As a kid I loved reading Mad Magazine, a forerunner to the now-proliferating genre of satirical news. One of their regular features was “Scenes We’d Like to See,” which was sure to present a far-fetched twist on a common occurrence.
While viewing the live news feeds from the streets of Baltimore last week—replete with the same tired sensationalism and stereotypes as you would expect from much of the mainstream media—my mind couldn’t help but concoct one of my own “Scenes We’d Like to See.”
The media circus consumers and viral video viewers couldn’t get enough of a black mother, Toya Graham, smacking her 16-year-old son who was involved in the Baltimore street protests. But the tragedy of the scene was lost on most. White America conveniently mistook her desperate, terrified and courageous action–in the face of real lives on the line–as further proof that black bodies needed to be controlled, even by their own. And few recognized that the wheels of white supremacy turn best when people of color turn on each other–a long-standing critical feature baked into the design of systemic racism.
So in my scenario I imagined a heavily militarized line of police, donning shields and riot gear, much like they were in Ferguson and Baltimore. But this time, from behind the police line, I’d see a white mom rushing up to her police-officer son, tackling him to the ground and wrestling the weapons out of his hand. All along, she’d shout, “What’s the matter with you? What don’t you understand about Black Lives Matter? Did your police force not get the memo?” Then more white moms would join in, chasing and chastising their police-officer sons and daughters.
CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera would be on the scene, narrating the unfolding actions of these newly emboldened anti-racist white warriors. Then they’d pan their cameras to mothers in cities across the country who’ve been protesting against police brutality and spontaneously interrupting police violence.
Upon seeing the media hype, white moms nationwide would hit the streets and intervene whenever any cop was about to engage in racial profiling, stopping-and-frisking, harassing or brutalizing people of color. They would take up the “Black lives matter” battle cry and add,“Enough is enough,” and, “No justice, no peace, no racist police.”
And finally, white people everywhere would wake up. Instead of blaming and pathologizing the victims of police violence, they’d tturn their attention to the agents of brutality and take full responsibility for the actions or our racist state. All the extrajudicial killings, the state-sanctioned violence, the brutality with impunity and the whole prison pipeline would come to a grinding halt. And we’d start seeing justice. And we’d start seeing peace. And the revolution would even be televised and tweeted.
OK, I admit that my pre-teen readings of Mad Magazine may have permanently twisted my mind enough to get carried away at times. But as the daily racial tragedies pile up, I often have to rely on a far-fetched vision with a twist of humor just to keep from losing hope.
I won’t hold my breath waiting for the mainstream media to change its narrative or for whites to suddenly wake up. But, with the recent events in Baltimore and the approaching Mother’s Day holiday, I’ve been thinking a lot about the role of mothers in the long road to racial justice.
Moms rarely get the spotlight they deserve. Yet we stand on the shoulders of so many—people of color and white allies–who’ve tirelessly and fiercely fought for justice on the front lines and behind the scenes. For example, until it became public, few hardly even knew of the meticulous and aggressive behind-the-scenes work in pursuit of justice conducted by Baltimore City States Attorney Marilyn Mosby and her team during the weeks of protests since the alleged murder of Freddie Gray.
As a white man, I think about the way my own mother, now 91, stood up for racial justice in her own way back in the ’60s. She raised funds at her church to cover the travel costs for her parish priest to join the black voting rights march in Selma. She advocated for fair and integrated housing in the Chicago suburbs at a time when racial redlining and blockbusting were rampant. And she raised her 10 kids to support social and racial justice. After reading to us Dr. Seuss’s “Starbelly Sneetches,” some of her kids mysteriously woke up the next morning with gummed stars on their bellies, while some had none—helping to mimic and reinforce the experiences and lessons of the story.
Mothers of color, and those raising children of color, must prepare their kids with “the talk” about the realities of police violence and institutional discrimination. And too often, for the rest of their lives, some must grieve the lives of children lost at the hands of police violence.
White parents must also have talks with their kids about the prevalence and impacts of white privilege, racial bias and police violence. Parents can play a critical role in teaching children to be conscious and active in counteracting the dominant patterns of racism. Feigned colorblindness and silence is the enemy of change.
To provide more support to parents, especially white parents who are trying to consciously raise children with a commitment to racial justice, there’s a new resource out in time for Mother’s Day: Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), has an action toolkit.
SURJ is a national network of groups and individuals organizing white people for racial
justice. Through community organizing, mobilizing and education, SURJ moves white people to act as part of a multiracial majority for justice with passion and accountability.
This resource has a variety of tools white parents can use to help their kids better understand racism and support racial justice actions. There are links to things that can be read to children, sample tweets to share with other parents, tips for writing letters to the editor, holding house parties to discuss actions, or engaging local book stores in featuring books to raise community awareness about race issues.
“White parents and families can shape and shift the way children think and talk about race—by explicitly talking about race and injustice with them,” the SURJ Toolkit explains. “The goal of these conversations is to prepare young people to understand racism, and work toward racial justice. For white parents, it’s a great opportunity to build these conversations into everyday life.” The action items in the toolkit “come in various shapes and sizes designed for your lifestyles.”
It does not include instructions on how to affix gummed stars to childrens’ bellies or any guidance on how white parents can tackle their sons or daughters in law enforcement before their racial bias results in harm to others. But there are lots of great tips that can help families be consciously and actively part of the solution, rather than unconsciously and passively part of the problem.
Terry Keleher is the Thought Leadership and Practice Specialist for Colorlines’ publisher, Race Forward.