If You Are Raising a White Child in America, Watch These Videos With Them

ADDENDUM:  Given that this story has been contextualized since this post was published, I wanted to add a couple of things.  At the time I wrote this, I did not know of the small group (4-5) of Black Hebrew Israelites who, as can be seen on video, were clearly harassing both the small group of Native Americans as well as the larger group of Covington Catholic students.  That harassing behavior appears to have influenced the subsequent actions of both  groups.  Additionally, I originally wrote that Mr. Nathan Phillips was a Vietnam veteran.  I have added the word “era” to my original post to reflect that while he served during the Vietnam War, he did not serve in Vietnam.  Other than adding that one word, I stand by my original post, even after having read much commentary and having watched a significant amount of video from other vantage points.  I believe the students from Covington Catholic acted very inappropriately on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and I believe their chaperones failed them.  

Yesterday in Washington, DC, the March for Life took place.  I know from the Twitter that lots of kids were there with lots of support from the adults that brought them to our nation’s capital in protest of a women’s right to choose.  Conservative commentator Laura Ingraham posted a photo of a group of smiling white teen boys at the march with the caption, “They are our only hope.”

Fast forward a few hours and we are seeing the ugly underbelly of “our only hope.”  A disturbing video of a group (some would say mob and they would not be wrong) of students from Kentucky’s all boys Covington Catholic High School who were attending the March for Life is making the rounds on social media channels this morning.  The boys are seen chanting and taunting and mocking and surrounding and intimidating a small group of Native Americans staging their own protest at the simultaneously held Indigenous Peoples March.

The first time I watched the video, I cried.  The second time I watched it, I resolved to show it to my ten year old and use it as a teachable moment.  The third time I watched it, I dusted off my keyboard and started researching and writing.

The older gentleman playing the drum is a Native American elder named Nathan Phillips.  Mr. Phillips is a Vietnam era veteran who lives in Omaha.  He is also the former director of the Native Youth Alliance and coordinates an annual ceremony honoring fallen Native American veterans at Arlington National Cemetery.

You can see the grace and resolve in which Mr. Phillips, known in the Native community as Uncle Nathan, continues beating his drum in the face of his teen harassers.  He does not back down, he is not intimidated, he does not debase himself or his community by engaging with these, lets call them what they are, thugs.  To the contrary, Twitter also informs me that the chant Mr. Phillips was singing was a medicine song meant to calm anger and toxicity.

Watch the video and see for yourself:

Reports from those on the scene describe that Mr. Phillips and a small group of Native Americans were leaving the Indigenous Peoples March when they came upon the group of 50-70 kids, many of whom were wearing MAGA hats and Trump gear.  Quickly, the group of Covington Catholic teens surrounded the group and started taunting them, mocking the Native chants, and hooting and hollering.

In this America where the President frequently mocks a Senator by calling her Pocahontas, none of this should surprise, but the visual of these white teens acting so hatefully, full of ugly bravado, is still jarring to me.

When we teach our children that it is acceptable to mock, taunt, intimidate, and harass, they will never Be Best.  When the adults around them cheer on bigotry and walls, that stink trickles down to the humans we are raising, as can be seen in the feverish ode to ugly these boys from Covington Catholic displayed yesterday.

If you are parenting white children, I don’t care how old they are, watch the video with them.  Teach them what is and is not acceptable behavior.  Teach them some actual history of Native Americans and how the U.S. government has treated tribes throughout its existence, and not what children are taught at Thanksgiving.

I’ve got no doubt that if you are like me, you won’t know the actual history.  There is no shame in that, as most of us were never taught it.  So, yes, it will require a bit of effort on your part.  To get you started, Google things like Wounded Knee, Trail of Tears, the Pickering Treaty, or Custer’s Last Stand.

I first got interested in researching this history when my family took a road trip through South Dakota a few years ago.  Now I regret never having written a post about that trip, but the title I was going to use still stays with me, “The Shadows of South Dakota.”  Perhaps it’s not too late.

After you’ve watched the first video with your kids, I strongly encourage you show them this one, with Mr. Phillips reflecting on the harassment he experienced yesterday perpetrated by the Covington Catholic boys:

Again, Nathan Phillips shows his humanity, the humanity lacking in those teens, wishing that they would put their energy into something more productive than mocking, taunting, and intimidating Native elders, to use their youth and energy into “making this country really great.”  The kind of great that has nothing to do with wearing red hats and participating in mob behavior.

I only hope that I can conjure the hope and grace that Nathan Phillips does when I watch these videos with my sons.  May you do the same.

The Baby Upstairs

The young couple who live above us had a baby this summer.  I often hear the distinct cry of a newborn these days, filtered through the ceiling and floorboards above me.  It is a boy and he is tiny, but already growing.  His parents are happy.

Most every day, when I hear the cries, when I see the stroller carrying its little bundle, when I see the weary parents, I think to myself, “Whew.  So glad that is over.”  I am happy for this new little family, for the love they share that has created this little life.  And, still, I think, whew, so glad that is over.

I hear him right now.  The little honey must just have woken from a nap.  And, hearing her cue, there are mom’s footsteps.  It is a beautiful thing, a sacred thing, the caring a parent provides a baby.  Infants are so vulnerable, so completely dependent, so needing a competent, loving older human to watch out for them, watch over them.

Me and my youngest baby, August 2014.

“Old MacDonald” with his farm and his vowels seems to be the go to song his parents rely on to soothe and calm him.  We hear it often enough that my five year old has started singing “E-I-E-I-O” when he hears the baby’s cries.  It’s cute and sweet, and often, full disclosure, a wee bit unsettling.

