Much is required. Right? You’re familiar with the old adage. I’ve been thinking about this piece of wisdom over the past few days as national events have once again thrust race, black lives, and police relationships into the spotlight. So what does this idea of collective responsibility have to do with current events?
Last night over dinner I decided to bring up the conversation with my kids. Of course, they’re only 6, 4, and 1, but I wanted to at least plant the seed. Besides, I expected more to stick with the 16 year old (I know…getting anything to stick with a teenager can be hit or miss…I take the risk every time, I’m still learning). I began the conversation by asking the girls if they realize how blessed we are to live where we live and have the opportunities we possess. Not really getting anywhere, I launch into a diatribe about being frustrated that with all our ancestors sacrificed, this is how we repay them. At this point even the 1 year old was rolling her eyes it seemed. Of course I was getting off track.
Then it dawned on me as I we watched the season opener of Blackish later that evening. Usually, Blackish is one of my favorite shows, and it comes with the added bonus of evoking timely conversations about issues facing black families, particularly well off black families. This year’s season opener appeared to be seriously tone deaf, or so I thought at first. (Spoiler alert- he takes the family to disney world, gets VIP passes, the kids lose their mind over the loss of VIP status as does the dad, in the end they all realize that they can enjoy themselves just as much together as a family with or without the perks, and they even make a grateful flashback to when the dad grew up with less).
Watching this episode though made me think about how I’m going to have to show, not tell this lesson to my children. The problem is, they don’t really see the differences right now in how they live, versus how others live. My niece should understand more, but I think she’s slipped into a false sense of security about how the world works. Either way, the only way I think I’m going to get the message across is by getting my family more involved in the work I’m doing outside the walls of our home.
It’s not hard for me to forget my own emotionally scaring run in with the law as a 19 year old black boy, visiting DC. I was there for a summer internship and my colleague and I (an African male a few years older than I was at the time) were driving back from Baltimore where I was visiting my then girlfriend, now wife Samantha. It was about 1am when the cops pulled us over, told us that our car was stolen (it wasn’t), took the license plate off of it, and told us that if we drove the vehicle without a license plate we’d be arrested. Then off they drove, leaving us stranded on the side of the road. I was terrified, but mostly naive about my rights or how the law worked. I didn’t know any different, I just felt that somehow this couldn’t be right, but who was I to argue with a police officer? Looking back on that experience it’s still hard for me now to wrap my head around the idea that even for a Dean’s list student at Emory University, I was not immune to what I’d heard to be true all my life, but never fully experienced until that night myself in DC. Now, it’s a scar from life experience that I carry with me forever, but does it matter if it can’t be used to teach others a lesson?
My girls used to love going with me to my teen dads workshops when I would help build the skill of teen fathers to be ed advocates for their kids. Over time this exposure helped them appreciate what they had as they would ask innocently perceptive questions that only children are willing to ask. These are the kinds of experiences we need more of, volunteering as a family regularly at a homeless shelter, starting back up the work with young dads through my new initiative Dads 4 Ed, and yes, especially joining a peaceful protest to understand the issues facing disenfranchised members of our community.
Young people are always talking about #staywoke, well, I submit that parents need to do the same thing with their kids. We need to help them #staywoke about the realities of the world around us. A part of that comes with sharing our own experiences, and another part comes with exposing them to the experiences of marginalized groups around them in order to build a sense of empathy and collective responsibility. They need to realize, and soon that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. The longer we remain silent and on the sidelines, assuming our comfortable lives will save us, the more we ensure our own demise.