Thursday, June 25, 2015

Why My Son Knows About Charleston

One of my favorite scenes in the Harry Potter series takes place toward the end of the fifth book. Harry, who has already had multiple heartbreaking losses in his life, has just lost his godfather. He is raging, he is sad, he is numb. And Dumbledore, his mentor, finally shares with him the truth of Harry's story. Who he will have to be. Why he has been targeted by the most evil wizard in mankind. Why he lost his parents. What he will need to do to overcome that evil.

And he shares why he, Dumbledore, waited so long to tell him. Over and over, he goes back to the same thing. He just felt Harry was too young to know, too young to understand, to carry the burden. That he, Dumbledore, didn't want to cause him the pain of truth.

And Dumbledore then admits this was a tragic mistake. It never feels like a good time to share the truth of tragedy. But if you don't tell the truth, you can never understand. You can never fully process the gravity of that fight against evil. You can't prepare yourself.

This is why I told my son about Charleston.

This is why, when I finally had a moment alone with him, even after we had been laughing and joking and I was loathe to "spoil" the moment, I told him.

I told him about Dylann Roof, about his hatred and his gun. I told him about the 9 people who died at a church bible study and about the people who played dead to survive. I told him that there are more people than we realize who believe these same things that drove him to this act of violence. I told him that sometimes I don't sleep at night because I worry that his brothers will run into these people at a younger age than I am prepared to handle or that the people they run into will have gotten so far along in their anger that they will be behave like Dylann Roof did last week and my sons will be harmed. His brothers. Friends of his that are black. They will be treated differently, hated, and those who parent them will have bigger fears than the average American parent.

This is why I told my son about Charleston.

Some might say he was too young. I guarantee you that parents of black children are telling their kids about this. That it's just a part of their narrative and how they explain life. Can my son not take 10 minutes out of his summer to be serious and hear about the reality of what it is like to be black in America?

What if, each time a new tragedy occurs (and let's face it, it feels often these days), I deemed him too young? Not ready to understand. Not able to handle the burden of knowledge. What then happens if the first time he hears about it is from someone who agrees with Dylan Roof? From someone who doesn't see the problems our country has with race? What then? Will he come to me with questions about it? Will he believe the lies on some level?

What happens if I don't arm him with the truth and let others do the talking for me?

This is why I told my son about Charleston. And why I told him about the Holocaust. And about the Trail of Tears. And...and...and.

I don't want him sitting in some history class 8 years from now hearing a watered-down version of the truth. I don't want him to grow up with the luxury of ignoring race. I want him to know, right now, what it means to be a white ally.

NOT because his brothers are black.

But because he is a human being who happens to have black brothers and will end up seeing firsthand the racism that most white people can choose to ignore or explain away.

Like most 8 year olds, he took it in. He asked some questions. Who taught that boy to hate that way? His parents? His friends? What is happening to the families of the people who died? Are they sad? Will that man go to jail forever?

He expressed his sadness, his frustration, his own hopes that things will change, his desire to speak up for truth, his own fears for his brothers. And then we prayed for the families.

And then, in typical kid fashion, we moved on to talk about the fun he had at camp that morning. He's a kid. He's resilient.

But I want him to know. To start being an ally now.

And silence will never accomplish anything when it comes to this particular battle. Except, of course, the kind of silence that comes with listening well to the story so we can be better allies.

That is why I told him. And why I'll tell him next time. And, frankly, why you should tell yours.

Maybe we can raise a generation that isn't colorblind and understands the realities facing our nation. Maybe this will be the generation that will finally, finally, see the change that must happen for us to move forward as a nation.

I don't know. But I do know this - I will not, as God is my witness, be a part of raising children who have no clue. I want more for them.

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