Bloody Sunday #SOL21 7/21

My son and I are sitting at the kitchen island, working together. His 7th grade teachers are very big on projects and presentations, so he spends a lot of time creating slideshows – exactly what he’s doing right now. As it turns out, hybrid teaching also requires quite a few slideshows, so I’m doing the same thing.

He loves it when we work together, laptops side by side. Mid-afternoon on Sunday, and he’s still shirtless, wrapped in a blanket. Right now he’s looking up information about Selma and the March to Montgomery for a presentation on John Legend and Common’s song “Glory”. He’s already confused and unhappy, and he has not yet gotten to the worst of it: he’s just about to learn about Bloody Sunday, 56 years ago today. And… here it is.

“Um, Mom, there’s something I don’t understand,” he begins.
Me neither, my love
“Didn’t the law say they could vote?”
“Yes. Yes, it did.”
“So why did people elect a racist governor? Didn’t they know he was bad?”

The pandemic means that I have had the privilege of watching my son’s racial awakening this year, and also the burden. Since my children were small, we’ve read books with protagonists who do not look like them – who are not white boys – and my son’s friends own many identities. Still. There’s knowing and then there’s knowing, and right now he’s starting to grapple with whiteness.

“Why were white people so mean? Why couldn’t they just understand that everyone is a person?”

I badly want to tell him that there were good white people. I want to reassure him, to make him feel better. I want him to learn about James Reeb in the same moments that he is learning about John Lewis, but that’s not the truth. “Not all white people” isn’t what he needs to know.

So we talk about the violent history of whiteness. Briefly, he says, “but not in Canada” and I explain that Canada, too, has systemic racism. This talk is not easy. He does not want this to be true. But it is true, and he needs to know. Eventually, he goes back to his presentation. “What is Ferguson?”

I explain. He feels like Ferguson is long in the past; after all, seven years is over half his lifetime. Isn’t it better now? I remind him of George Floyd’s murder. “Right,” he says, “right.”

This child, this white boy of mine, will need to be part of the solution as our society changes. He needs to know about history – and not just what shows up in his textbooks.

Later, he’s working on a different slideshow, this time about Canadian politician Lincoln Alexander. He asks me to check his work, and I see that he’s written that Alexander “had to work very hard to excel, even harder the I would have to work because of the color of my skin.”

Yes, my love. Exactly. The struggle is with the colour of our skin, not with his.

With gratitude to https://twowritingteachers.org for hosting this annual challenge

14 thoughts on “Bloody Sunday #SOL21 7/21

  1. It sounds like you are doing an amazing job of helping him navigate this learning! This post is so beautifully written. Each time I think I’ve pinpointed a favorite line, I find another one I want to mark as my favorite. This one: ““Um, Mom, there’s something I don’t understand,” he begins. Me neither, my love” This one: “The pandemic means that I have had the privilege of watching my son’s racial awakening this year, and also the burden.” The ending. Thank you for an important, gorgeous post.

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  2. Hi Amanda! It’s so nice to be back at SOL and writing and reading with you!

    I love the ending of this post! I’ve heard that phrase regarding working harder because of skin colour hundreds of times, but I have NEVER heard anyone, let alone a 7th grader, rephrase it as “he had to work harder because of the colour of MY skin”; centring whiteness as the problem. And I love that you didn’t let him get away with thinking Canada is free from racism. While these conversations may be difficult, your son has clearly learned so much. This is a fantastic example for the rest of us.

    Did you have a good time at Dig Ped last July? 🙂

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  3. I am beginning to be so painfully aware that our educational system is lacking in its understanding and action on the topic of racism. On another note altogether, my husband showed me on his knows-everything tablet that Canada’s postal service sent free postcards to everyone in Canada to write to someone they’ve been missing during the pandemic. My husband said, “Isn’t that nice? Canada is so nice.” I have a feeling you are not encountering as much blatant racism either.

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  4. More kids need to have parents who are not afraid to talk to their kids about these things. Your son will be part of change, because he has the chance to be more aware and to see. Someone ( on Twitter) recently recommended Heart and Soul: A Story of America and African Americans. I’ve been reading it with Wren and it has opened up many great conversations. Keep talking and sharing!

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  5. Oh goodness. Wiping tears right now. How powerful to be home together, as he navigates this world, this learning, this hard-to-swallow history and truth. These lines: “This child, this white boy of mine, will need to be part of the solution as our society changes. He needs to know about history – and not just what shows up in his textbooks.” Wow, and yes. And so much of the problem is that there were/are ONLY the textbooks and the point of view of the teacher. I hope conversations like yours are happening in a whole country’s worth of kitchens.

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  6. A great slice, how indeed can the colour of one’s skin make so much difference, it is truly unbelievable. Your son is obviously thoughtful and considerate with a great parent to give him perspective too!

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