For my first 26 years of life, I, rather unapologetically, self-identified as someone who avoids conflict. Dodging debate is pretty easy when you’re white, privileged, and largely surrounded with like-minded classmates, colleagues, friends, and family. When I moved to Texas eleven years ago, however, I found it more difficult to avoid heated conversations. I found myself in work, social, and familial relationships with people who have views of the world that sharply counter my own and, for the first time that I was aware of, simply being honest often put me where I was not used to being–at odds.
First through graduate school and professional communities, I began to reflect on my privilege and my beliefs. I began to equip myself with the knowledge of history and its affect on the present and with the vocabulary and research I needed to defend my beliefs. And so it was first in professional settings that I grew the courage to actively advocate for equity and justice.
It has only been over the last two years or so that I have begun, as many of us have, to challenge myself to engage in these same debates about the truths of the world and its injustices with family and friends. In those discussions, on facebook, over the phone, over email (but not yet in person), one theme I have heard is that we should shield our children from such conversations.
Though it is still a little difficult for me to say, I must disagree. While we must be thoughtful in the ways in which we engage in dialogue with our children about sensitive topics, avoiding these conversations or waiting until our children are “old enough” is perpetuating the problems that are pervasive in our world.
A few months ago, a friend and her 3 children visited me for a few days. While she was here, she saw a picture book out on the table that I had recently read to Maya about immigrants coming to America to flee persecution. In the beginning of the book, the main character, a child, is hiding under a bed with her family. Later, they board a ship to America. My friend asked me, “Aren’t you worried Maya will be afraid, that she will wake up and worry that someone will come after her? That she will hide under her bed in fear?”
I had to pause, to think. “No,” is pretty much all I said. Even though she had asked me out of absolute curiosity and maybe even looking for guidance, I still didn’t feel ready to belt out my reasons for making the choices I do. Maybe her question even made me doubt myself for a moment. But now, today, in a time of so many decisions and orders based upon fear, I feel braver than ever to say that I know that to avoid such discussions with my daughter would be to side with the silencer.
The days are numbered when I will have my children’s undivided attention. I want for them to hear from me loudly and clearly that I love them and they are safe, yes, but also that we have friends and neighbors who are not as privileged as we are to simply avoid the uncomfortable, to ignore the injustices, to evade the truths. I want them to be aware and to want change.
I have been meaning to share resources with parents about how we can use children’s literature to begin to talk to our children about the topics of inequity and diversity that some of us have long been avoiding. Today’s the day. Here’s what I have to say.