I am a white woman in the United States who has spent the last few years becoming painfully aware of my own racism. I wish I could go back and apologize for all the idiotic things I have said and done that centered whiteness and white culture. I am trying to do better. I am still stumbling.
But I know that it is on me to teach my children to see the world differently. And so yesterday, on Martin Luther King Jr. day, we sat down as a family to watch a few educational videos about Jim Crow laws and the Reverend himself.
And I asked the girls a simple question: “What lie did the white people believe about black people?”
My youngest spoke up: “That they were bad!”
“Yes, that they were bad. But a lie even bigger than that. A lie that went back to slave times. These slaveholders had to tell a lie to make slavery OK in their hearts, when their hearts probably told them it wasn’t. So they told a lie that black people were lesser people. In fact, when the government needed to count how many people lived in an area, a black man was considered 3/5ths of a white man.”
I watched my girls’ eyes get big. They couldn’t imagine one human being counted as 3/5ths of another.
“And that lie told the slave owners that black people who were less than they were, were also less smart, less worthy, less dignified…less everything.
“They told that lie to themselves until they believed it. And they told that lie to their children and their children believed it. And they told that lie to their children and their children and laws and systems and governments were built on that lie. It is a lie called racism. The lie of racism simply says one race of people is less than another – one race of people is better than another. It is a lie that has such far reaching consequences, we are still dealing with it today – many people still believe this lie.” (Darin joined in here to talk about the Charlottesville protests. But there are many examples you could offer.)
And I needed to be even more honest, “See, here’s the thing: even though your mom and dad know it is a lie that black people are less, sometimes even we fall for it. We have to work hard to unlearn this lie because it is hiding in so many places we don’t know about, or can’t see. And we have to unlearn it by teaching you that it is a lie. And it is a lie – because we know the truth. All people are equal.”
We had lots more conversations about lots more topics during our learning time together yesterday, but this is the conversation we need to keep having over and over. We need to teach our children to teach their children to teach their children the TRUTH. This is the only way to take away the power of the lie.