Talking About the Events in Charlottesville

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Dear Miriam,

How do I talk to my children about what happened in Charlottesville this weekend? For that matter, how do I process it for myself? And though I’ve gathered with my community to speak out at a vigil, what should I do next so that it’s not just lip service?

Signed,

Hurting in America

Dear Hurting,

Your questions are complicated, but there are other, related questions that are simple, so I’ll start with those. Should you talk to your children? Yes. Should you take time to think through how you want to respond? Yes. Should you continue to speak out? Yes.

So now that you know what you have to do, it’s back to your questions of how. For your children, only you know what they already understand about hatred and politics, racism and anti-Semitism. But also, it’s possible that they know, understand or are capable of understanding more than you think.

Depending on their ages, this could be an incredibly important time to be honest with them about certain aspects of the world and their role and responsibility to make things better.

My husband and I have talked a lot with our kids about human rights and prejudice, but even so, it surprised me that the conversation wasn’t as difficult this weekend as I thought it would be.

I said, “You know how we usually go to rallies to talk about peace and love and helping people? Some other people this weekend went to a rally about hating people, and they were violent and did mean things, and a person was killed. A lot of people who we know who share our values are very upset about it, so we’re having rallies to remind ourselves and everyone else that love is more important than hate and there are more people who believe that than people who want to be violent.”

I’m not saying my answer was perfect, but it got the message across on our way to a vigil, and my kids felt prepared to be there and participate in what went on. There are probably lots of ways you can share information in ways that teach values and how to speak out without scaring kids.

One addition could be sharing specific reasons that people hate other people (while acknowledging that those reasons are invalid). Talking about skin color and religion and other kinds of difference can often be more challenging for adults to discuss than for kids, so push yourself to address these kinds of prejudice directly.

I also know a lot of parents and educators who advocate for much more explicitly talking with kids about racism in particular, but also other -isms, and I encourage you to find a supportive anti-racism parenting forum for more specific suggestions on that front.

As for how you process it, I highly suggest doing so in community. And while online communities are great, in person ones are even better (usually) for really tough times and grappling with this caliber of issue. This is part of ensuring that going to a vigil isn’t the end of it. Find out what organizations in your neighborhood or city are engaged in fighting against white supremacy. Seek out like-minded individuals and find out what tangible actions are coming up.

If you don’t know where to start, just by asking around to people you know at work, at school, at your synagogue and on your street, you are speaking out and letting others know you won’t be silenced in the face of these hateful displays. Believe it or not, showing yourself to be a person of conscience is its own kind of meaningful action.

Just since Saturday, so much has been written and said and debated on these topics, and my suggestions are just a drop in the bucket. But, just like I’m advocating for you, I won’t be silent.

Be well,

Miriam

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