It was like any other summer day for my 5-year-old little boy.
He loved camp, and he was excited to have another fun day with new friends! Little did I know that this day would be life changing. He stayed at camp until lunchtime, and as I picked him up, everything seemed normal. Later that evening, I found out about a conversation at camp between a little boy and his friends that went like this:
Little Boy: “I’m so excited about my birthday party. You’re invited . . . you’re invited . . . you’re invited (pointing to all the other little boys).” They all gleamed with excitement. (And then pointing to my son) . . .
“Oh, I’m sorry . . . only people with white skin can come to my house.”
As I heard this story, my heart sank. I felt a hundred emotions: hurt, sadness, rage, confusion, shock, disgust, and surprisingly . . . even compassion. My handsome brown-eyed boy had been excluded from a party simply because of the color of his skin. As a mother, how do I respond? How does this happen in the year 2015? Are we back in the 1960’s?!! All these questions raced through my mind as I processed this.
I soon began to view the racism for what it really was: a disease that had spread through generations. He had obviously learned his behavior from someone else. Babies are not born racists. I knew it was coming from a place deep within his family — a root that had been planted years ago. This diffused my anger and negative emotions and I remembered these words:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK)
This was the second time one of our children had been a victim of public racism. Our daughter was once told that she couldn’t play with a group of girls on the playground because she was not a part of the “white girls’ club.” When this happened, my husband and I cried hard. We wept, actually. We wondered why as adults, we were having no problems with blatant racism, but the kids had experienced this around age five. I suddenly realized that it was because kids that age do not have a filter. They will say what they have heard at home. In a sense, these expressions of racism feel harsh, but what is even worse is the secret, hidden racism in the hearts of parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Their filters are strong enough to keep hatred from coming through their lips while in public, but that does not mean that racism is not present. It is this subtle racism that is the most dangerous.
So what can we do to commemorate and continue Dr. King’s legacy of peace, non-violent change, and racial equality? It starts at home. Today, as a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on his 89th birthday, I have a dream that one day, mothers everywhere will unite and take these steps to help cure the disease of racial prejudice:
- Teach your children to embrace diversity. God made flowers in all different colors (red, purple, yellow, blue) and none is better than the others. The same is true of people. Do you have friends of all skin tones? If not, evaluating why may be a good place to start. If all your friends look alike, try to branch out and choose a few diverse buddies this year. You may be surprised by how they enrich your life! This will normalize diversity for your kids and make you more well-rounded too! In doing so, you are teaching your kids to choose friends not based on the color of their skin . . . “but by the content of their character.” – MLK
- Examine your heart for racism. As with any sickness, the first step to healing is getting a proper diagnosis. Admitting that your family may have instilled racist values in your heart is the first step to moving forward. The second step is recognizing that society as a whole is a source of racist values. This type of “institutional” racism is less perceptible since it was established by the respected authorities in our society. It is reflected in disparities regarding wealth, income, employment, criminal justice, housing, healthcare, and education. It causes many people to act with often unintentional and unconscious prejudice toward the minority. By examining our hearts and our society, we expose the many biases that divide our country. “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” – MLK
- Make your home an anti-racism haven. In spite of the negative comments and racial tension throughout the media and government currently, refuse to let the disease of racism spread throughout your house. Pluck out the root in your own family, and this mentality will soon spread to neighborhoods, cities, and throughout the country. “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” – MLK
- Learn the history of other cultures. Instead of reinforcing negative racial stereotypes, teach your children about the contributions of other ethnicities to society. Much of black history is not recorded in standard textbooks, so it is important to teach that it includes MUCH more than just slavery. Many of our daily conveniences, modern luxuries, and medical procedures (open heart surgeries, air conditioning, refrigerators, traffic lights, and even potato chips . . . just to name a few) would not exist without the contributions of African Americans to our society. A trip to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute or library to discuss this with your children could be enriching. “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” – MLK
- Empathize with people of other cultures. Although slavery happened a long time ago, its effects were far reaching! Slavery still affects every aspect of African American life today. Instead of having a “it was my ancestors, not me” attitude or a “put your big girl panties on, I’ve been persecuted too” mentality, try to envision yourself in the shoes of people still experiencing the effects of subtle racism on a daily basis. Imagine your ancestors having been killed, abused, raped, enslaved, and stripped away from their families for nearly 300 years. The long-term psychological impact is hard to fathom. Take a moment to show genuine interest in another ethnicity, and try to see things from their perspective. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – MLK
- Speak up about race relations. In a world where the subject of race is taboo, it is actually quite therapeutic to have discussions about the healing process in our homes and communities. Do NOT be silent when your friends make racist comments or even racial slurs. If you are silent, it implies consent. “In the end, we will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” – MLK
Although we have seen much progress in our country since the Civil Rights Movement, there is still so much more work to be done — mostly within our own hearts. As mothers, we have the amazing power to help cure racism by impacting the next generation. By uniting together, we will all be able to sing:
“Free at last, Free at last, Thank God Almighty, We are free at last.” -MLK, “I Have a Dream”, 1963.
Feel free to chime in with other ideas to help cure racial prejudice!