I’m starting to really miss innocuous, fun questions like “Daddy, why is the sky blue? How do birds know when the seasons change?”
Lately, instead, I’m getting questions about slavery and about whether or not George Washington was a good guy or a bad guy since he owned slaves.
My son is 6. I don’t remember when I first began asking questions about slavery when I was growing up in Goldsboro, but I’m pretty sure I was older than 6.
When he was 4 he asked about police brutality. He was terrified when he saw the security guard in a local Target.
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As much as we would like to shield our kids from the TV and some of the ugliness that’s going on, the ugliness gets through.
Why are these people marching?
Why did this man get shot, if he didn’t do anything?
Why are these people carrying torches?
What does Jews will not replace us mean?
I’d like my son to keep his innocence a little longer, before he has to learn that America’s history with regards to his people is different than that of his white classmates.
We all love hot dogs, apple pie, baseball and Chevrolet, but in 1776 African Americans had almost another century of bondage to endure. Our first president George Washington owned a hundred slaves. That is a part of George Washington’s history just as much as crossing the Delaware. So, no son, if you went back in a time machine to meet George Washington, that experience wouldn’t be anything like what happens with Peabody and Sherman when they go back in time and meet historical figures in the cartoon.
I refuse to give my child half histories. Half histories romanticize and glorify. They leave little room for truth.
Too many Americans are comfortable not knowing very much about the dark side of our nation’s past. They can’t understand or don’t want to understand why a woman would scale a flag pole to bring down a confederate flag or why young people here in Durham would pull down a monument memorializing soldiers that fought to maintain slavery.
Many others would change historical facts by referring to enslaved Africans as immigrants or laborers. One can’t take the sting out of the horror of slavery any more than one could take the sting out of a bullwhip.
As a kid I was a fan of the “The Dukes of Hazzard.” A fun and seemingly harmless show, just good ole’ boys never meaning no harm, running from Boss Hog and doing donuts in the dirt with the General Lee.
One day my father explained to me who General Lee was and what the Confederacy stood for. He didn’t tell me this because he wanted to ruin the fairy tale, but because his Black son needed to know the symbols of white supremacy. The same flag that was on the roof of the Dukes car flew and flies at neo-Nazi and Klan rallies.
How does one explain to a 6-year-old in 2017 that there are people in this country who hate him and would do him harm just because of the color of his skin? As much as I don’t want to talk about slavery, neo-nazis, or rogue police, with my son, I will not dodge or sugarcoat his tough questions about our nation’s past and present.
Our children’s questions present an opportunity. By shedding enough light, we can get a complete picture and move forward in a way that unites us rather than divides us, so we can stop tripping over the things we pretend we don’t see.
What has happened has happened. While we can’t change it, by understanding the truth of it, we have a chance to make change. And in that change, we can find hope, which has forever been married to that most beautiful bride/groom: new possibilities.
This is Durham playwright Howard Craft’s first monthly column for The Herald-Sun. Share your reaction to this column at firstname.lastname@example.org