all the evil behind the mask (dollar-themed) sells to us is an illusion of power that could be taken away at any moment.
She didn’t really understand the concept of racism at first, but by reading through the book we began a conversation that was needed for her to fight for justice in this world. She agreed that if she saw a person in need she would help them, but the question of how else she could use her voice to fight for justice remains.