Parent-to-Parent Moment

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Black Lives Matter Mural painted by artist of color in Spokane WA | photo credit Erin Okuno

Earlier this week a friend told me about an anti-Black incident that happened online. A student entered another class’s online classroom and “Zoom bombed” the class. The teacher is Black and the person hurled racist insults towards the teacher. When the incident was shared in a local parent Facebook group, people immediately commented with disbelief – “I’m speechless…,” “I’m disgusted…,” “How did they get in?” Then the conversation turned to online security – how did the person get into the class?, wasn’t there a password?, blaming the teacher for not using a waiting room, and so on. I will admit when I first heard about it, my first question was “How?” I wanted to jump to a belief that it is an isolated incident and if we make technical fixes these forms of violence and racism can be squashed quickly. After a dense-moment of pause I realized no matter how many technical fixes we put into place the classroom racism, online or in person, won’t end. The racism there is the same racism everywhere it is now just in our living rooms because of online classrooms via Zoom. Google Meet, and Teams meetings. We didn’t invite it into our living rooms, but its always been there.

What people in the group missed is there is no technical fix and as parents, especially white parents, we need to take responsibility for the actions of our kids – especially online since we are now the adults present in their daily learning lives. COVID19 means many schools are online and with this comes a new set of responsibilities. Racism has always existed in education and within schools, and remember racism is always self-correcting meaning since people aren’t gathering together to learn, racism will now find its way into online spaces as well. No technical fixes (e.g. stronger online security) will end online racism. Sadly, the people on the Facebook thread kept wanting to talk about online security, deflection of responsibility back to the school system, and do anything but consider what their roles are in allowing racism to now move online.

“… about the system, the way of life, the philosophy…”

I’ve been reading the March Book Three, Rep. John Lewis’ graphic memoir about the march on Selma and his civil rights journey. The book opens with the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, on Sunday, September 15, 1963, where four young girls were murdered in the bombing. In his eulogy Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, said: “They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American dream.”

The words “the system and the way of life, the philosophy” produces what it intends to produce brought me back to the online conversation and how very few people were willing to step forward and say “I will talk with my child tonight about online racism,” or something along the lines of understanding, acceptance of responsibility, and action. When we don’t commit to these direct actions we allow “the systems and way of life” to continue forward and allows racism to continue. Disbelief and looking for technical fixes won’t end racism.

Earlier today I was in a conversation with two amazing Black women colleagues. We were prepping for a meeting and as we did so mentioned how interested they would be in how different people would answer a prompt about what people need in order to show up as an anti-racist disruptor. Would people be down for the work, or “just here to learn.” Saying you’re learning without action is just another form of harm since it allows the systems of racism to continue.

As a parent I don’t expect my children to learn by simply exposing them to a topic. Children need to build their skills around understanding race, and disrupting racism. This conversation will look different for different families, especially for families of color and white families. Just tonight I talked to my kid about what Asian privilege is and how it shows up. As we were reading the book March Book 3 by the late Rep. John Lewis, my kid asked about voting rights and why Black people couldn’t register to vote in the 1960s. In many ways he couldn’t process the police violence against Black people who wanted to vote. We talked about how the history of state violence and police brutality. He asked where Asians fit into the history of voting. This allowed us to explore Asian privilege, anti-Blackness, and how systems of injustice continue today. He probably doesn’t know all of the technical language and lingo, but he has a better sense of what racism is.

What will you do as a parent?

This is a parent-to-parent* moment, especially non-Black and non-Indigenous parents: What actions are you committing to taking around race with your kids? As parents we have incredible spheres of influence with our kids, their peers and fellow families, and with their schools, clubs, and other spaces. What are you willing to do to disrupt racism? We can’t continue to be appalled, blame others, or to think our children aren’t exposed to racism. We need to do our part to disrupt racism everyday.

*When I say parent, I include anyone who is caregiving of a child, not just the traditional definition of parent.

If you need concrete actions here are a few:

  • Be explicit and ask your child(ren) if they have witnessed racism, whether in real life, or now virtually. Give them an opportunity to talk about it and make sense of race and racism.
  • Ask your children what they are reading – if you notice it is light on books by authors of color, borrow some from the library or order it from a POC owned bookstore and read it with them.
  • If you hear of a racist incident, especially online, don’t blame the teachers and school staff for the incident.
  • Support educators, especially right now, with their work around creating anti-racist education. A teacher friend offered the suggestion of asking teachers if you can buy them a book from their wish list so they can build a more inclusive classroom library. I’ve never known a teacher to turn down a high-quality new book, especially new titles that are timely.
  • Ask your school’s PTA or other parent clubs and groups what are they doing to create welcoming environments for families of color. Avoid savior complex of wanting to solve POC engagement problems.
  • Ask your PTA, sports associations, clubs, etc. what conversations they are having about race and how it shows up within their community.
  • Hold other parents accountable for their actions too.  

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