“I stand here today, talking about this issue of racial discrimination, because I believe it threatens to rob ANOTHER generation of all the opportunities that all of us want for all of our children, no matter what their color or where they come from.” -Mellody Hobson
When I met my seven-year-old off the bus Friday, with my 6-year-old already next to me, we immediately started celebrating the long weekend. My curious son didn’t waste any time asking why we had a long weekend. “Monday is Memorial Day, which is a holiday for schools and many workplaces, including Mommy’s and Momma’s.”
“But what does it celebrate?”
I’m sure many of us have travelled down the road of attempting to explain Memorial Day. “We honor the soldiers who fought for our rights, our freedom, and lost their lives. We honor the Veterans of Foreign Wars.” Yet, when I stare at my kids, I feel those answers are inadequate. Sure, I chose to tell them that Memorial Day honors all of those soldiers who have fought for our freedoms, but it wasn’t enough. As my daughter wanders off, satisfied, but my son stayed for more, I shared this story about Memorial Day (with a lot more stuttering and fewer words, naturally):
Memorial Day was started by former slaves on May, 1, 1865 in Charleston, SC to honor 257 dead Union Soldiers who had been buried in a mass grave in a Confederate prison camp. They dug up the bodies and worked for 2 weeks to give them a proper burial as gratitude for fighting for their freedom. They then held a parade of 10,000 people led by 2,800 Black children where they marched, sang and celebrated (credit to Afropunk and Zinn Education Project, read more here.)
I have wondered since why my inclination was and is so strong to give an honest, historically accurate and deep answer to Memorial Day. In part, it is to honor their blackness. As their mom, I refuse to be color-blind. Giving any other rendition of history, while for most of us it’s simply because we didn’t know the truth (until now); if we know it, and don’t speak it, we make it less important, less visible, less valued. That, I cannot do. Haven’t we already watered-down and white-washed our history books, media outlets, and so much more. To white-wash this holiday minimizes the scope of that war, a war that took hundreds of thousands of lives, and minimizes what it was fought for, the most fundamental rights: to life, freedom, and self-determination.
There is another reason to stand up for the original Decoration Day. It is a testament to the power of allies, to our capacity to stand together to see the truth, to right a wrong, to show solidarity. As men worked to effect a proper burial and children marched and a community celebrated, I’d like to imagine that part of what was celebrated was freedom, dignity, gratitude, selflessness and sacrifice. I want my children to believe, in the moments when they face injustice, that there is an ally nearby they can count on who will walk with them.
It takes courage to continue to acknowledge race and color in a society that likes to believe that we’re “post-racial.” Yet, the idea of “post-racial” can be an excuse to be color-blind. In a society where the disparities in health, employment, income and opportunities persist, it is much more important and valuable to speak about race with courage. In the spirit of Mellody Hobson, “don’t be color-blind, be color brave!” Find her complete TED Talk here.
How do you talk with your children about race, racial inequalities, and our shared U.S. history?