One of the teachers at my daughter’s school showed her class clips of Monday night’s Baltimore protest, and I’m feeling some kind of way about it. Not because the subject of the protest was brought up, mind you, but because it was presented to a class full of impressionable kids sans commentary and context. What my daughter saw: “It was a video of people rioting in the street, turning over cars and setting stuff on fire,” Girlpie said. “Another one was of a guy walking down the street saying, ‘We want justice.'”
My daughter’s takeaway: “People were wrong for setting stuff on fire and looting,” she said at the dinner table last night while chewing her way through a slice of spinach and feta quiche and an arugula salad.
My grade for her teacher? EPIC FAIL.
There was no consideration for the fact that people were angry about the egregious death of Freddie Gray, whose spine was nearly severed while in police custody.
There was no discussion about the contentious relationship between Baltimore police and the Black folk they’re supposed to protect and serve, or the fact that the city of Baltimore settled $5.7 million in police brutality lawsuits between 2011 and September 2014.
There was no insight into the economic devastation of the community where the jobless rate hoovers around 25 percent, the tax base is severely depressed and the subprime mortgage crisis left the city full of foreclosed and vacant homes.
There was no talk about the crumbling Baltimore schools, mass incarceration of the city’s citizens or the lack of recreational activities for the kids.
No one said a word about the video of Freddie screaming in pain, or considered what it must be like for his mother to hear her son’s cries or think about the agony he felt before he slipped into a coma and died.
Not a single, solitary thing was said about how the deaths of Americans (300 so far this year, almost all Black) at the hands of police has become so rinse and repeat, so tragically consistent, so disgustingly par for the course, that Black folk across the land have every reason to be fired up and ready to burn some shit down to make the system see—really see and feel and respect—that we are tired and angry and there can be no peace until there is true, sustained, systemic justice.
Lucky for my daughters, this is what the dinner table is for: discussion, explanation, context. By the time we finished eating, clearing the table and cleaning up the kitchen, Girlpie got a lesson that stretched from the power of civil disobedience to the history of capitalism to the benefits of Democratic socialism and communism to Reaganomics to the creation of the income and wealth gap, to big money’s influence over the political process, to corporate greed and the effects of the decimation of the free press.
Be clear: she was engaged. She doesn’t know everything. Neither do we. And to be fair, her teacher does usually present news, careful to give different perspectives to the stories. But none of us can afford to rock with the status quo—to let a clip or two of a few kids tossing rocks at cops or a repeated image of one burning building or the narrow lens of a talking head more intent on getting peaceful protestors to cry over broken buildings than over broken Black bodies distract us from the narrative: when it comes to Black folk, the criminal justice system is unjust and in dire need of a massive overhaul. We need to understand that, truly, we are in the midst of a revolution and our children are witnessing history.
We’re giving Girlpie a few links to stories we think give a good framework for the Baltimore protests. Feel free to read them and share them in whatever age-appropriate way you can with your brown babies so that they’ll know.
- Death of Freddie Gray Gives Black Youth In Baltimore A Chance to Show The World The Extent of Their Inevitable Rage and Frustration — AtlantaBlackstar.com
- What’s Happening In Baltimore Didn’t Just Start With Freddie Gray — Huffington Post
- How drunk sports fans helped spark Saturday night’s post-protest violence — City Paper
- Nonviolence as Compliance — The Atlantic
- Virtual Readings For Baltimore’s Freddie Gray — NPR’s CodeSwitch
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.
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Love this! Amen! Amen! Amen! Thank you.
Yes! Yes! Yes! I concur. And another Amen!!
The full context and details about this event and how it fits into American history is key. Because anyone could get the wrong idea about the why from just watching a 1 min clip of a video.
It’s absolutely true that historical reference is necessary when looking at this issue. One FB “friend” posted a rant that started with “When has rioting ever been productive?” I was quick to mention the riots that resulted in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 and the Boston Tea Party which spurred the country to go to war over an oppressive government. Those are just two of many many instances and it’s important for people to understand the historical perspective. I thought the Atlantic article you posted was fantastic.
Thank you for this. We had the same discussions with our three as well. We watched CNN and talked about the manipulation of narrative around black and brown people. Our 13 year old hasn’t come home yet with anything from her social studies teacher, but I’m sure that will happen today since it’s current event day.
I have been reading a lot of articles on the riots and I’ve learned a lot. I will not be sharing them with my seven year old because I honestly don’t know how to open up the discussion and she has NO idea about what’s going on. I will be reading them for myself so thank you for that.
Thank you. I’ll use this as a guide when talking to my girls.
Denene thank you so much for all that you and the My Brown Baby staff do everyday for our Brown families. Much of the information shared here on your site goes into consideration as I help my own children learn to navigate their way through this both terrible and wonderful world they’ve inherited.
Please consider adding this awesomely insightful Kevin Powell article to the list.