I’ve been bouncing around my thoughts and feelings a lot lately. I have done my fair share of meme-ing on Facebook and occasionally airing my views/opinions with others in person. COVID keeps that to a minimum. This shook-up-pop-bottle-soul of mine is about to burst, so I’m going to “pop my top” here for a bit.
Recently words spoken by one of my own grandchildren made me cringe: “It’s all because of those stupid protestors.” (His reasoning for why COVID-19 numbers had jumped so high in Arkansas. His sources: His parents, the media and his cell phone.)
I felt like I had failed. I failed in not doing the right thing by talking about race, discrimination, and loving everyone equally when my children were growing up. I swept it under the proverbial rug. It’s easier, right?
The question has been posed: “What can we do?”
What can I do now? What can I do to change his views? Well for starters I did a LOT of talking. I did some preaching and I pointed the finger – at myself. Then, I did some soul searching.
First, look at what we have done and are still doing. We are ALL at fault. We have to take credit for what IS in our society. I’m not a perfect person, never will be. I admit I have been racist. I admit I struggle in things that should come easy. I made poor choices long ago that have consequences today. How do I fix that? How do we fix what we messed up? We can’t. That’s hard to hear isn’t it? We cannot fix what we broke long ago. However, we can tell people we were WRONG and explain WHY.
What did I do? I made racist jokes. I participated in gossip I should not have. I laughed at others jokes. I made fun of other races. I’ve made fun of white folks too, especially those I thought were “more black than white.” It doesn’t matter my brother is a gay man. I’ve made those jokes too! Mmhmmmm. You too?
So, can I blame this on my upbringing in a small southern racist town where people of color were segregated in the northwest corner of town? Partially. In Hazen, where I grew up, the black folk had their own church, grocery, and school. In fact, I can’t recall seeing a black person on “our side of town” prior to grade school, 3rd or 4th grade.
I do recall the March Against Fear in 1969. Most of it is a blur to me now, but there are very distinct things I remember, like sitting on the top of my Dad’s old Ford truck at the only stoplight intersection in town so I could see. I remember Dad telling my brother and me not to tell Mom he brought us to watch Lance Watson (alias Sweet Willie Wine) pass through Hazen. I remember a handful of black folks simply walking down the highway. I don’t recall any voices. I was seven.
Watson began his 135-mile walk to Little Rock along Highway 70 on Wednesday, August 20, starting in West Memphis at 8:07 a.m. Three fellow Invaders and two young Forrest City residents joined him. At 7:00 p.m. the walkers reached their first destination of Forrest City. National Guardsmen had been deployed there to prevent any trouble. Farther down Highway 70 in Hazen (Prairie County), white citizens spent the day readying for the arrival of Watson. Mayor Jerry J. Screeton, a former state senator, led the resistance. Arkansas Gazette reporter Matilda Tuohey described the scene: “At every entrance to the city, except the highways, and at the intersection of every city street with Highway 70 were large rice combines and barricades manned by lone men or groups of men, all carrying shotguns and wearing white helmets and hunting vests crammed with bullets.”
As this article states, the expected conflict did not arise. But I remember the scene. I remember being confused. I do not recall anyone educating me about why this was happening and that had far reaching impact on my life.
No one talked to the children. We were an audience watching a spectacle.
Hazen Schools desegregated in the fall of 1970, and 136 black students and five black teachers came to Hazen Public School. A school for black students had existed since 1901. I was in the 3rd grade. I had never been so close to a person of color. Honestly, I was afraid of them. I remember their names. They were also afraid. I had heard that the black folks burned down their school, but I don’t know if that’s true or gossip.
Still no one talked to us. No one explained anything. No one made it easy for either the white children or the black children. We were in the middle of history being made, but no adult talked to us about it. Not then, not in Jr. High or High School. No one said – this is the right thing to do and why. No one said – we are all the same in the eyes of God/Goddess. We were not educated about segregation or desegregation. We were left to form our own thoughts as children.
This truth hurts. It didn’t stop there. I didn’t talk to my children about race, about the why, where, what-for. I left it to others. I left it to schools, preachers, teachers, friends, and family. In this I feel I failed as a human, as a parent because I see so much of my old thoughts, feelings and habits in them. There comes a time, an age, and it’s probably different for everyone to some point – a time when we KNOW right and wrong, good and evil. Yet, we do the easy things. Don’t we?
Just like my schooling, my children had history books where only the easier to teach and more exciting chapters were taught. The books gave (give) written word views to the spectacles of history, simple opinions of other white people for the most part. No feelings, just words on a page. Then there is the censorship of books, the banned books, the text books that sugarcoat history and events or totally leave events out!
What this all boils down to in my simple mind is this: We must begin to teach, reteach, redirect, and revisit the past. We must talk to our children about all types of discrimination from a very early age. Yes, we start with educators. Teachers share their voices and their views on life with our children daily. They must be held accountable to teach the true history and do the right thing. They must allow our children to hear other views. They must allow our children to discuss, be heard, argue, debate and learn ALL of it, not just what is easiest.
I am NOT a proponent of children having cell phones. I can’t understand why any child under 10 needs a cell phone. If a parent/grandparent thinks their child isn’t watching the media (good and bad), they are wrong. If a parent/grandparent thinks they aren’t on YouTube watching pretty much ANYTHING, they are wrong. There’s so much “crack” on social media that will twist a child up. Adults are not the only ones with inquiring minds! I have personally taken away a cell phone of a 9 year old because he was watching illegal dog fights! Seriously? How does a 9 year old know about this and where to find it on his phone? Mom? Dad? Hello? If you don’t have some sort of parental monitoring or control app on your child’s phone – you are crazy and you are the problem. Period.
I believe teaching also falls heavily to those who spiritually minister to our children. I do not care what religion you follow or even if you do not acknowledge religion or faith of any kind. I don’t care if your kids go to church, Sunday school, mass, bible study, youth choir, youth gatherings, youth camps, mosques, tabernacles, synagogues, or pagan circles/groups. Those in leadership roles must instill the basic knowledge of right and wrong to our little ones and young people. Parents: KNOW who is teaching your children. We must begin a time of truth-teaching wherein our children learn to be humble human beings, know how to be merciful and kind to ALL, and know there are consequences for wrong behaviors. Children need to learn how to be peacemakers.
Until this is happens, society will continue this vicious circle of hate and discrimination we find ourselves in today. How do we fix this? Mend yourself first. Be a good example NOW. Talk to your children NOW and teach them WELL.