Today, I had a little bit of an eye opener. I don’t really write about hot topics but this is one that I feel burning in my soul, and then today I made a little explosion that I felt it necessary to put out. However, it really made me think.
My young granddaughter had shared with me about a certain children’s television station going blank for s period of time and displaying “I can’t breath” during that time. I was upset that a child’s television channel would feel it necessary to expose children to this terrible event in any way. I was upset that my grandchild would need to ask questions that expose her to things that impact her innocence. I was upset that the actions of a few negligent and abusive people in power might impact the way that children view and approach those that were meant to provide safety and protection.
If I am honest, I was in the third or fourth year of college before I knew anything about hate crimes. I grew up in a town that at the time was not ethnically diverse. I did not know that per capita there were more white supremist in my backyard that in cities where hate crimes are constantly in the news. Other than the news, I was not aware of the tension between races. Until I was in Junior High, I can only recall one person I knew that was not born and raised in our community. He was from Vietnam, and he was my classmate and friend. To my knowledge, he was not treated any differently, and was included in every activity. I was not aware that people treated others differently based on the color of their skin. So to me, age seven is way to young to be exposed to the awful truth of the hate that exists in this world.
At work we began a discussion, about how the racial tension was impacting not only our cohort but also the people that we serve. Different people shared how they were impacted, how they were advocating, and how they were feeling. I shared my frustration about my seven-year old grandchild being exposed to the hate crimes in such a way.
I learned that the television channel was part of a larger conglomerate that aired the same thing on every channel. While it didn’t make me feel better about the choice made, it was a little easier for me to stomach. We talked about ways that we could be more informed and what we could do to support our coworkers, the people we serve, and people in general. A couple of coworkers talked about a documentary on Netflix called Thirteenth, and a few other places where we could be educated.
I could tell that my opinion was different from much of what was voiced. It wasn’t about right or wrong, and no one made me feel like my view was in error. However, being a social worker I can read a group, even if it is over the phone. After the call was over, I reached out to one of my coworkers for validation of what I was feeling. I asked her to shoot me straight, knowing that her ethnicity provided a different view from mine. She validated what I felt, and acknowledged that my experience was different from her experience.
While I was upset I was having the conversation with my granddaughter because a television channel made a choice; she had to have the conversation with her child who was even younger because it was the reality of what her family faces. Talk about eye opening for me. I was humbled and saddened that our experiences are so different and that I am so blinded to the privileges I have. I made the decision to watch the Thirteenth and also to educate myself more on other viewpoints.
After watching Thirtheeth, I can say I learned a lot about history that I was never taught. However, I also realized that hatred breeds hatred. I can recognize that there is a bias that screamed out at me as I watched the documentary. A bias, that if I heard constantly, would breed the same anger in me. I also recognized that although I am not as likely aware of it, bias is breeding hate on the other side too. We all want others to see wrongs that were done from our perspective. We each have our own vantage point that we experience life through.
My vantage point, was that my seven year old grandchild should be sheltered from the hate that is bred in our society. I want her to experience life to the fullness, but I want her to be able to make her own decisions about people as a whole and individually. I want her to see what she has in common with people as she builds relationships, not let what is different on the outside shade her perspective.
However, I can recognize that the vantage point of my coworker was one that she needed to prepare her young child for a reality he could face a any time. I know that while my heart is saddened that she has to prepare him, the only way that can change is for there to be a systematic change in our society. I want for her child, the same as I want for my children.
I do not believe that it is going to happen if we sit quietly by and wait for change. I also do not believe that it is going to happen by rioting and destroying property of others, that is a costly expense usually to people that are only bystanders in the community. I do not believe that it will happen by defunding police or by enforcing curfews and martial law.
It is going to take people educating themselves to the experiences of others. It is going to take understanding and putting themselves into another’s shoes (AKA empathy). It is going to take some hard conversations about things we wish not to talk about. It means we have to stop screaming and start listening. It means we stop justifying and blaming, and start looking at how to move forward. It is going to mean making some compromises on both sides. We can not deny or change the past, but we can chose to build a better future going forward.