How to Survive the Next 400 Years #2: Teach Our Children the Complete Truth about Race

How to Survive the Next 400 Years #2:  Teach Our Children the Complete Truth about Race
Image courtesy of NPR. ORG

Part One:  Blacks, Evolve or Become Obsolete? 


We were at dinner when the verdict was announced.

Eight of us sat at a round table joking about marriage, cooking, and sex when someone received a news alert on their phone, announcing that George Zimmerman had been found not guilty in the murder of Trayvon Martin.

In an instant, our smiles vanished and our laughs ceased.  An indescribable weight rested over everyone at the table.

Initially, no one said a word.

There was a small sea of shaking heads and all of the women at the table collectively put our hands over our mouths in shock.  With three out of the four couples at the table being the parents of Black boys, everyone knew what the other was thinking.

I looked around the table.

I also looked beyond us at the other people who filled the restaurant.

Suddenly, we weren’t a group of friends having dinner.

Suddenly, we were the only Blacks in a restaurant of White people who didn’t have a clue of the burden that we felt.

The juxtaposition of our feelings from theirs made me angry.

I resented that they were smiling why we felt burdened.  I resented that they had the luxury of continuing their dinner, and their lives, without ever needing to understand the angst that each of us felt in that moment.

The angst that we felt many times before that moment.

The angst that we knew that we would feel many times after that moment.

I wasn’t resentful of my White friends, or my old White coworkers, or any of my White classmates or White writing pals.

For approximately an hour, I was resentful of the status quo of White acceptability versus Black ostracism.

I was resentful of the two worlds where we coexist.  I began to ask myself would it be better to surrender to the fact that nothing that can be done to bring those two worlds together.

For an hour I was resentful, but 24 hours later I was ashamed.

What I observed in the day that followed were hyper-passionate Blacks and Whites arguing both the merits and the injustices of the case.  As I stepped back to try to understand why the case was viewed so differently among racial lines, I came to the conclusion that many people on both sides of the racial divide were arguing in the hopes that  the other side would understand the same truth.

Every White person is not a racist.  Judge me for who I am.

Every Black person is not a criminal.  Judge me for who I am.

And with that truth came steady ground, as my mind was still wheeling as to what to teach my son about race before he entered the cold world of…Kindergarten.

The Truth…The Whole Truth

Racism, racial-profiling, and police brutality are all part of the many unfortunate realities of this world.   For many of us of color, trying to navigate our way around moving beyond racism while at the same time acknowledging its presence is a tricky dance.  However, just as we live in the hope that Whites do not believe that every Black is a thief, killer, gang member, or TANF recipient, I have been reminded, and will reinforce to my children, that vilifying all Whites (or non-Blacks) is not the answer to this riddle.

In the painful daily reminders that we have that racism still exists, we must also remember that the Underground Railroad would have surely derailed in just north of Jackson, Mississippi had it not been for many of our ivory brothers and sisters, helping our ancestors along the way.  Let us not forget that Blacks would have probably been hosed and mauled to death during the Civil Rights Movement had it not been for our non-Black counterparts marching with our ancestors, hand and hand.  And we all know that Barack Obama did not get elected from just Black votes alone.

This complete truth of race in America, the bad as well as the good, is a story that we cannot fail to tell.

If we don’t tell the complete story then we will do our children an injustice.  Our children must be able to live in confidence, and not intimidation, when entering higher education, a job, a bank, or even a police station for the first time where most of the people around them will not necessarily look like them.  The only way that they will be able to do so is if we instill knowledge, not fear, in them as they navigate the (un)post-racial world that they will find themselves in.

If we don’t pass on this truth, we will subject our children to a perspective where because of the color of their skin, they can’t see their story in others and reject the idea of seeing the stories of others in their own lives.  As our goals were progressed by the collective action of a rainbow coalition of people, we should be equally vigilant in teaching our children to help progress the goals of others, not along the lines of Black or White, but in the spirit of what is just and what is right.

Tuesday:  Surviving the Next 400 Years, #3, #4, and #5    To be continued…

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    Kay S

    Kay Smith is a Chicago-based freelance writer and blogger who focuses on race, politics and urban culture. Having worked on public policy at the state, regional, city and community level, her opinions have been featured in the Chicago SunTimes and a host of news websites (under very mysterious sounding pseudonyms). Follow her on Twitter @kaywillsmith or contact her at

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