What Charlottesville means for our Black family
A few weeks ago my family and I visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D. C. As we walked to the museum from our car, my husband warned my children and my teenage nephews not to respond to comments or threats they might hear from White supremacists or others on the walk.
“We might hear people yelling things as we walk to the museum that we disagree with and we might see people with signs that say mean or hateful things. It’s important that you ignore those people. It might be hard because you might want to yell back at them—but we’re going to ignore those comments, OK?”
That moment struck me—my children were learning, at an early age, that racism was present and being taught how to ignore jeers or comments.
When I was growing up, the hate of the pre-integration era seemed like it was a part of the distant past. Dr. King had marched, schools were integrated—people like my mother and father (a White woman and a Black man) were allowed to marry. Obviously, as an adult I know that modern-day racism is present—and that my children do not have luxury of believing they are safe.
That day, we looked at powerful exhibits that show the numbers of Africans brought to this country forcibly as well as exhibits of Thomas Jefferson’s slaves. But it was in front of the pictures from the civil rights movement where my eight-year-old son paused as he saw images of White people twisted in hate and tried to make meaning of what he saw.
This past weekend, we debated what to say to our eight-year-old son—we were out of town, so our normal NPR stream was not playing as constantly as it does other weekends. But we ultimately realized we had to say something to him as he watched us get news alerts and updates.
“Something happened this weekend that I want to talk with you about. A group of people in Virginia were angry that a statue was being taken down. The statue was of a leader in the confederate army during the civil war. These people believe that White people are better than people of color and they believe that White people should be the only group in charge of our country. We call people who think like that White supremacists. A group of White supremacists decided to march in a town in Virginia. Their march was really scary and upsetting to people but one of the things that we believe is that everyone gets to say what they believe.
What I really want to talk with you about is another group of people—this is a photo of students who disagree with the White supremacists. They stood together in a group in the middle of the White supremacists to say: ‘No, we don’t agree with you. We don’t think White people are better.’ These students are not that much older than you are and they were brave to stand together.”
“Was anyone hurt?”
“Yes, some people were hurt—just like some of the people we saw in photos at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. They knew they were taking a risk, but they felt that it was important to tell the White supremacists that not everyone hates people of color.
“Should we be afraid?”
“It is scary to hear that people believe things like this, but it’s important to believe that the majority of people in the United States do not agree with White supremacists.
We also live in a place where you are safe, but we do have to be careful because sometimes Black people are not treated fairly.”
“I hope I am that brave.”
“I hope you never have to be.”
Lori Taliaferro Riddick facilitates interactive workshops/webinars at Raising Race Conscious Children. Lori also consults with public school districts to develop effective leaders. She formerly served as the Executive Director of Policy and Practice Services at New Leaders. Lori identifies as Black/Bi-racial/Multi-racial and is a mother to her eight-year-old and one-year-old sons.