Certain subjects – where hate quickly simmers to boil – should never be sugarcoated. Never.
Cloaked in free speech, they have lurked on the sidelines for generations. On the fringes of society. But over the past few weeks, a newfound mix of white supremacists and neo-Nazis continues its push for mainstream acceptance.
Meanwhile, millions and millions of freedom-loving citizens have been reminded of very ugly moments in American and world history.
Our family included. With my four African-American children at the center. My two other children right behind. Their disabilities in hand, amidst a trail of FASD and early trauma that adds to their uneasiness. Their sense of not feeling welcome. Their inability to clearly distinguish ally from adversary.
Why do some people question their worth?
Silence isn’t the answer. It denies a conversation to educate. It might even reinforce negative perceptions that become further engrained. Nearly impossible to change.
Although family, school or community discussions must be age-appropriate to minimize anxiety in young, impressionable minds, a layer of truth is essential. White hoods and swastikas are no fairy tale.
They always will be symbols of hate.
Without a doubt, people living in fear can turn vicious over time – if we let their distorted thinking run amok. If we allow their mentality to become the norm. And not just the haters in question but anyone facing unresolved trauma. The military vet with PTSD. The adopted child with severe attachment challenges.
The irony – as well as the disturbing parallels.
The hate didn’t just happen one day. It festered. Month by month. Year by year. Anger ready to explode.
Each morning at my house, I do my own small part. The newspaper conveniently lies on the kitchen table for my children to see. And each morning they read the headlines on the front page while looking at the pictures.
These days the news is sometimes toxic – full of hate. That’s when they sit in silence – unsure if their feelings matter.
Am I at risk? Whom can I trust? Will I be judged and shamed?
I never respond immediately – as if I’m reading over their shoulder, invading their privacy.
No need. I read the articles before they awoke, usually after learning about the news online – yesterday.
Today the newspaper provides common ground, a source of reasonably factual information in the world of partisan organizations. Narrow views.
Between bites of food, I casually probe, “Can you believe it?”
Some days I get nods. Other times my children start a conversation. In other words, I’m planting seeds at home – where I prefer my children hearing the unsettling news first.
Balanced with facts. Not too far to the left or to the right. Turning their anger into understanding, then meaningful action. One little step at a time.
At the same time, I realize an important fact. I can’t insulate them from the world forever – when they attend school, when they venture into the community, when they connect online or through social media.
In their middle and high schools, the reading curriculum goes from mildly unpleasant to clearly intense: Christopher Paul Curtis’s The Watsons Go To Birmingham, Karen Hesse’s Letters from Rifka, The Diary of Ann Frank, Richard Wright’s Black Boy and Eli Wiesel’s Night.
Black Boy and Night are extremely graphic – written from first-hand perspective of a Black and a Jew. Both teens in the turbulent 1940s. Several of my sons struggled emotionally with the repulsive content and didn’t hesitate to share their feelings with me.
“How could people do that? I can’t read anymore. It’s bad and I don’t want to know.”
But they need to know.
Not every detail. Just the big picture. A historical perspective of racism and anti-Semitism.
So we each read the books – with me putting myself into my children’s shoes. Reading between the lines which enabled me to stay one step ahead of their fears. Anticipate their questions.
In fact, I read Night aloud from cover to cover, while one of my sons found comfort in my lap. Every night for a week he responded to the horrors of the Holocaust, as retold by a teenage boy who survived a concentration camp.
“You wouldn’t let that happen to me, would you? Would you, Father?”
He desperately needed to feel safe and not be re-traumatized by an event outside of his control.
Thankfully, more and more voices – not just from left of center – are choosing to speak against this repackaged form of hate.
America must always reject racial bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred in all its forms. As we pray for Charlottesville, we are reminded of the fundamental truths recorded by that city’s most prominent citizen in the Declaration of Independence: we are all created equal and endowed by our Creator with unalienable right. We know these truths to be everlasting because we have seen the decency and greatness of our country. Former Presidents George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush
No, not the same. One side is racist, bigoted, Nazi. The other opposes racism and bigotry. Morally different universes. Mitt Romney, 2012 Republican Candidate for President
Even Bob Dole, 1996 Republican Candidate for President, didn’t mince words two decades ago.
The Republican Party is broad and inclusive. It represents many streams of opinion and many points of view.
But if there’s anyone who has mistakenly attached themselves to our party in the belief that we are not open to citizens of every race and religion, then let me remind you, tonight this hall belongs to the Party of Lincoln.
And the exits, which are clearly marked, are for you to walk out of as I stand this ground without compromise.
In an address to Congress in 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt – a Democrat – said it simply ten months before Pearl Harbor.
Freedom of Speech. Freedom of Religion. Freedom from Want. Freedom from Fear.
Yes, freedom from fear – for every man, woman and especially child. It truly matters. Everyday.
Yours, mine and ours need to feel safe in a chaotic world. DCP
Craig Peterson publishes EACH Child every Tuesday. To subscribe, open this link and “Like” the page. EACH Child is Special: Working Smarter Not Harder to Raise Every ONE
To learn more about Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love, Craig’s soon-to-published memoir about raising six children with special needs, click here: Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love
To follow my son Andrew’s inspiring story, “Like” his special Facebook page Andrew Peterson Goes for the Gold