My son, at age 9, is obsessed with justice, or rather, he readily points out when something is not fair to him. When he feels that his sister is getting more candy, he declares, “That’s not fair!” Or if he didn’t get his promised computer time at school that day: “That’s not fair!"
Coincidentally he has also been talking a lot about racism, and has been labeling pretty much everything as such. “Dinner is racist,” I've heard him say. Um, not necessarily, honey. "Black Friday?! That’s racist!" Well ...
Again coincidentally, or perhaps not, the last few months we have been talking about the election in the U.S. "Donald Trump is racist," my son said, "because he doesn't like women." Yes, true, but not exactly, but yes that’s true too. One day he came home from school and said, "If Donald Trump wins the election then I can't go to the States because he's racist and everyone will have guns and they'll shoot black people and I don't want to die."
As a result, we’ve had some interesting discussions around our dinner table lately, as we’ve tried to help our kids, both of whom are of mixed race, navigate around these issues in age-appropriate ways. We told our son that it’s true: People may not give him the same opportunities in life because he's black. "That's not fair," he said. My daughter came to sit in my lap, and we said that some people will think less of her simply because she is a girl. “That’s not fair.” And some people believe daddy and papa should not be raising children. "That's not fair," he said once again, then asked for a hug because he didn't want to be taken away from us. No, it isn’t fair at all. But it is reality.
"Daddy, what if you married a woman, do you think people would stop hating you?" The problem is not who I love, I said, but that people disapprove of who I love. It’s not me who needs to change. But there is work to be done, still, in changing people’s minds.
While it pains me to have to teach my children that there is fear, intolerance and discrimination in the world, I feel I have to prepare them. It truly frightens me that there is a rise in the overt hatred in talk and increasingly in incidents in the U.S. (There's a warning to parents about setting limits and following through: Donald Trump is a man who has never been subjected to any consequences!) I naively thought that society was progressing in terms of equal rights, only to find out that bigotry and prejudice have been seething below a politically correct surface.
I feel fortunate to live in Canada and to enjoy a lot of rights here, but even Canada is not perfect. Consider the reaction to the Black Lives Matter protest at the Toronto Pride Parade as they sought to highlight a lack of inclusion and continued discrimination. How did most people react? By whining about their tactics and demands instead of listening to the heart of the message they were trying to convey: There's racism in the world's most diverse city. Our city and our country like to boast about tolerance and inclusivity. But hatred, ignorance, bias, discrimination – they are not fair, but are here and indeed everywhere.
Where do we go from here and what can I do? Celebrate diversity. Promote inclusion. Educate myself. Speak out. Be a role model. Most importantly, my mission is to teach my children to be strong, confident, empathetic, engaged and visible.