This past weekend was sad but was also eye opening. My intent was to join my buddies and go to the Women’s March to join the 500k (!!!!!!) people in D.C., but was nervous due to reports of counter-protesters in white sheets/Confederate flags and having to explain that to my kid. He was disappointed about not going- he isn’t fond of the new President either and he came to that conclusion on his own accord.
But I couldn’t let this weekend go to waste, so I took the opportunity to teach my son about why people were protesting and about our history. And it was really very sad to have to explain to him all about slavery, segregation, Jim Crow laws, racism, and the ugly things that happened to slaves once they got here.
We visited the Banneker Douglass Museum, which has two prominent exhibits. One exhibit is a timeline of African American history from 1600 through the 1970’s. The other exhibit is housed in the old church building next door- a history of marriage ceremonies since slavery and the stories of 8 black couples, past and present, who had/have been together for over 50 years.
The museum tied these two exhibits together beautifully. Long story short, they detailed stories of Africans being brought here by force, their family unit disintegration, not being permitted to marry, learn to read, etc. And despite all these encumbrances, they maintained normalcy by creating their own rituals to share with their families (jumping the broom, singing spirituals, praise and worship), which eventually culminated in these 8 couples with amazingly strong marriages and beautiful families.
We talked a lot about Roots by Alex Haley; there is a memorial by the Annapolis docks in his honor.
We talked about how people on the slave ships were treated (“but Mom, how did they go to the bathroom if they were chained together?”)
We talked about how babies were taken away from their mamas and sold off (I got a blank silent stare on that one).
We talked about how families were separated and how kids were separated from their moms and dads.
We talked about the two sides of the Civil War and what the war was all about.
We talked about Harriet Tubman, how the Underground Railroad worked and how she helped so many people escape to freedom.
We talked about what Jim Crow laws were and saw actual signs on display, segregating black and white facilities (“these are DUMB laws, mom”). He saw the differences between the little short black water fountains and the big, gleaming white water fountains (“but that’s not fair, mom”).
We talked about how black kids couldn’t go to school with white kids and how the white schools had all the advantages, good books, nice clean buildings and bus services, while the black schools had to fight for the few crumbs of resources the government threw at them.
We talked about Martin Luther King Jr., sit-ins, protests for fair employment, protests for fair housing, Freedom Riders, how both black and white activists fought for the enforcement of laws meant for equality for everyone.
And I watched his reactions closely as we went through each of the exhibits.
I caught a picture of his face as he was listening to one of the narratives of a slave who was beaten for looking his master in the eye. And it was a look of distress. When he saw footage of the riots where people were beaten and hit with fire hoses, something clicked: “But mom, I’m colored, too”. He had never heard the term ‘colored’ before visiting this museum.
I felt like I had to seize this opportunity to teach him this stuff (and expand upon the undoubtedly watered down version that he learned in school). And he was upset, the same way i was upset when my dad taught me all this stuff. I didn’t even get into all the long term resulting consequences of slavery; the modern day slavery/unequal justice system, the surreptitious inequality in the workplace and how black people have to fight so much harder than everyone else. That, i will teach him little by little.
Because people who don’t know their history are at a higher risk of repeating this type history. And if people don’t think we have a dangerous ship of fools in this administration, they haven’t been paying attention.
It is NOT OK to use threats against people because of their immigration status. This country was built on the backs of immigrants. Its not OK to objectify women and say stuff like “grab them by the pussy” or “blood coming out of their…. wherever”. (Who says that?) Its not OK to make fun of people with disabilities. Its not OK to shoot off at the mouth and be irresponsible in communicating with the public. And lastly, it is not OK to lead your people with the use of fear tactics. Its manipulative. This is the highest esteemed job in the world, act the part.
He re-energized the base of people that were desperately grasping at the little bit of superiority they felt they had left. The same people who said they would fight President Obama at every turn- no one can tell me that wasn’t about color and being resentful of leadership by a black man. This election made all the closet racists a little more bold, which is scary. Very scary.
And so, I had to have some very candid conversations with my child about history. To those who say marching and demonstrating wont do anything, I would respectfully disagree. Marches and demonstrations throughout history have paved the way to changes in policy. Selma to Montgomery, Tienanmen Square, Berlin, Boston (Tea Party) and the list goes on.
So, we will be at the next march- I am certain there will be another march.