Life with a smile: Civics lessons

Published 9:11 am Friday, September 11, 2020


The kids and I are obsessed with Hamilton. Yes, I know we’re about five years late to the phenomenon. Don’t judge me, just be glad that we’ve finally showed up to the party. 

My kids have watched the stage recording more times than I have and my 11-year-old demonstrates a staggering, and at times uncomfortable, proficiency with the complicated lyrics. 

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I noticed something early on that surprised me. The kids weren’t impressed by the racial diversity of the cast. Their understanding of American history is pretty limited at this point and they didn’t know that Thomas Jefferson was not, in fact, a snappily dressed Black man with killer dance moves.

Five years ago, I would have patted myself on the back for my superb colorblind parenting, but I’ve learned (and am still learning) that colorblindness is really just another way for racism and white supremacy to fly under the radar in our country. When we white folks stubbornly refuse to “see color” we also refuse to see the privileges bestowed by our skin color, and the ways in which society has systematically worked to exclude and diminish those with black and brown skin.

That’s a lot to unpack with a child, but these conversations are desperately needed. There is no time to lose. Our kids are already listening and learning – from what we say, and what we don’t say. 

They are aware of this moment in history, of the police killings and the resulting protests, and if we are not proactive about explaining those events, others will. I was devastated when my daughter shared that a friend had told her George Floyd deserved to die because he was a criminal. 

Those messages are out there — a sickness that erodes the soul of our country and our community. 

So we talk. I have explained that the police aren’t supposed to kill people, even if they are “criminals.” We have talked about how people with brown skin are more likely to be killed and how watching it happen again and again and again makes people not only sad, but angry.

We have talked about why someone might feel so angry and so helpless in the face of repeated loss that they might break something to express that pain. We have talked about why the sign I carried to the protests read “No Justice, No Peace” and have tried to grapple with what “justice” means. 

Please hear me when I say that I am not awesome at this. I make no claims to having the right approach to talking about race with kids. I just believe that those conversations are vitally important.

I also believe that political engagement is one small but crucial antidote to the sickness. My family bleeds blue and no, I’m not talking about UK basketball. 

When I put our Biden/Harris and McGrath signs in the front yard, we talked about why I had chosen those signs — those people — to support. We have talked about the importance of female leadership and about the concept of representation, of seeing someone who looks like you making decisions that impact your well-being. 

We have talked about what the phrase Black Lives Matter means. We have talked about the idea of common good and of helping people who need it. We have talked about the importance of education and of science

Every time my kids see a political sign in someone’s yard, they ask if I support that person. And more importantly, they ask why. 

My kids help prepare political flyers for distribution and my oldest accompanied me on a recent canvassing action to distribute said flyers. And if you ask her why we’re trying to get rid of Mitch McConnell, she can’t tell you. 

Well, maybe she can tell you. It’s possible she’ll boil it down to “he likes Trump and doesn’t care about the coronavirus” but I swear I presented the argument with more nuance. She’s 11 and these are hard conversations, so bear with us.

When we finished hanging all our allotted flyers on designated doorways, we celebrated with a fist bump for democracy, then listened to Hamilton on the drive home. This is an important election and we are not throwing away our shot.