As a mom and a teacher I am scared to death regarding the recent hate shootings. I’m scared for my kids and for my students. I am terrified that it’s all too out of hand now and that my children will not live in a world where they can love everyone and anyone. I’m afraid they’ll see the news and get some idea that this is all ok and acceptable.
I’m worried that they might not respect others. I think I’m most worried that I won’t know how to teach them the right way to live, and that is with love and respect.
Growing up in Elmira, New York, I had a unique experience when it comes to being exposed to diversity. In my elementary school, there might have been one kid who wasn’t white. But when I got to middle and high school, I was surrounded by a very colorful group of people. The four other elementary schools in that district were much more diverse than my own. You’d think my first 11 years of life in Elmira were quite different from those next 7 that followed. But they weren’t. I found good friends everywhere I went, always.
I’m not going to throw out this colorblind thing to you, because that’s not how it works. I’m going to tell you that color and race did NOT matter, but it definitely made things more interesting. For example, one of my best friends growing up was Laotian. Jimmy and I met in seventh grade French class. Obviously our families had vast differences. I went to Sunday School, and he took a summer off to travel to Laos and become a Buddhist monk. (He was always trying to one-up me…) Our parents adored each other. My dad thought Jimmy might be able to keep me out of trouble because he was strong and fierce. His parents thought the same of me. Not that I was strong and fierce, but that maybe my good sense would help steer Jimmy away from chaos. (They were both wrong.) Jimmy was there when I broke up with my first boyfriend. He showed up at my front door with a milkshake and a hug. He and his cousins watched hours of Dawson’s Creek with me until I felt better. Did I know my friend looked different? Did I know he had a completely different religion and background? Of course I did. But I also knew that his mom made the BEST sticky rice in town. There was a time when Jimmy was attacked and his strong sense of religion was also attacked. It was my dad who Jimmy approached in a time of need. My family would have done quite literally anything for Jimmy, back then, and I’m sure we all still would now.
Every Christmas Eve or Christmas night, after the family stuff was over, we would call the Nelsons. The Nelson family had a bunch of kids the same ages as my brother and me. We went to school together, and most of our extra-curricular activities involved one of the Nelson kids as well. They might be the most fun people in the entire world. Guess what? They’re black. Did we notice? Yeah. Because out of some genetic anomaly, those Nelson kids had the MOST GORGEOUS hazel eyes you have ever seen. My home was filled with Mrs. Nelson’s beautiful smile and Mr. Nelson’s hearty laugh on those holiday nights. Us kids caused enough mischief to have fun, but not enough to lose our Christmas presents. We loved each other, plain and simple.
Not everyone I knew celebrated Christmas. Our next door neighbors, the Rachlins, were Jewish. Well, they still are, but they’re not our neighbors anymore. I remember asking tons of questions about Hanukkah, and one year I got to see the menorah being lit. Norah, who was my brother’s age, happens to LOVE Christmas. We always giggled at her excitement about it because it was kind of like a cat who wanted to be a mouse. We were lucky enough, though, because back then in school you were allowed to talk about religion and we learned about each other’s backgrounds. It was fun and exciting. And it was completely necessary.
As you can probably deduce, my parents taught by example. If we had a friend we thought was worthy of our time, they were welcome in our home. It didn’t matter what they looked like, or what religion they practiced. There was only one time I remember having to talk about racial and ethnic differences. Back when we thought dating in middle school was a real thing, I had my eyes set on a nice boy named TJ. TJ had sparkly brown eyes, dark skin, and a huge smile. He had a hop in his step and he was always happy. In terms of life experience, TJ was worlds ahead of me, but he liked hanging out with my family and me. My parents would drive to the other side of town to TJ’s grandmother’s apartment and pick him up to spend the day with us.
One day, my dad sat me down alone. This happened rarely, but when it did, I knew he had something important to talk about. Dad told me how much he and Mom loved having TJ around. He said TJ was a really nice young man and he was happy that we spent time together. But then he told me that sometimes, people might not understand why I liked TJ. He said some people might not like me BECAUSE I liked TJ. I was FLOORED. Dad didn’t tell me this to deter me; he was preparing me. He was preparing me for what I might see on the news 22 years later, with people shooting other people because of their race and their sexuality. And the ironic part of it all is that it is based on TJ’s respect for me and for my family that I have continued to this day to scale the level of other’s treatment toward me and those I love. His kindness was unprecedented and I have yet to meet more than a few people who are as inherently good as him.
How do these shooters know? How would they know which people are good and which people are bad, unless they sat down with them, talked to them, LISTENED to them? How would they know who it’s ok to shoot if they hadn’t invited those people into their homes and gotten to know them? What if one of those dead officers would have been the first person to involve your little brother in a conversation? What if the black man in the car with his girlfriend and her child read amazing bedtime stories? What if one of those people was the only person who genuinely wanted to hear your dad’s law school stories on repeat?
If we’re not opening our eyes and our hearts, if we’re not letting these people into our lives, how do we know what we’re missing?
You know what? I just want my kids to love people. All kinds of people. Everyone. And when this kind of crap happens, the shootings and attacks, I want my kids’ hearts to burn and I want them to stand up for all the people they love and make this world a better place. I don’t care if they can’t recite the alphabet yet or if they can’t for the life of them put their shoes on the right feet. That’s not important. I want them to BE KIND and to LOVE.