On Saturday, my husband and I sent our daughters outside to play as we watched the horrific images coming out of Charlottesville. We watched as men clad in swastikas, carrying weapons and torches, shouted hate throughout the streets of a typically lovely, tranquil college town. We watched as a car rammed into a crowd on a street usually filled with students and families out for a stroll or a bite to eat. We then watched, equally horrified, as our president placed the blame on many sides. I peered out the window at my daughters innocently playing in the backyard and was as grateful that they hadn’t heard these words as I was that they hadn’t seen the images of the protest.
Blaming many sides contradicts critical life lessons we teach our children. When we blame many sides, we equate the behavior of hate-filled groups who stand for the oppression of others to the behavior of those who are willing to risk their own safety to stand up against hate. When we give people a pass for standing alongside Nazis, but denounce those who stand up to them, we need to stop and think about what message this sends to the impressionable youth of our country.
Bullying prevention is taught in school across America. We teach our children what we know to be true, that bullies and victims are few and the majority of the participants are bystanders, those who witness bullying and do nothing to stop it. Most kids are bystanders out of fear of retaliation, or feelings of helplessness. While the mindset of a bystander is completely understandable and teachers are sympathetic to their feelings, we encourage them to act as upstanders. We implore our students to stand up for someone being bullied, assuring them that they will be protected. If we can expect an 8-year-old to be an upstander, then why aren’t we encouraging adults to do the same?
When our president condemns “many sides,” he condemns the upstander right along with the bully. President Trump is equating men marching through streets spewing hate to the men and women who filled the city center of their community to show that hate does not have a place there. On one hand there is a bully marching for the oppression of women, immigrants, people of color, and the LGBTQ communities, and on the other is the upstander sticking up for those who have been marginalized. By placing equal blame on upstanders, we are sending a message to our children to allow hate. We are teaching them apathy. We are telling our children to continue being bystanders, for otherwise they will be condemned along with the bully.
As parents, we have concern over who our children spend time with. We want to meet our children’s friends and their parents so that we may consider their values and character. We encourage our children to surround themselves with positive influences who will bring out the best in them. We are concerned over who our children align themselves with socially because we know that these people will not only have influence over them, but also determine how they are judged by their peers, their teachers, and people in their community.
If my child was continually hanging out with friends who openly used drugs, though assured me she was drug free, would I feel unconcerned? Of course not. Even if she stayed sober, she would be aligning herself with a group whose values did not stand with her own. School officials and future employers would have every right to question her judgement. If the police entered a room filled with drugs, she would find herself in trouble just by being present. We teach our children that they are a reflection of those around them. We must hold adults to the same standard.
When we refuse to condemn white nationalists for Saturday’s despicable riots because “other groups” were also marching, we give people a free pass to align themselves with hate while skirting blame. Forgive me if I have little sympathy for men who claim to have been marching simply to save an historic relic. You chose to knowingly march with leaders and members of the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi groups. You chose to align yourselves with hatred and you should reap the consequences, whether that be public shame or a loss of your employment.
When our president makes vague remarks about placing blame on “many sides” and refuses to condemn hate groups, he is sending a clear message to our children. Waiting two days to condemn specific hate groups still sends the same message. My children were playing outside on Saturday, but many weren’t. Children and teens across the nation heard the words of the president and received a message which blatantly contradicts the lessons they have been taught by their parents and teachers. Today, they heard a politician backpedal after national outrage that spread across party lines. So what can we do?
We let them hear our outrage. We let them know that today’s words were a start, but not good enough. We teach our children that hate is unacceptable. We encourage our children to stand up against hate of all kinds. We teach them to make their friends based on who is kind and who brings out the best in them, no matter their race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. Whether they see a classmate being teased over her headscarf or the contents of his lunchbox, I will teach my daughters to be fierce friends who always choose to be the upstander.
I will teach with my words and I will show with my actions. If I want my daughters to be fierce, they need a mother who is too. So my daughters will see me feel anger over injustice. They will see me defend anyone being subjected to hate and oppression. They will see their mother align herself with people and groups that celebrate inclusion and love. For my daughters, there will only be one side, and that will be the side that fights hate. Always.