Celebration in the face of mourning. Love in the face of pain. Connection in the face of fear. This is humanity at its richest. Sharing in that humanity together is the essence of community. The human experience is a story of trauma and tragedy, as well as one of love, connection and hope. As we face the world with our children, and engage in difficult explanations and conversations, we have the opportunity to introduce stories of joy, healing and restoration. As Fred Rodgers famously said, “Look for the helpers.” And if you look hard enough, there they are.
Our history is positively brimming with amazing women who gave their talents to help industries and our society as a whole progress and be more inclusive. Some, we are very familiar with - Harriet Tubman or Susan B. Anthony - and have learned snapshots of their contributions through school or popular culture. Many others, especially Women of Color, are all too often left out of the history books or the mainstream narrative. And that leaves us all the poorer, because we miss out on giving our kids real-life examples of women in different fields, and flourishing in those roles.
Sociologist Maggie Hagerman has been documenting white kids’ racial attitudes over the last decade and is observing a shift from “I don’t see racism or think racism exists” to “I see racism but I don’t care.”
Her research on the dangers of racial apathy serves as one of the strongest calls for our work at We Stories that we’ve seen.
Psychologist Derald Wing Sue explains this same shift and introduces an important concept: instead of a “conscious desire to hurt,” racial apathy conveys a “failure to help.”
Hagerman explains “that failure is twofold: it is not just a failure of action, it’s a failure of empathy — it’s the failure to even care about the persistence and consequences of racism in the United States. This “failure to help” — this failure to concern oneself with the suffering and humanity of others — is a powerful tool, used to reproduce and perpetuate existing racial oppression.”
This underscores what we know and see and fear. Left unspoken, unpacked, and unchallenged we who are not most impacted (white people) become numb and apathetic. We create a normal that accepts, allows, and perpetuates racism. Our children notice. And they do as we do. They fail to help too.
October and November bring us the holidays of Columbus Day and Thanksgiving. Two moments on the calendar that require us to reckon with the way Native people have been treated historically and how we retell that history in the present day. Often times parents find these holidays as their first opportunities to reflect on how to address Native American history and learn more about tribes today. This time of year offers the chance to highlight a counter narrative that Native people are not static - confined to a time in place in history - but dynamic, and very much present and facing oppression today.
Yet confining them to October/November goes to further perpetuate Native people only being present in a specific time - instead of seeing them all around us, all of the time. (And here I am doing just that. I recognize the hypocrisy here, and also firmly believe that today is a great day to start a new pattern of noticing Native voices. #joinme!)
Because we do see Native People everywhere - we just haven’t been taught to recognize their presence. Many states and cities in the United States get their names from the tribes that used to inhabit that land, even Missouri (from the Missouria tribe, present day Ote-Missouria tribe) and Illinois (from the Illini tribe, present day Peoria tribe)! There is so much history that we can be learning about year-round.
Something Happened in Our Town: A Child's Story about Racial Injustice was published by Magination Press in May 2018. This picture book was designed to help parents talk about race and racial injustice with children ages 4-8. As the story begins, some schoolchildren overhear news of a police shooting of an unarmed Black man. The story follows two families as they address their children's questions about this incident. WeStories had an opportunity for a virtual conversation with the authors of this unique and timely book, and we wanted to share their responses with our community.
We have less than a month to go until election day. Present in this campaign season are issues that have plagued our nation for centuries: racism, populism, immigration, inclusion and representation among others.
Embedded in every advertisement, news article, and speech are the questions - Who are we as a nation? How does our past intersect with our promise? What is the meaning of democracy?
As children, we’re taught a fairly simplistic version of democracy - a form of government in which people choose leaders by voting. This simple framework can, at an early age, help bestow the power of the vote. American children are told: your vote counts.
But our nation's history is more complicated.
St. Louis is truly a tale of two cities. Neighborhoods of high crime and high poverty eerily exist in a region that also contains communities with family-friendly attractions, beautiful housing, and good schools. This divide is well-known and historically accepted in our region.
One city deals with disinvestment so devastating, it is regularly and nationally recognized as a worst place to live. This is adjacent to another city so enriched and safe that it’s regularly and nationally recognized as a best place to raise a family.
It is this contrast that we tend to focus on most when we talk about segregation. And we should. It’s real. It’s startling. It’s damaging to our region and the people who live here.
This reality alone should be enough to muster the political will to change it. But it's not. And that has everything to do with the shadow of racial bias in the city of abundance. This shadow blinds people from seeing a national and local history of policy advantages that got them inside this bubble. It makes them complicit in policies and ways of life that put this region among the 10 most segregated in the country.
“But, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I HAD to say yes. Because in the 6 years I’ve lived in St. Louis, I have learned something important, and I do want to share it with you today.
What I have learned is that everyday people, citizens, parents, and students can make a big difference.
I think intellectually, I always knew that. I think intellectually, you probably all know that, too. But my experience has made that idea real to me in ways I never expected when I first moved here…
Days after Michael Brown was shot and killed I stood on my front porch staring at the street in front of my house. I was pushing my then 6 month old son in a swing and watching my two year old son and four year old daughter run around in the front yard. I was nauseous thinking about Michael Brown’s body on the pavement and the hours that he lay still in the street. I was nauseous knowing that that wouldn’t happen to my white boys. I knew that someone like me would never be held back by law enforcement from my wounded child, as Michael Brown’s mother was. I couldn’t pretend it was a normal day. I couldn’t pretend I was fine...or that this was fine.
It was then that I first knew that I had to talk to my kids about race. Actually it was really then that I fully confronted the truth that I HADN’T yet talked to my kids about race.
Change often starts with a nudge, a subtle but intentional shift that can’t always be seen by others. A push against what’s stuck, perhaps an old habit or limiting belief. A small step towards a new connection or way of thinking.
Over time, the nudges and small steps add up, turning into strides. A new pace is established. It feels good…like progress.
Most people have experienced something like this.
But it’s different when this is happens in community… when those nudges are known to others, and those strides are taken together. When there is a common purpose and an eagerness to help each other push against the forces that hold us collectively in place.
This is the magic that we experience.