Let it Begin with Me

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Following weeks of brutal killings and violence, including the murder of a Philando Castile while a 4-year-old sat in the backseat of the car, I have struggled with what I can do as a stay-at-home mom to affect social change, to affect political change, and to make sure that my kids don’t have to move around in a world like this as adults.

I’ve been largely speechless and paralyzed, and that’s not how I want my kids to see me behave when the world is like this.

This week I came across a powerful article that lays out exactly how my family and I can be allies with minority communities. It calls for changing how you think, what you put up with, and who you make friends with. I may not be able to change police policy or systemic racism, but these are things I can do, and more importantly, I can teach my children to do.

Here are the points that really resonated with me.

  1. Don’t put up with racist jokes. I am guilty of this: One day, at the playground, I heard a 3rd grader singing a song with the n-word in it. It was an old play on “Jingle Bells” that I recognized from my southern youth. I was appalled, but I put off responsibility for correcting him. I told myself he wasn’t my kid—what right did I have to say something? But my kids were there. They heard it. Other kids heard it. And what they saw was that no one said anything. That’s not what I want to teach my kids. I am going to think about how I can respond to these situations in the future so I’m not scrambling for a gentle but appropriate answer when I hear something hateful. Having a gentle response is important to me because it’s harder for others to listen, learn, or change if I’m not gentle.
  2. Realize that standing up for one group doesn’t mean trampling another. Don’t fall into the rhetorical trap so many set by thinking that by standing up for one community, you’re disowning another. People are multifaceted and capable of caring about more than one cause or even opposing causes at the same time. Peace and equality should be a goal of people of all races, sexes and beliefs.
  3. Diversify your media. Social media is dangerous in that it’s easy to drown out every voice that you don’t agree with or identify with. I am going to challenge myself by hunting out relevant voices that represent a different cultural experience than my own. I already enjoy reading Humans of New York, which tells the uplifting and sometimes heartbreaking stories of a wide diversity of people, but I’m going to add other sites and look for more to add, like HuffPost Black Voices and The Root.
  4. Teach your children about race. I can do a better job here. It simple things, like buying books that feature a variety of characters and families, and toys that represent more than just our own experience or race. As my kids get older, these kinds of books will be a great way to start conversations.
  5. Make a diverse group of friends. This one will be a work in progress, because I want these interactions to be genuine. When we lived on the East Coast, where no one makes eye contact or smiles at people they don’t know, I learned how not being acknowledged makes you feel less-than. I need to create space around me for diversity, through little things like who I smile at in the park, or who I stand next to in a room full of strangers, or who I strike up a conversation with in the playroom at the library. Sure, it’s always easier to gravitate toward those who outwardly seem to have something in common for me. But now I see it’s more important to find that commonality with people who may, at first, appear to share nothing in common with me. This is another area where I can teach my kids more just by modeling than any amount of conversation.

Don’t be fooled by the rhetoric. This problem is not too big for us. It can be solved, but it has to begin with you. And me.

“Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth
The peace that was meant to be.

With God as our Father
Brothers all are we.
Let me walk with my brother
In perfect harmony.”

“Let There Be Peace On Earth”
Jill Jackson and Sy Miller, 1955

Erin Hayes Burt

Erin Hayes Burt

Erin Burt is a freelance writer and mom of three girls. She enjoys yoga and reading non chick-lit fiction when she's not translating the ramblings of toddlers or training for her next half marathon.
Erin Hayes Burt

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Erin Burt is a freelance writer and mom of three girls. She enjoys yoga and reading non chick-lit fiction when she's not translating the ramblings of toddlers or training for her next half marathon.