I’ve been watching the debates play out across the country in communities and school districts about what we should be teaching youth about American history. Some parents feel protective of their children and are concerned regarding the impact on their loved ones of learning about what has happened in the past. They say it didn’t happen, isn’t important, or doesn’t involve them because they were not directly engaged in harmful behavior, without acknowledging how it may have created unfair advantages and benefits for them.
I can’t help but think that the playing field for Americans is uneven when it comes to race. I see the data every day about poorer health, wealth, and basic needs access for people of color. However, I understand what many parents may be worried about. When I was in school, I never learned about the violence and harm that has been done to people based on their skin color or minority group status. As I have become more familiar with history, including the stories of horror and violence that occurred for many Black, Brown, and Asian communities throughout the country as well as inequalities that are built into in every aspect of daily life, I feel discomfort, pain, anger, and shame with how unfair many things have been for people of color.
It turns out that those parents are right. The violence and trauma experienced by others can affect us when we hear about those events or experiences. It can actually cause secondary or vicarious trauma symptoms! However, it also gives us an opportunity to build coping skills for self-care and compassion that can be beneficial for coping with life stress in general. It can make all of us stronger. Improving wellness and mental health. Rather than avoid history to protect ourselves and loved ones against the trauma of the horrors that are part of our society’s legacy, we can make different choices. Rather than retreating into white fragility as described by Robin DiAngelo, we can challenge the wrongs and take action to make it right.
In truth, knowing that white people have advantages from living in a society that has a framework built on the power and value of whiteness, sometimes makes me feel off balance, unsure how to act, questioning my basic assumptions, and guilty. However, I have to conclude honestly that my discomfort is minor compared with the horrific treatment and violence that others may have experienced. I can practice and teach self-care, while tolerating my reactions if it supports healing for others. I can apologize for what happened in the past no matter my role if it creates a healthy society here and now.
To build good self-esteem, children need truth that helps them understand their world. In the long run, structural racism protected and kept in place by white fragility hurts us all. I want all children to see their worth, recognize their value, have opportunities, meet their basic needs, and realize their full potential. That may just be the secret to health and wellness for humans and our planet. I will continue to strive in this direction and support anyone else who wants to join me.