For the last few weeks, I’ve been watching the plethora of posts on Kveller and elsewhere featuring parents agonizing over how to explain Ferguson, Tamir Rice, and American racial relations in general, to their children.
I’ve sat back, smugly satisfied about the fact that race isn’t a subject we need to introduce to our children as a result of the nightly news, or consciously carve out a special time to specifically bring up. Because my husband is African American, we talk about race to our three children all the time. How to deal with the police hassling you was a common topic long before it made headlines (and long before my oldest became a teenager, so that he wouldn’t be caught unaware when it inevitably happened to him). We talk about discrimination on the job, and the educational system failing minority children, and whether criticizing the president automatically makes you a bigot. We’ve got race totally covered at our house.
Then my smug satisfaction unexpectedly shattered. Because the events of Paris happened. Not just Charlie Hebdo, but the attack on the kosher supermarket. And suddenly, I didn’t know what to say to my kids, at all.
It’s not that anti-Semitism doesn’t also come up in our house. I’ve talked to my kids about the Holocaust, and as the children of a Soviet immigrant, they certainly know more than the average bear about the evils of Communism as it pertains to Jews and the remnants of that hatred which persist to this very day.
But that’s old news. Honestly, to a kid, the USSR in the 1970s is as long ago as World War II, which happened right around the time of Moses and the Exodus, right?
Paris is today. It is, arguably, much more relevant to them than anything that came before. It’s their present and quite possibly their future. So why can’t I figure out how to talk to them about it?
I’ve asked myself that question over and over again. I wondered if maybe, despite all my protestations to the contrary, I really don’t think of my kids as black and, as a result, don’t actually believe that the dangers which face other African American children are a true threat to them. That’s why I can talk so freely about it. Because I don’t expect it to happen to them. But the killing of Jews who unknowingly made the mistake of shopping at a kosher supermarket, that struck closer to home. That felt possible.
Maybe, because of my background, I’m much more sensitive to the topic of Jews being killed in Europe (after all, everyone of my generation grew up hearing stories of war and terror from their grandparents, not a single one of whom escaped unscathed, whether they were in the army, in a concentration camp, in a ghetto, or evacuated East). My experience with anti-Semitism is personal. My experience with racism is second-hand. Maybe I think that what happened in Ferguson and Cleveland–and Little Rock and Selma before that–happened to Them. While what happened in Paris happened to Us.
Or maybe it’s the exact opposite. Maybe I think that the dangers they face in the U.S. as African Americans are the only relevant ones, and what happened in Paris is something that happened Over There, to Other People. It could never happen Here. So why even bring it up?
Well, here’s a good reason. My daughter’s Jewish day school now has a police officer standing at the door. And they’ve instituted lockdown drills. (Though I don’t think my daughter is too traumatized. The other day she happily chirped, “Let’s play lockdown!”) She said the principal told them that the odds of anything bad happening were very, very slim. But it’s good to be prepared, just in case.
Just in case of what, Mommy?
Well, at least I’m no longer smug…