So I was finishing a book about Ashley Smith, the drug-addicted young mother who was taken hostage by fugitive Brian Nichols who murdered 4 people in Georgia in 2005. You may remember the story.
Ashley spent 7 hours in her apartment with him, during which time they talked about God and read aloud from "The Purpose Driven Life." She helped convince him to surrender without killing more people or being shot himself. It was a fascinating story about two people connecting during really strange circumstances.
My daughter Molly saw the back cover, which showed the man in shackles, and she started asking questions about the rest of the photos in the book. Just like me, the kids go straight to the photo section, whether it's a book about Queen Elizabeth or Star Wars.
Our conversation was all over the place (drugs, premarital sex, spousal abuse, murder, mayhem, faith, redemption). In addition, she couldn't get over the fact that Ashley didn't "look like she used drugs." She was also hung up on the fact that Ashley started using drugs after switching from a Christian school to a public school. The school issue has reared its head in our house again because, well, it's August, and we have a hard time making decisions. Great parenting, I know.
Finally, peace, my morning paper, and a huge bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios.
A newspaper photo of young black man arrested for killing local MOTHERS AND DAUGHTERS (!) caught Molly's eye.
Yep, it appears we have a serial killer on our hands.
So, all before 9 am, she got an eyeful of murderous young black men in chains or in mug shots.
In addition to all of the regular stuff I'm worried about today, I am wondering if she now thinks:
1. All young black men are murderers
2. All murderers are young black men.
Do I discuss this with her or just let it be? As you know, I am sometimes of the TMI school of parenting.
Do I drum up some photos of young white killers and place them strategically around the house so she knows that depravity comes in all colors, or has she already "learned" enough for today?
I remember telling my son, who was six, about period. Around that same time, I had a gay friend, so I explained why the word "f*g" was wrong to use--the kids used it at the bus stop.
Unless you live in a bubble, you have to do a little TMI parenting from time to time. Sometimes I do it when teaching, and it's a wonder if hasn't bitten me on the bum yet...
(I remember when one of my 5th graders came to school the next day not knowing about Columbine. Got to break the news or at least clear up the junk she heard from peers.)
I read this really great, eye-opening article about parents, children, and race and whether the issue of skin color should be discussed. If I find the article, I will be sure to send it to you. Basically it says that families of color discuss race a lot more than white families.. and that some white parents hope that their children become "colorblind" but that never happens; they develop their own stereotypes in their heads because they're never talked about. Honestly my summary just here did that article no justice, so I'll try to find that article.
Or maybe just frame a picture of Ted Bundy above your fireplace.
I'm highly amused by the idea of you hanging photos of serial killers all over your house. No one in your family will ever sleep again.
Aren't white males statistically more likely to be serial murderers? :)
You should pick up Nurtureshock. It's a good read with some interesting thoughts about raising children.
Since you've already established the TMI precedence you might want to go ahead and discuss it further with her. Why does life have to be so hard?
I'm glad you're asking these questions. Since you've asked for advice, I'd offer just this: definitely have the deep discussion provoked by your and her deep thoughts and perhaps be willing to enter into these areas: what sort of wrongs are we all capable of? What difference does our upbringing provide for us? I agree that white families are far less likely to discuss race issues, and I wonder if some of that is due to a fear that if they discuss it, it means they're prejudice. Open discussion keeps us all accountable and ensures that you can form your children as you desire to form them.
I love that you post about these things!
Wow, this is a seriously serious post. But I appreciate that about you! I think when the time is right, you could raise the topic. It's already been broached...and if I know kids, she'll raise the topic again, which would give you a good window to talk about the face that wrongness and evil come in all colors.
BTW, I have not read Half the Sky -- have never heard of it. Going to google it now...
i have no advice. which is probably just fine, since you are the last person who needs it anyway.
i just wanted to say thank you for talking about this. you are brave and wise and funny. your posts ask the big, important questions. not sure the answers ever matter, or exist.
When we moved recently, I was very proud to notice that my teenagers missed getting the newspaper as much as I did. (Well, they did miss the comics and the sudoku the most...) I love that books and newspapers open up so many conversations that do not seem to have a 'right' time to bring up out of the blue. Somethings really aren't worth discussing out of context, I think.
I absolutely recognize that children (and adults!) tend to blame 'bad' things on qualities or circumstances that are UNlike their own as a way of convincing themselves that they will not suffer the same fate. Race is an easy distinguisher.... as is any other noticeable difference in appearance. It actually makes sense on an immature logical sense for white kids who see pictures such as you describe to draw the conclusions you are concerned about... it allows the kids to create a sense of safety. As parents it is our job to help our children to mature in the use of their natural statistical inclinations.... and this is most effective at the moment when you believe they have made a questionable generalization.
So I am interested in the results of your 'killers in all colors' photo strategy. It seems that the conclusion that you want Molly to draw is two-fold:
1. Killers come in all shapes, sizes, colors... and sometimes look very ordinary.
2. The vast majority of people of all colors are kind and generous even if they do look and speak differently.
And so maybe you should also hang a picture of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ghandi. A focus on that second idea might go a long way to avoiding nightmares when they realize the truth of the first.
As for the explicit discussions of race... we have had a few. I dont remember the prompts or the details. My daughter, who is as fair as fair can be, was invited to the homecoming dance by an African-American classmate. A very responsible, kind young man. I was very thankful to learn that my daughter not only spouts MLKs message but truly chooses friends based on the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.
omg-that last suggestion caught me off guard and cracked me up. Yes--I'd go that route.
Only kidding. I'd just let it go. It's two incidences. Go watch a movie that has a black hero in it or something to help temper it, maybe, if you want to balance things out.
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