Teach Your Children Well

This afternoon I attended a seminar called Hate Groups in the Wake of Charlottesville: A Community Leadership Briefing. The meeting was held at a local Jewish synagogue and attracted a fairly diverse crowd. The audience gathered to listen to a distinguished panel of speakers that included Joseph Levin, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center and Oren Segal, the Director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. Joseph and Oren were joined by two local FBI agents, Kevin Fisk and Ben Egan, each with expertise in the areas of counter terrorism and civil rights respectively.

The seminar started with questions posed to the panelists. Several questions were about the “alt-right” (short for alternative right) movement. The consensus of the panelists was that the alt-right is a re-branding of white supremacy with slightly different tactics. The alt-right is specifically targeting younger people and is trying to mainstream their message. They rely heavily on social media as a recruitment tool and are boldly making their presence known on college campuses across the United States.

It was pointed out that the use of social media by extremist groups has the ability to unite individuals who are often isolated. In the past, extremist groups needed a charismatic leader to bring a group together, but social media provides a forum to connect isolated individuals and a platform to cheer each other on. For the first time, people in different geographical locations can unite and connect in their extremism.

After listening to the panelists, the audience asked questions. The question on everyone’s mind was, “What can we do to fight these extremist hate groups?” The panelists gave two answers:

First, we need to build communities that embrace differences. We need to support and encourage each other regardless of our ethnic, religious, sexual orientation, gender expression, ability, class, or other differences. When one community is targeted by hate, we need to surround that community with love and support. We unite and stay strong. We speak out against the hate.

Second, we need to talk to children and youth about these issues. The panelist pointed out that kids who are not well-informed about cultural diversity, or are not taught the importance of respect, are the ones who fall victim to the extremist groups. As parents and grandparents, we need to teach our children about the importance of equality, diversity, and inclusion. Our voice needs to be louder and stronger than the extremist voices they might encounter in school, on the playground, on campus, or on social media.

Have you talked to your kids about the importance of diversity, equality, inclusion, love, and respect? Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Make a promise to end the silence. Talk to your children. Read to them. Give them the tools they need to stand up to hate and fear. Model love and respect. Value equality, inclusion, and diversity. Show them that love conquers hate.

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After Darkness, There Will Be Light

“Harmony will prevail. After darkness, there will be light. The light cannot come without the darkness. Better days are bound to come now.”  – Sook Nyul Choi

Terrible things happened in our country today. It’s all over the news and people way smarter than me have already written down their thoughts and reflections about today’s events. I am not a news reporter and I am not interested in the details about what happened. All I know is that a group of white people, who embrace hate and believe that their skin color makes them superior, caused terrible things to happen in Charlottesville, Virginia. Lives have been lost and many of us are shocked and angered that such a blatant demonstration of white supremacy, hate, and violence could happen in this country.

The events of the day have caused me to pause and reflect on those things that moved me from not seeing racism when I started college to being able to see and understand the role racism plays in our country. In addition to understanding racism, I also think it’s incredibly important to identify and be aware of white privilege. The two go hand and hand and are basically two sides of the same coin.

When I reflect on the things in my life that helped me better understand racism and white privilege, I think about (in no particular order):

  • Developing close personal friendships with people of color over a long period of time.
  • Reading Roots: The Sage of an American Family by Alex Haley.
  • Watching the entire 14-episode Eyes on the Prize series. It’s long but incredibly important. Every American should be required to watch this award-winning documentary.
  • Being in situations where I was the only white person in a group.
  • Re-learning American history with a balanced and multicultural lens, such as A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn.
  • Watching a Frontline documentary called A Class Divided that helps demonstrate the effect of prejudice and bias, especially on children.
  • Reading Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson.
  • Working to understand my own upbringing and the limited way I was taught to see the world.
  • Reading White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh.
  • Learning from wise and open-minded teachers and mentors, both white and people of color, who were willing to guide my journey and share their experiences.

Some of these videos and books are older, but many have been revised and are still relevant today. If you are interested in increasing your knowledge and awareness about racism, each of these is a great starting point. I would humbly suggest devoting the time and energy to try all of them. You will have no regrets!

I am also interested and curious to hear your thoughts and experiences. What would you recommend reading, watching, or doing to help white people broaden their awareness of racism? What do you feel compelled to share after witnessing the hate and violence in Charlottesville?

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