For a long time, the "talk" that I worried about having with T was "THE TALK." We've had a few discussions about adolescence and sexuality, but the talk that I found myself surprised by was one we had a few weeks ago as ugly scenes unfolded in Charlottesville. We were watching sports (surprise) and passing mention was made of white supremacy and white nationalism. T asked about them, and I found myself trying to explain a fearful mindset I myself don't really understand. As I tried to think about how to frame our discussion, I found myself wondering about people T might encounter who would influence him to think wrongheadedly about race and his own whiteness. I found myself thankful that we live in a community and attend schools where integration, diversity, and immigration are practical realities, not theoretical abstractions. When I can cite friends of ours as examples of people those in Charlottesville would label "undesirable," the absurdity of so many represented there presents itself.
I tried to think of how my own parents guided me through their worries about "influences." I think the first time I was aware of the word "boycott" was when my dad announced that we wouldn't buy products advertised on a certain radio show. I remember a fleeting disappointment that we weren't going to get Snapple any more, but as I think about it from a parental perspective, I understand wanting to reduce exposure to vitriolic, extreme views about the world. I don't know if boycott is the way to combat such things, but I'm thankful in retrospect to have had parents who talked to me frankly the best they could about race, class, and politics.
I've resolved to try to do the same as a parent. As a public school teacher, I feel like I hear a lot from parents, other teachers, and the community regarding concern about "bad influences." Coded language about "good school/bad school" binaries often dances around the racial and socioeconomic makeup of those schools. Having gone to a high school myself that many expressed polite (but implicitly racist) concern about, I feel like I understand that code better than some. My line as a teacher on influences has always been basically this: I agree that influence should be a great concern. I'm mindful that influence is both good and bad. I've seen students seemingly "led astray," sure, but I've also seen students make constructive, positive changes and decisions based on the positive influence of their peers. I'm concerned that parents who make decisions ruled by fear of otherness, difference, or the potential for bad influence are possibly removing their own children from an opportunity to be good influences themselves, or at least to more realistically see the community they live in.
I'm thankful for the good influences in my life, and for what I hope has been an opportunity to be a positive influence in schools and my community. As a parent, I hope I can keep my instinct to overprotect and shelter within a rational framework so our kids can learn and succeed and fail and grow to be influential members of their own communities.
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