“We didn’t even talk about it today. We talked about the news, but not the riots.”
That’s what my son said on the ride home today. He was genuinely confused about why this wasn’t a topic of conversation at school today. And, of course, I felt the sting of not bringing it up with him. I have one main goal as a parent: to raise an open minded citizen, one who cares about the world around him and does his part to be active in our democracy. In this moment I failed.
I only had CNN on for a few moments this morning. That was all it took for him to be aware of the societal problems around us again. A bombing this weekend. Two police shootings in a week. Earlier this summer a mass shooting a few hours from us. Add to that a campaign sign defaced in our front yard this weekend. It’s a lot to process when you are only eleven.
It’s hard to talk about it. It’s hard to know if our conversations are enough or too much. But, we have to talk about the systemic problems in our world.
We can’t leave questions unanswered.
Even if it is just to expose our children. We have to talk about the riots, the terror attacks, the police shootings. Today, tomorrow, twenty years from now.
In small ways. In small moments.
Conversation. Questioning. Exposure.
This summer, for one of the first times ever, I was disappointed in my family in a way that crushed my spirit. As a child I spent a lot of time in Birmingham visiting my family. In all those years of visiting I never went to Kelly Ingram Park. Not once did I visit the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. I didn’t go to Bethel Baptist Church. I didn’t take a tour of the Civil Rights Institute. Never did I cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge. I didn’t even know about Birmingham’s role in the Civil Rights Movement until I was a young adult and even then I only knew a fraction. A fraction! For someone who spent a big chunk of her childhood in the city. I wasn’t exposed. I was unaware. I realized this last June when I spent the week learning about Civil Rights in Birmingham.
At first I was upset because I realized my family lived in the Jim Crow era and did nothing. I felt my heart drop when I realized children sat imprisoned in the fairgrounds after the Children’s Crusade of 1963 and no one helped them. I was mad that my family didn’t stand up for what was right. I was ashamed.
And then came the questions. Why didn’t they help? What did they think when they saw all this going on around them? What kept them from standing up for what was right? Why didn’t anyone ever talk about it? How did you live there in the midst of the hotbed of the American Civil Rights movement and never tell me a single story about what it was like? Never take me to see the site where four little girls died?
Hundreds of questions. Hundreds of disappointments.
Since no one ever talked about it with me, I assume they did nothing. I assume it didn’t affect them. Because they didn’t expose me. Because they didn’t speak to me about it or take me to Civil Rights sites around Birmingham.
I don’t want that for my son. I don’t want him to question what his parents did or didn’t do during a time of upheaval in our country. I want him to know I am not afraid to talk about it today or tomorrow.
So when he asked me tonight if the riots are still going on…I talked.