There are times as a mom when I desperately hope the words I say are the right ones. Last night was hard, and I’ll probably replay my answers for days to come. In a momentary lapse in judgment, I didn’t close my laptop as I was writing when my son sat down beside me. Caught in a thought, needing to type it out before it fell through the holes in the colander of my brain, I didn’t realize he was reading my words. What followed was a challenging conversation about Selma, Alabama and Bloody Sunday, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the KKK, Jimmie Lee Jackson, James Reeb, George Floyd, and the Confederate flag. My younger son sat down on the other side of me when he heard me say “police officer”. I showed them a couple of photos of the men in uniform beating people on the Edmund Pettus bridge followed by the first photo that pops up on an internet search of George Floyd, dying under the knee of an officer. I pulled up Jimmie Lee Jackson’s wikipedia page and explained to them that it took over forty years for his killer, an Alabama state trooper, to receive any punishment. Both of my children asked thoughtful questions. Why did people believe it was right to kill? Why did people believe that white people should have all the power? Why are police still killing people? Did this only happen in Alabama? Why did it only seem to matter in Selma? Why did it only seem to matter when George Floyd was in the news, even though others had died before him? We talked about the power of the media, that it can tell the truth and hide it. I explained that people with black and brown skin have been treated badly throughout the history of our country and especially in southern states. I read quotes from the Georgia senate, intentionally retaliating against implementation of Brown vs. Board of Education with the introduction of its 1956 state flag which was only replaced twenty years ago. For almost 50 years, Georgia’s desire to embrace white supremacy literally flew from various flag poles all across its counties. Even now, its new flag still references the Confederacy. After explaining that the KKK was formed just to keep white people in power and to harm anyone who tried to change that dynamic, my youngest said, “they’d even hurt other white people?” After I nodded, my oldest wisely said, “there are people who believe that white people should always be at the top of the power chart and they’ll hurt and kill to keep it that way”. They’re both so young, and I don’t blame the younger one for hiding his face in my shoulder and asking me to close the computer. These are awful truths that dig deep in our core, making us face who we are and what we’re capable of. We’re also capable of great good, which his brother bravely demonstrated by asking to travel to Selma to visit the National Voting Rights Museum. It takes courage to look at history and learn from it, instead of running. I know there are other parents who believe I gave my children information that they didn’t need, made them scared of law enforcement, and caused them to feel guilty for being white. To those who would question me: I closed my computer when my child asked, trusting that he knew when his heart was too full for more of this painful legacy. If my kids are scared of law enforcement now, it is because they’ve done things that merit this fear. Any guilt my boys might feel is their conscience at work, guiding them towards a deeper understanding of right and wrong. I’m unsure of when I’ll be able to make the trip my son has asked for. Like his brother, my heart is too full, and I need to close my computer, at least for right now.
The power chart.
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