I knew I needed to do it.
I was too afraid to start. I rehearsed the conversation in my head over and over, but still didn't know where to begin. I had excuses: They are too young. They won't understand. It doesn't directly affect them. They don't have the historical perspective yet.
But the truth is, I was afraid to tell my children about Charlottesville, because I was afraid to reveal to them the ugliness of humanity, the failure of my generation and their grandparents' generation to address social ills and instead to sweep them under the rug. I was afraid to see my pain, confusion, sadness, guilt, and fear reflected in their innocent faces. It was hard enough to address the inadvertent mispronunciation of the African country, Niger, by a classmate, and the loving, necessary correction of that mispronunciation by another of their friends, last year, and the conversation about words the people use to steal the humanity away from other humans. But now, I was confronted by the opportunity, the need to tell a bigger story, one that begins with the birth of our country, one that takes place in one of our ancestral countries, one that continued into their grandparents' childhoods, and one that horrifyingly affects us all today.
My VBF wasn't a coward.
Remember when I told you about one of my VBFs who thinks similarly to me and also challenges me? He posted on Facebook about when he and his wife had this talk with his daughters, who are aged similarly to mine. His courage to share with his children, emboldened me to share with mine. With his permission, I share his words.
Had to have "the talk" with the girls tonight.
You know the one.
We asked Gracie if she remembered when she had learned about WWII. We asked the girls if they remember who Hitler was and what he stood for, what his group of followers were called.
Then I watched my wife, with tears in her eyes, explain that this weekend a group of people gathered together, and some of those people were waving the Nazi flag. That this group of people were angry, and chanting, and had torches and that they were so angry, that one of these people got in his car and drove into a crowd of people who were there to speak out against them, and one person died.
We then told our girls that they have a really important job now because our president, the man who is supposed to be the leader of our entire country, he has sided with those people waving the Nazi flag. Their job is to go to school every day and watch for anyone who is bullying anyone else. To watch out and make sure that any African-American students, Hispanic students, Muslim students, ANYONE who might be treated as an "other"...that they have a friend and an ally. That if they should see anyone speak hurtfully, that they speak up. They tell their teacher. They tell the principal. They tell us.
For God's sake, people. We just had to have a conversation with our kids about God damned Nazi's. I haven't used that phrase..."God Damned" in almost 20 years. And I didn't use it lightly here. But that's where we are.
God. Damned. Nazis.
Thank you friend, for having the tough talks and encouraging the rest of us to do the same. My friend is part of a podcast, in which he regularly partakes in tough talks. I encourage you to listen. Click here to check out The Curiosity Hour podcast.
So I had the talk.
And I know it wasn't perfect, and I cried and my daughters cried. They confronted their privilege and dug deep into their empathy. It was tough, it was frightening, but it was necessary.
They haven't had a lot of American or World History, so we started there. I briefly explained our country's history with slaves, the Civil War, the anger after the Civil War. We reviewed and expanded on what they knew about the Jim Crow era, and the Civil Rights leaders. We talked about how life is easier for our family, even now, even after all these years, simply because our skin is paler. That we are treated differently in society and have been given different opportunities because of our hue.
We backtracked and talked, for the first time, about Nazi Germany, about Hitler and his and his party's ability to convince so many others to be afraid of another group of people, this time, Jews. That they blamed everything that was going wrong in life on these people, because they were different, and that similarly to America, this group of people robbed the other group of people of their humanity. That the Nazis convinced themselves to ignore the truth that we are all children of the Divine and that we all are worthy and deserving of love, and instead fed the part of themselves that thrived on fear and selfishness. That what they chose to do to those people can never be excused or explained away. That we still mourn today the great loss of lives that occurred during the Holocaust, and that we can continue to learn from it whenever we feel the urge to be afraid of someone who is different.
Then we fast-forwarded to present day. Unbelievably. We talked about a group of people who wore the flag of Nazis and shouted hateful things, who were supposedly there to protest the removal of a statue of a Confederate leader. We talked about how usually when there are statues in a city of a person, it is to indicate that we honor that person. We talked about what it would feel like to be a black American living in that city, and seeing it honor a person who fought on the side to break up our country so that people that looked like them could continue to be slaves. We talked about what it would feel like to be an American living in that city, and seeing a statue that implies that we honor a person who fought to break up our country.
We talked about people who believed the opposite of this group that gathered to protest the removal of the statue. Who believed, like me, that all people are important and deserving. That one skin color is not better than another. About groups like Black Lives Matter who say NOT that black or brown or tan skin is better than white skin, but that it is important and beautiful in the same way that our skin is. That their mommy agrees. That these people were there to bravely speak words of love, but they were probably angry too. We talked about how people on both sides might have said angry words, but only one group was there because they had a message of hate. We talked about how one man from that group was filled with so much of the hate, selfishness, and fear, that he decided to drive his car into a group of people, and took the life of a child of God, whose name is Heather, and injured many others. We talked about how that was scary, and as tears rolled down our faces, I explained how our President talked about this event and talked about how both groups were wrong. One child wondered if this was true. I told her what I believed, but explained that everybody doesn't always agree.
I told them that I wanted them to know this because they have a call as Americans and as people who know God, to love and to stand up for others. I reminded them that our whiteness, our economic status, our abilities, all make our life easier than some of our friends and neighbors. And that I expect them to look for friends who are being bullied, and stand up for them, to tell an adult, to look for the outsiders and be their friends, and to recognize the beauty that comes in our differences. I said that for humans, it is real easy to feed selfishness, that we might worry that when someone else gets a little more than what they have, that that might mean that there won't be enough for us. But there is more than enough. I told them it was important for me to tell them all of this and to show them our privilege, because when I was a kid, no one talked about it. The message to me and my generation was that everything would be okay if we just pretended it was so, and because we did that, we ignored decades of pain and unfairness. But now that kids like them know, they can do better, and they can literally change our world. I told them that I know that Baby Girl 1 and Baby Girl 2 are absolutely world changers, and with the ways they choose to love big and small, their love will be magnified and change lives. That as they grow up they can influence with their votes, with the ways they lead, and they can help heal by showing other people how to recognize the light in all others. That I want them to know they are important because they are children of God, but also to know that everybody else is just as important, because they are also children of God.
The core of that word is courage. It takes courage to change the world. It starts at home. We can't ignore it, but we can encourage the change by building our children up with the message of Love. Be encouraged.