At 48, my infant days are over, but not that long gone.  My newly minted five year old son will still, like a baby, rely on tears to communicate his frustration, his needs.  It happens in a flash, those tears, and they are often gone as quickly as they started.  He uses his words most of the time, thank goodness.

I’ve been thinking about the anxiety I feel, the little internal bristling I sense when I hear that newborn cry.  Why?  Why now?  What about those cries unsettles me so?  I don’t know for certain, but I think a part of it is my body and my unconscious saying, “We’re done.  No more.  Moving forward.  Next!”

I came to it late, so it stands to reason that it would end later, too, but that stage in my life, the baby yearning years, those newborn years, the baby raising years, are over.  Done.  Fini.  Bye, bye.  Check you later, sleepless nights.

The passage of time is a gift that not all of us people are granted.  As my two boys get older and achieve new milestones, I celebrate each and every one.  I jump for joy on their first days of school.  When I pack up the too small clothes and shoes for another, younger kid to use, I fist pump the air as I drive them to the Goodwill.

I should do the same for myself as I do for my boys.  Celebrate those milestones, fist pump the air for the changes in my life, recognize the stages that were and live the stages that are and will be.  It is a beautiful thing to get older, move forward, embrace what is.

Thank you, baby upstairs, for the life lesson.  I wish many blessings on you and your parents.  E-I-E-I-O, sweet child.

What Happens When 3rd Graders Visit a Holocaust Museum

Yesterday I had the opportunity to chaperone my son and his 3rd grade classmates as they visited the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center.  It was made clear to parents long before field trip day that the children would not spend time at any of the exhibits that focused on the atrocities of the Holocaust, but, within the education center, would focus on the concept of bystanders and upstanders.

Our docent did an incredible job of explaining the act of “taking a stand” and becoming an upstander in the face of bullying, but also in larger social and political matters.  She referenced “Mr. Hitler” and asked the kids what they knew about what happened in Europe during World War II.  The kids had a general understanding.

The docent (Hi, Renee!) then encouraged some critical thinking skills when the kids offered that Hitler had dropped bombs, set up concentration camps, and used gas chambers to kill Jewish people.  Through a back and forth, the kids were able to identify that “Mr. Hitler” did not act alone.  Despots are not made in a day.

Initially, the kids identified that soldiers were the people who enabled Hitler to do those terrible things, but with more discussion and questioning, the docent was able to help the kids understand that citizens who looked the other way were also a necessary step in Hitler’s rise to power.  By the time, she said, that Hitler’s intentions were clear, it was too late and he was too powerful to stop.

The moment felt profound to me, both as a mother and as an American who is struggling, mightily, with an administration that is increasingly favoring authoritarian regimes and bashing allies.

The kids took it all in stride, moving from activity to activity, absorbing and discussing what they were seeing and learning.  I could not stop the obvious connections between what happened in Europe between the 1920s -1940s and what is happening in America today from popping up in my head.

At one point, the kids were brought to a different gallery that displayed an exhibit called, “Where the Children Sleep.”  There is a long hallway with stunning, glossy photos of Syrian refugee children sleeping and resting in their beds, wherever those beds may be.  The children are photographed alone.  Some have stuffies or blankets to bring them comfort, others do not.  Some have clean sheets and walls, others have uncovered mattresses lying on the ground in the streets or the middle of a forest.

Whew.

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I don’t know how any American could have walked through that gallery yesterday and not made the connections between those Syrian refugee children, with their big eyes, alone, many full of fear, and the new American policy to separate children from their parents on the southern border.  One sizeable difference is that Syrian refugee children are allowed to remain with their parents and families.  They were photographed alone, but somewhere close is a mom or a dad who cares for and comforts them.  But not in America.

Today in America, it is policy under this administration to separate children and families for those crossing the border illegally into America.  This is a policy crafted by President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  They blame the Democrats, they claim it is the law, they use the Bible to justify it.  Those are all lies.  And too many damn Americans are happy to go along with this policy, believe those lies, and cheer on this practice.  Or, like many average citizens of 1930s Germany, ignore, turn their heads, not acknowledge the willful tragedy for what it is.

During the field trip, the docent asked the children what they do when confronted with wrongdoing — are they a bystander or an upstander?  She asked the upstanders in the crowd to raise their hands.  Joyfully, looking around to find me, my boy raised his hand.

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Over the past two years I have done more, donated more, read more, and protested more than I ever have before.  My sons see their mom and dad doing all of this.  They have walked with me in marches and used markers at the kitchen table to make signs for science or against guns.  We are a family of upstanders.  I was proud in that moment.  Proud of myself and proud of my son and proud of my family.  I saw in his eyes the connection he made between why we march, why we read, why we discuss, why we speak up, and what can happen when you don’t.

Except later, I realized (after I was done patting myself on the back), I haven’t always been a great upstander under this Trump administration.  I’ve practically stopped writing my blog because I find that the only thing I ever want to write about anymore are the horrors of this administration and how America is transforming, in real time, into a place I don’t recognize.  I am angry a lot of the time.  When I’m not angry I’m worried or fearful or trying to lose myself into whatever series will allow me to escape on Netflix or Amazon.

There are little things that come up with my boys and in my mothering that I think, “Huh, a year ago I would have written a blog post about this.”  Not today.  Increasingly, it feels indulgent and insignificant to write about the cute and sweet moments in my life while our country and our world are reckoning with a new world order that is frightening.

So, yeah.  That’s where I’m at.  That’s where I’ve been.  Good times, folks.

Yesterday, chaperoning those children at the Illinois Holocaust Museum, was a moment for me.  Being an upstander takes work.  I need to get back to work.  I need to speak up, again, and continue speaking up.  I hope you join me.

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Interested in visiting the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center?  Here are details.