Why. Not What: Teaching My Children About Navigating a World Gone Mad

Here I go again, doubting if this is something I really want to put out into the world. Is it inviting more madness? I don’t know.

I do know I’ve never been very good at silence. And when it comes to things that really matter to me—like racism, I believe silence is akin to consent, approval, and apathy. None of which I give nor feel about this subject.

A friend recently posted a sarcastically poignant post on her Facebook page. I laughed out loud as I read, “Did you guys hear that some NFL players knelt during the national anthem??? Apparently some people think it’s within their rights and agree with their stance and a bunch of other people think it’s really wrong.”

After a weekend of protests by some in the NFL, all anyone was talking about on Monday was “respect vs disrespect,” “patriotism vs anti-patriotism”, “social discourse vs social acceptance”, “us and them”, “right and wrong.” I was suffering from a case of mental whiplash after perusing the comments, articles, and memes in my various feeds. Turns out I have acquaintances, friends, and family on very polarized sides of this cultural issue.

Let me start with this…I have an overwhelming urge to exit social media right now. Similar feelings erupted during our most recent presidential election. The vitriol is too much. It makes me feel ill. My mind wanders and I fall down a veritable rabbit hole of despair in worry about our world gone mad.

Maybe it’s always been like this? Maybe every middle-ish aged woman wakes up one day and thinks, “This isn’t the world I imagined I’d be giving my children.” Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t know. When these heavy emotions set in and helplessness tries to steer my course, I ask myself, “What can I do about it.”

It is nearly always my response, “Be a teacher—guide your children, so that maybe things will be better for them because of them.”

So, when I talked with my ten and twelve year old about what was going on with the NFL and all the “flag and anthem” talk, I wanted to be very careful about how I answered their questions.

My response to my kids, when I was finally ready to give it, went like this:

What is going on?

Well, it started with one NFL player, who decided to protest something by taking a knee while the National Anthem was being played before his football games. Over time, others agreed with his protest and joined him. Many people, including our president, feel taking a knee during the National Anthem is disrespectful. There has been extensive discussion, some civil and some nasty, regarding the issue. People are arguing about whether the actions are right or wrong. 

–What do you think, Mom? 

I think people will debate the disrespect issue until they are out of breath. In all honesty, I see both sides. According to the law, the protest is absolutely and without argument within the rights of those protesting. What makes our country both unique and great is the fact that we honor and defend our Constitutional Bill of Rights, including the first amendment, which outlines Americans’ rights to freedom of speech, press, religion, and peaceful assembly and protest. I also understand how some people might have a negative emotional response to seeing a person take a knee during the National Anthem. It’s cultural etiquette to stand, hand on heart, with head uncovered, anytime the anthem is played. Heck, I’m often on the verge of tears when I listen to it, thinking of all the men and women who fought and continue to fight to defend and protect our country—the sacrifices countless families have made in order that we can live freely.  

—So…who is right?

*** FOUR LETTER WORDS REPEATING INTERNALLY…What do I say?!?!?!?***

I don’t know. But something I’ve learned is…when it comes to protests, at least in the case of peaceful protest, the most important part of the puzzle is not asking if whether or not the people who are protesting are doing it right or wrong, I think what’s most important is asking why are the people protesting in the first place? 

—Why are they protesting? 

Friends, this is where I find I cannot remain silent on this issue—not with my kids, and not from the platform of my blog.

The people choosing to protest are doing so because our country is systemically diseased with hate and intollerance, institutional racism, and white privilege. If you can’t, on some level, agree with that statement, you are probably a white person, likely middle class or above, and I’ll venture you live in an area that could be represented by a pie chart where only one very small piece is “different.” I don’t mean to be inciting with what I’m saying here. It is simply a truth. We must be willing to look beyond our own perception of reality to be capable of beginning to understand others’ perception and reality.

I—we—live in a mad world, 153 years post-emancipation proclamation, where my son is at risk for unwarranted judgement, hostility, brutality, and even death for nothing more than being brown skinned. That is my reality and his reality.

I will likely have to have many conversations with him about this terribly sad reality.

Neither he nor I have been alive in a time where legal segregation exists, but cultural segregation is alive and thriving. And what is worse? We keep choosing to segregate ourselves further, dividing our country over things like NFL players choosing to protest.

Is it appropriate? Is it the best way to protest a grievance? Is it the right way or the wrong way? What we should be discussing is WHY are these protests happening.

I will not engage in the argument of right or wrong on this. I think it misses the heart of the issue.

However, as for the why, on this topicmy heart is breaking.

My heart is shattering…for our country, which is so obliviously in a painful place of cultural melee, for my friends and all my fellow Americans, who live every day buried in the suffocating reality of being on the ugly and sometimes deadly side of our American racism sickness, and for my son…who will likely never be able to totally escape it, but at best try to safely navigate this world gone mad.