Some might call me a protective parent. We set up natural boundaries around things like swimming in a pool without adult supervision and we intervene when we hear the inevitable curse word or put down. Kids don't just come out of the womb knowing the rules around safety or what's ok and not ok to say out loud to other humans. We nurture their kindness and call them on their behavior when it's unacceptable. Yet, we also might be pretty progressive when compared to others in the realm of conversations we are willing to have with them.
We have often talked to them about the big questions they have... and both of my boys are deep thinkers. Petey was obsessed with anatomy and physiology at such a young age that he used the gift card from his toddler teacher to buy his all time favorite book, "The Human Body Book" which brought out a whole host of questions about (mostly) the female reproductive system, coupled with some great talks about the pulmonary system which led to the refusal to eat "aveolis" (what he heard when I said, "raviolis"). Phoenix wanted to know who the first humans were and how many people have died in wars since the start of time around that age. We read early on the stories of freedom fighters and Phoenix designed wheel chair accessible ramps and elevators in case his grandma without a limb ever came to visit.
Now, it's racism. At bedtime, the talks start. In the car, the talks start. They wonder and they want to know. Truth is, I don't. I have my strong feelings that we all need to embrace one another, but I could never explain what life is like for a black American. I can tell you that I understand there are so many layers of oppression from the past and biases and imprisonments and such- that adversity by nature can increase your risk of violating laws and lead to more violence and greater percentages of your people in prison. Much of that adversity stemming from a fear and an intentional or inadvertant "holding people in their place". Between the military intentionally recruiting from lower income brackets and the flying in of illegal drugs, our world has certainly set up a metaphorical chutes and ladders with many more chutes for people of color.
But I don't know what it means because I couldn't. I'm a white girl. I am a caring white girl- but a white girl, no less. I have faced discrimination as a white woman married to another white woman. I know what it feels to be afraid you're rights will be stripped away or never issued at all. I remember the feeling for a full two years after we "illegally" wed with a large ceremony October- the month before it was legal to get a marriage certificate in MA. The year that every news channel showed images of gays and lesbians burning in the flames of Hell as protestors rallied to try to revoke the rights just issued in our state- I walked around with a bicycle chain in my gut- one that had shards of glass instead of metal links. Everyone had an opinion on the matter and talked openly about it- many forgot as I don't look the stereotypical lesbian- that I was there, listening.
So, at bedtime, many years later, I sit with my nine year old and my twelve year old and we read. We talk. Now, it's Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes. The story, copyrighted in 2018, is about a 12 year old black boy named Jerome. He is bullied terribly in his inner city school and afraid of the drug dealers on the street, yet he is a "good boy" and loved by his popular sister and hard working poor family. He is shot and killed by a white police officer who thought a toy gun (which he would never normally carry and would be in great trouble if he did) was real. The story oscillates between chapters that are "Alive" or "Dead" and slowly tell the story about his family and community who grieve. Jerome is now a ghost and has formed an unlikely bond with the police officer's daughter who can see him and a mysterious second ghost boy- I'd tell you more, but I haven't gotten that far yet. The little girl poses questions to her father that cause him to question his own perception of the "man" he saw as dangerous... Jerome, who really is just twelve and the same height as the officer's daughter.
I don't know if I'm doing it right- and I am not entirely concerned about that. No one seems to have the answers or the path written out in neat, linear steps. I'm more concerned about staying open, curious and honest. I am more concerned about hearing the stories and re-writing the small part of the picture I can... that of mine and my family. I hope to inform my boys with a love for others and a deep trust in this inner compass- a trust so deep that when faced with the opportunity to oppress or to close a fist- they open their hand and reach out instead.
If that's all I can do right now, I am doing something important. I feel that in my heart.
If we never get uncomfortable and cross into that "and" territory, we can not hear just as we won't be heard.
No genius ever grew in isolation.... or if one did... it would be very rare. It takes the combination of ideas to evolve. While it's easy to isolate and polarize, no one was ever opened to their bias in isolation of another who acted as a catalyst for that change. Do we bring change by separating... by withdrawing? Do we chose an "us or them" mentality... and look for people who will reflect back to us our own bias, our own opinion so we never have to grow and get uncomfortable?
Sometimes I want to tell others they are wrong as an idea is so fundamentally different than what I believe, and I'm not saying it's ok to stand idly by- especially in the face of oppression, human rights and racism. HOWEVER, I have to be willing to listen and to hear and to include others who are fundamentally different than I am. If we never get uncomfortable and cross into that "and" territory, we can not hear just as we won't be heard.
Our thinking is often This or That... Choose, choose. There is only one choice- love- and that one means that we open up to one another. We listen, we see the point of view and then we invite others to hear ours. The only way to close a gap is to build a bridge. The only way to change the darkness is to bring the light.
Let's get empowered together. Let's breathe through the discomfort. Let's find the common ground and use it to squash the fear that isolated us in the first place. Let's move away from polarization and toward unity.
Sometimes it's the simple messages that we really need to hear. In times of transition or challenge or when someone asks you to do something you are uncomfortable with. Sometimes it's the moment when someone's opinion is loud and against your values and they seem to be seeking your approval or your agreement and you can't. It's the moments when you are deciding who are your closest friends and who you can trust- that you first have to trust your ideas and your heart. When we complete one goal and take time to celebrate the hard work and effort, the challenge we've overcome... when we put one foot in front of the other and decide to pursue something else... the moments we reflect and remember who we are and how important our single voice is to the world. Trust the miracle of YOU. Listen to your heart. Pursue your passions. You deserve everything and more than you can dream up.
In this day with so much hatred and fear, we have to love more. While our fear makes us want to withdraw, the solution is love. BUT, what makes it hard to act out of love is a lack of self-confidence and self-acceptance. When we are insecure and sending ourselves doubtful thoughts, we might have a deficit of self love. I know that when we try to act- when we try to speak up and stand up for others, a huge wave of fear can follow when we aren't regularly remembering that our voice is valuable and wonderful and important. We have just as much a right to express ourselves as anyone else. What's more, we have responsibility to share our love and our loving messages. If we wake up and remind ourselves that we are enough exactly as we are- that we are capable of making an impact on the world... and that our internal reflection and awareness of our weakness is not damnation, then we can develop a healthier sense of love and feel more confident sharing that love.
What loving messages can you send yourself today?
So many shares about the hatred and how angry we all are. I feel you. It hurts to know our nation is in this place at this time. We all hoped that we'd be further by now. It's been years since Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream. I know many of us hold that dream dear in our hearts and share with our families and children the love we wish to give.
Instead, our boys watched "The Hate You Give" a documentary that stirred us all. We have always spoken to them about white privilege and the fact that they need to respect and love others and uplift because they are male and white and will have it by birth.
It would be so wonderful to give more love and we all have the capacity to do that. We have that power.
But as we turn away from the hatred, I hope that you will take some reassurance in the fact that you feel disgust, hurt, angry, confused, scared and a myriad of other miserable feelings. That is what reminds us that we care, that we can act, that we are human and that love will win.
I am thankful for that pain. Thank God I feel it. Not feeling it would be much, much worse. Love your neighbor, explore the reasons why people feel the need to oppress and why people who are oppressed need us to amplify their voice and our own. Love you, LeeAnn