By Rob Thompson
The bigotry and violence displayed during the white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville have left many of us angry and scared about the future of our families, communities, and country.
For the children watching these events unfold, the messages they hear and the images they see have a corrosive impact. Children are shaped by their environments–when they are exposed to racism and white supremacy, they learn that it’s okay to hate people because of the color of their skin, their religious beliefs, or who they love.
For children of color, these public and vitriolic displays of racism are traumatic. Unlike the white supremacist groups marching in Charlottesville, children of color, immigrants, and other marginalized children have actually experienced institutionalized racism, discrimination, and oppression. The bigotry pouring through our TV screens compounds the fear these children already experience. Fear that they aren’t safe, fear that they don’t belong, fear that they are less than. This is particularly true when our country’s elected leader, President Trump, continues to insist that there are “two sides” to this issue and won’t unequivocally condemn the racist hate of white supremacist protesters.
What’s equally troubling about the President’s inadequate response is that condemning white supremacists should be easy. It is just the tip of an iceberg composed of deeply entrenched institutional and structural racism. It’s not enough to call out the bigotry of white supremacists. We must also dismantle the systemic factors that continue to oppress people of color–underfunded and segregated public schools; discriminatory hiring, housing, and policing practices; profound health inequities. The list could go on.
Aside from President Trump, most elected officials of all political stripes did express proper outrage to the racist demonstrations. That’s good, and it helps mitigate some of the trauma caused by overt displays of racism. But these same elected leaders must also take a deeper look at the systems and institutions that continue to deprive children of color with the opportunity to achieve their full potential. On that front, we’ve got a lot of work to do.