Los Angeles, CA

Do White Kids Need to Be Taught About Black Lives Matter? Yes

Elle Silver

If kids don't learn the real story of this country's racist history, they can't transform into more compassionate, less racist adults.

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Protesters in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where George Floyd was killed. Photo by Dan Aasland.

My eldest son is in the sixth grade, attending middle school in a predominately white neighborhood in a wealthy part of Los Angeles. Typically, people here don’t want to talk about this country's racist past, especially as it pertains to the systemic racism that still exists in our society today.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is celebrated as simply a day for people to come together. It's akin to celebrating Christmas but making no mention of Jesus Christ.

Nobody talks about the reasons why Martin Luther King Jr. led the protests he did. No one wants to discuss the lynchings of Black people that were still happening in this country as recently as the late-1960s, nor do they want to touch on the oppressive system that Black people lived under as the result of Jim Crow laws in the South.

If the Civil Rights protests of the '50s or '60s are discussed at all, no one connects them to the current struggles of Black people against police brutality, which led to this summer's Black Lives Matter protests.

I feel like the school district is afraid to allow teachers to highlight the reality of the Black experience in this country, or to connect the history of past injustices with those of the present. The school district is afraid that this will incite arguments between the students. Either the few Black students at the school will feel bad, or the white students will feel guilty. The parents of these white children will surely resent their kids being taught what they envision as a “politicized” history lesson.

Remember, not everyone agrees with the Black Lives Matter marches that took place this past summer to protest the murders of innocent Black people by white policemen. Many in this particular L.A. neighborhood view the protestors as rioters, who just wanted an excuse to destroy property and loot stores. Some white people here view these protestors as anti-American or even as "antifa."

As the white parent of a sixth-grade boy in this school district, I don't agree with such views. If the schools in this affluent, predominantly white L.A. community refuse to connect historical injustices against Black people with recent events, then I'll do it myself.

When talking with my son, I openly compare this past summer’s Black Lives Matter protests with historical events such as Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I've also related a book that my son is reading in his Language Arts class with both the Black Lives Matter protests from last year and with other events in Black history.

My son is reading Freedom Walkers, which tells the story of the 1950s bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama.

My son is reading the book, Freedom Walkers, in his Language Arts class. This book, written by Russell Freedman, tells the stories of the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, during the mid-50s to protest segregated seating.

Because of Jim Crow laws in the South, not only were Black people required to sit in the back of the bus in Montgomery, but they were required to give up their seats to white passengers or even to get off the bus as more white passengers got on.

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Rosa Parks' mugshot, following her 1956 arrest during the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Source: Wikipedia.

Black people finally decided enough was enough. Freedom Walkers documents how Black people fought back by boycotting the buses, which ultimately resulted in the integration of the buses in Montgomery. More importantly, this boycott inspired nonviolent protests for equal rights for Black people led by Martin Luther King Jr. throughout the 1960s.

I applaud the school district for choosing to teach this history to sixth-grade students. However, when I emailed my son’s teacher to ask her to connect the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 with the events outlined in the book, she didn't respond. I still haven't heard back from her.

I think the schools are afraid that there will be push-back from the white parents.

If the schools won’t connect the history, then I will do it myself for my son.

The 56th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday" on March 7th.

This morning, as I drove my son to school, I discussed "Bloody Sunday" with him. "Bloody Sunday" is the name given to the day when close to six-hundred Civil Rights activists were attacked by Alabama state troopers as they peacefully marched for Black voting rights. The anniversary of Bloody Sunday was on March 7th.

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Alabama State Troopers attack Civil Rights demonstrators outside Selma, Alabama, on Bloody Sunday, March 7th, 1965. Photo by Federal Bureau of Investigation

Commentators on Los Angeles NPR station, KRCW, this morning were discussing Bloody Sunday as I drove my son to school. It’s relevant to what he's reading in class, regardless if his teacher wants to get that deep into the history.

I think it's important that my white son knows about this day so that he understands the whole truth about our country. Though Black people won the right to vote in the United States in 1867 with the passage of a new Reconstruction Act, Black people still faced intimidation and the threat of violence if they tried to vote in the South.

Southern state legislatures blocked Black voters by making them take literacy tests, or pay poll taxes in order to vote. Black Civil Rights activists marched against these injustices and were beaten by police. As a result, then-President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law, which banned such methods used to disenfranchise Black voters.

The importance of what was being discussed on the radio would have been lost on my son had I not talked to him about it. By broaching the subject of Bloody Sunday with him, I was able to make his experience reading Freedom Walkers into a more tangible one. He is now able to relate what he was hearing on the radio with what he's learning in school.

In connecting last summer's protests with the events of the book, I'm also able to make the story more relevant. But he wouldn't be getting this insight if it weren't for me. The school may assent to teach this piece of our history, but without placing these historical incidents into context with current events, the material is distant and quite frankly, boring for my son.

This material should rivet him as he gains a window into a better understanding of our present world. At least I believe he will remember these discussions when he’s older, and they will influence him to be a more open-minded, kinder, and more peaceful individual.

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Sit-in protest against Alton Sterling shooting in 2016 in San Francisco. Photo by Pax Ahimsa Gethen.

This is especially important as my son is white. Racism won't end without white people changing their viewpoints and prejudices about Black people. Without comprehending the whole picture, kids can't evolve into more compassionate, less racist adults.

I believe that my son's school district is doing him and the other students a disservice by sugar-coating or downright concealing the real story of this country's racist past simply out of fear of offending some parents.

Regardless, I'm doing my part to teach my son what the school won't.

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I'm a relationships expert with a focus on post-divorce dating and family. Everything I've learned about love, I've learned the hard way. You can learn from my mistakes.

Los Angeles, CA
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