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Racism, Responsibility, and Parenting

Last week, I sat down with my oldest daughter to talk about what’s been going on in the news. Our relationship is usually about showing each other funny memes and videos – you see, I’m the pushover parent. That specific evening we were watching some clips from Happy Gilmore, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and the new iteration of Ducktales.

Eventually, we talked about what it was like to grow up in a more diverse area than Idaho. I grew up in Donora, Pennsylvania - a small town south of Pittsburgh. This progressed into a conversation about the Black Lives Matters movement.

Some of the things we talked about were:

1. I explained that while the internet is an amazing thing, I don’t think our brains our able to process the collective anger and outrage of the entire world at once. We looked at an aggregate news source online and looked at the headlines. I explained to her that she is not responsible for the whole world, but that she is responsible for the things around her – how she treats her family, her peers, and her teachers.

2. We talked about what it’s like for someone to be treated as “less than” or inferior. We talked about the history of slavery, in the United States and throughout the world. We talked about hate crimes against people who, in one way or another, may be different than us. We talked about how we should seek to build all people up. And, sometimes, we need to let go of toxic people who only live in their anger and misery. Finally, I explained that just as we should never treat people as “less than,” we should never accept someone treating us that way.

3. We talked about the Black Lives Matters movement. I told her that as a movement, Black Lives Matters is very important and what happened to George Floyd was horrific. We talked about other examples of black and white men who were killed by police officers.

Because I am a member of the Minnesota State Bar, I was able to attend the first of the Transforming the Minneapolis Police Department trainings. I was really surprised because, and I really believe this, it wasn’t an anti-police meeting (which I really thought it was going to be). There was an acknowledgement that what had happened to George Floyd was horrible and the need to prevent it from happening again through continual proper training and, yes, getting rid of bad officers.

What surprised me was the discussion about getting help for the officers in situations for which they’re not trained. Police officers are not psychologists or social workers. When there is a problem at 2am, people call the police. Oftentimes, the police can only stop the problem by removing people from the situation – whether it be to get them to leave or to arrest them. Those officers are going into a situation that is already volatile in a place where, most likely, they are not going to be welcome by at least one of the parties. A lot of the conversation was about making sure that there were other types of people there to help the officers. For example, having a social worker on call with the police at 3am for specific type of situations.

At the end of the meeting, there wasn't a call to disband the police department but to help them become better.

4. My daughter and I talked about how people, groups of people, and organizations have tried to manipulate the recent protests and the Black Lives Matters movement for their own purpose. You can always count on someone trying to take advantage of a good thing. I explained that the Black Lives Matter organization that people donate to is not the same as the Black Lives Matter movement. I was hesitant to do this, but I was encouraged by a couple of my black friends that I had been talking to about all of this.

We went through their website where it talks about dismantling the family unit and that is something that I didn't personally agree with. I explained that there were some good things that the organization did, but that it was a political organization that takes money and sends it to specific candidates for political office, especially the U.S. Presidential election. I told her that I think the money, hundreds of millions of dollars, could be used for specific local issues to help the black community and not sent to white politicians to run for office. It is possible that some of the money is sent for local issues, but the vast majority of it is sent to politicians.

5. Finally, we talked a bit about politics and the difference between political parties and ideologies. I explained that there are extremists in both parties, and that those people should be ignored. I also explained that it’s those people who are usually the loudest and the least informed. These are the people, both on the left and right, who would rather scream and shut down others before listen to an opposing view.

At the end of our conversation, I marveled at her maturity. She is so much more mature than I was at 14. Actually, she is probably more mature than I am now.

I imagine that like most people, I’ve spent the past couple of months thinking about how I fit into today’s society and its narrative. However I may fit into it, the one thing I am absolutely positive of is that I have a responsibility as a father. I know that I don’t have all of the answers right now and that there can be some intelligent discussion on points where I may be wrong. However, my goal is to teach my kids to treat people with kindness and not be manipulated by people who don't have their best interest in mind. Also, to teach them that there are so many great things we can learn from people who may not have the same background that we do.

Finally, I hope I can teach them from the inspiring words from Kevin Nealon in Happy Gilmore:

“You gotta rise above it. You gotta harness in the good energy, block out the bad. Harness. Energy. Block. Bad. Feel the flow Happy. Feel it. It's circular. It's like a carousel. You pay the quarter, you get on the horse, it goes up and down, and around. It's circular. Circle, with the music, the flow. All good things.”

Yes... all good things.


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