Let’s Talk

Everyone has heard of “The Talk” right?  The one that happens when you are young… with your parents.  THE Talk.

Okay, I want to step back here for a minute here, because what I have learned is that when people mention “The Talk,” it can mean different things to different people.  For some people, myself included, it automatically means the Sex Talk.  For other people, it means the Race Talk – the one where you explain to your child that the world isn’t always fair, and that there are going to be times when they will have to do things that are very unfair just to make it out alive.  For still other people, the phrase “The Talk” might mean something completely different.  I don’t know, I look forward to continuing to learn and grow.  But for now, I would like to focus on the Race Talk.  If you don’t know what The Talk is, watch this video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mkw1CetjWwI).  I’m serious.  Leave this blog for a few minutes and watch this video.  If you only have a few minutes and you are trying to decide whether to watch the video or continue reading this post, it’s no contest – watch the video.  Please.

I’ve been thinking about the recent – and not so recent – examples of white people calling the police on people of color for basically existing and living their lives.  You may have seen the videos; if you haven’t just Google “Barbeque Becky,” “Permit Patty,” and “Pool Patrol Paul” and you can see some examples.  When I was in Kindergarten – so I was probably about 4 years old – I learned that police were our friends, and that we could and should call them when someone was mean to us or we were hurt.  Shortly after that, I went home and my sister and I got into a fight, as sisters do.  I felt that she was very mean to me, and I was hurt… so I screamed “That’s it Kitwin [I couldn’t actually say her name properly], I’m calling the powice!” and I proceeded to pick up the phone and start to dial.  Fortunately my mom was there and ran to stop me.  My parents then proceeded to explain to me that yes, the police are our friends who we call when we are hurt, but this is different.

As I was thinking about this I started to wonder, all these unnecessary calls to the police (which both traumatize people/communities of color and consume police/crisis resources that are needed elsewhere), can we view them from another lens?  We have been shouting “there is no need to fear!” and I truly believe there isn’t.  But the fact remains that these people are feeling a fear and are reacting based on that fear.  The fear may not be based in fact, but it is present.  They may or may not want to actually acknowledge that they feel a fear (acknowledging it, after all, means that they are acknowledging their own biases), but yes, they are feeling a fear.  So the question becomes: WHY?  Why are they feeling this particular fear and how can we break it down, for everyone’s sake?

I return to The Talk.  Children of color receive The Talk when they are quite young.  We white kids do not.  We white kids get to keep our Santa Claus in tact… pretty much our entire lives, if we want to.  It is only if we actively choose to try to find our way to the North Pole AND look up Santa’s address AND interview some elves that our illusion breaks down.  And even then we are still just travelers, because we get to pack our bags and return home from our trip, back to the safety and comfort of the life and world in which we live.

So what if we changed that?  What would happen if we gave white children (and white adults) The Talk?  I know it wouldn’t be the same talk – we aren’t going to feel it in the same way, how could we?  But what if we made a commitment to raise our children with racial awareness, cultural sensitivity, and appreciation of others’ experiences through the lens of race, culture, and ethnicity?  Santa is wonderful and magical because he promotes the values of love, kindness, and goodwill towards all.  Racial blindness is NOT Santa, and keeping our children — correction: keeping SOME of our children — in bubbles consisting of a world that simply isn’t true isn’t just inaccurate, it is cruel.

I’m not advocating for crushing the hearts, hopes, and dreams of children.  I am advocating for creating a kinder world, filled with a greater understanding of others’ experiences.  I’m advocating for age appropriate discussions about differences and diversity; about challenges and resilience; about fairness and inequity.  I’m advocating for active and conscious cultivation of empathy and critical thinking in every child.  And I’m advocating for adults valuing the intelligence of children.  Children are aware of their surroundings and are absorbing a lot more than adults tend to give them credit for.  They may not always understand what they see.  And then sometimes they understand their experiences and their surroundings on a much deeper level than we adults are willing to understand it, because their defense mechanisms are not yet up and running, so their BS thresholds are beautifully low.  But children are aware – trust that.  It is our job as adults to help them navigate what they are experiencing.

Funny thing about children, if the timeline goes reasonably well, they grow up and become adults… at least chronologically.  I say chronologically because there are places inside all of us where we still are, or can be, children.  Fear is a great path to those places… oddly enough joy can also be a path to those places.  So we return to white people calling the police on black people for existing.  Maybe if someone had pulled these white people aside when they were little and broken their illusion that the world was the same for everyone and that a resource is always helpful in the same way this wouldn’t be happening.  Maybe if that had happened, when these white people experienced their irrational fear they wouldn’t regress to being a 4 year old who is going to call the police who obviously will fix it because Officer Bob just visited our Kindergarten class and told us he is our friend.

Fellow white people, I can appreciate that what you feel is fear, and you want that fear to end… you need that fear to end.  But it is time to ask ourselves: WHY are we perceiving these situations, these PEOPLE as fearful?  I am not suggesting that you are bad people for feeling the way that you feel – we are all products of our environments, our experiences, the messages that we receive from the larger society.  What I am suggesting is that this is an opportunity for growth.

Fear is a very powerful force.  It can keep us safe, but it can also stop us from engaging with life, with beauty, with joy.  Fear can block our connection to our spiritual selves, to the transcendent divinity that uplifts our souls and enlivens our spirits.

It is really important to distinguish between that which is an irrational fear and that which is a healthy fear.  The hair standing up on the back of your neck, alerting you to danger: that’s your body and your soul telling you that something is amiss: that is healthy fear.  Recoiling from a hot stove after you have been burned: that is a healthy fear.  Calling the police on a little girl selling water: let’s take another look at that.  This was essentially a modern day Lemonade Stand – arguably healthier because it doesn’t include all the sugar. Sure, there wasn’t a permit.  But I don’t remember any Lemonade Stand I have ever come across in the history of Lemonade Stands requiring permits… unless they were run by adults at street fairs and were not “Lemonade Stands” but actual formal businesses that were selling lemonade.  So, if we are REALLY being honest with ourselves, why was this perceived as a threat and not as a child’s attempt at running a cute little store?  A sweet, youthful venture into the “American Dream?”

Let’s teach compassion, equality, and kindness to all of our children by not hiding the realities of life from them.  We needn’t crush their youthful spirits, but we also needn’t keep them in a dream land that ultimately perpetuates spiritual and physical violence.  Let’s be kind to all of our children – young and old – and teach them that life isn’t always fair, but they can be.

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