It feels like the last 365 days have been used to slowly remove the progress that we’ve made over the last 300 years. Harmful, divisive rhetoric can be seen on every talk show, read in any comment section, and overhead in any public conversation. It’s reminiscent of the climate mentioned by Martin Niemöller in his widely quoted “First They Came.” piece. It feels as if no one is safe.
Similarly, no one is absolved from the responsibility of resisting all the hatred that stands before us.
Preparation for tough times is nothing new to parents of color, especially black parents. Through the centuries, we’ve had to continue parenting through enslavement, lynchings and segregation. Now, we continue to do so through police brutality, wealth inequality, mass incarceration.
Black parents have developed networks, cultural customs and celebrations that teach black children both their history and their role through all of this. To be a black parent is to be on edge, anxiously waiting as long as possible to inform your children they must navigate a world that never intended for them to succeed. Black parents will never have the opportunity to opt out the fight for justice.
Historically, Black History Month has been seen as an opportunity for black youth to focus on the power and lineage from which we hail. It is true, black Americans’ accomplishments have been long overlooked in this nation. But that isn’t new information to black Americans — a quick conversation with our grandparents on the cost of integrating the education system will tell that story.
In the past, Black History Month has existed to remind us of the greatness we didn’t know we possessed. But in the era of #Blackgirlmagic and #Blackexcellence twitter trends, we see it. Black History Month is worth honoring and celebrating, but black people have expanded beyond our 28-day celebration, and we’re ready to pass the gift on.
In 2018, I believe Black History Month has an altered purpose. In addition to showing the persistence of black Americans, it provides an opportunity for white parents to educate their children not only about the contributions made by black Americans, but also to give them an insight to the circumstances that led to its creation.
If you’re a white parent in America who wants to know how to have an impactful role in the deconstruction of white supremacy as it is now, celebrate Black History Month. And celebrate it beyond just 11 out of 12 months. Just as I will live in a way so no one will limit the celebration of my son’s blackness. It is accessible to him 365 days of the year, 24-7 both weekdays and weekends.
Black History Month provides education to white Americans who are unaware of the social, systemic and personal grievances experienced by the descendants of African slaves. The current white nationalist movement is based on hatred, fear of change and, more importantly, willful ignorance. Parents need to make sure children are educated in our history enough so that ignorance doesn’t grow. And fester.
We need white Americans to use this month (and all others) to speak with their communities and their children and educate those in your circle about the differences between prejudice and racism. White nationalism did not develop overnight. It was cultivated through silence.
White parents: Each Black History Month exists as a call to action. It is your opportunity to study the connecting thread between the struggles of the past and the transformations of today. By educating your children, you have the opportunity to reduce the number of people we see proudly chanting hateful messages and carrying tiki torches. Black History Month exists as an opportunity to remind everyone else that black individuals have value and black lives matter.
If you’re unsure where to begin, start with literature. Books are a wonderful way to introduce tough topics at an age appropriate level. Check out “A is for Activist,” “Remember the Journey to School Integration” and “It’s Your World: If You Don’t Like it, Change It” (Bonus: Have conversations with your child about what you read, along with how it might feel to be banned from things they enjoy like the movies, school and playground because of the color of their skin.) And for younger kids, try “The Story of Ruby Bridges.” These books exist to help educate children on topics that are hard but necessary.
There is a wealth of research on the benefits of advocacy for adolescence. Encourage older children to participate in grass-roots organizing and learn the importance of solidarity with peers.
And lastly, make sure you model the importance of compassion and a commitment to justice in your own home. Children learn by example. If you want children who believe in the inherent value of all people, you must be the prototype.
The more time you spend studying black history, the more you will notice about your own. Have you followed in the footsteps of the majority or did you change paths to make things better? And the next time you hear someone say why don’t we have a white history month, remind them, Black History Month is the history of white people too.
Rochaun Meadows-Fernandez is a writer and speaker who has a passion for diversity.