Between Ferguson and Gaza, it has been a difficult and heartbreaking summer season around the world. On the surface these events might not seem to directly affect the Asian American community, but folks here at Hyphen have emphasized the importance of standing in solidarity with communities affected by violence. After all, Asian Americans are part of the Ferguson community, Asian Americans can also be harmed by police cover-ups, and Asians are impacted by Israeli policy. As the saying goes, “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.”
I’m ashamed to admit that my husband and I have avoided talking about what’s going on in Ferguson in front of our kids, and generally avoid approaching them about scary current events. Our lack of cable news and the fact that our oldest has only started first grade (and thus doesn’t have access to media without our approval) makes it easy to avoid these conversations, but that won’t be the case for much longer. Our older daughter -- six and a half years old -- is already coming home with questions on heavy topics. Occasionally before bedtime, she’ll say, “Mommy, I’m not thinking happy thoughts right now,” and often they will be thoughts about how kids around the world are dying.
As a parent, I’ve learned that kids are incredibly smart and can grasp big-picture concepts well, but these big-picture concepts -- an unarmed kid getting shot by a police officer, families losing their homes in war -- are utterly terrifying. As parents, it’s our job to help our kids process these events and reassure them that they are safe with us. And how do you explain to a child that sometimes the people they are supposed to consider “community helpers” (in this case, police officers) don’t always help the community, and sometimes do the exact opposite?
There are many guides on how to discuss the news and current events with your kids in an age-appropriate manner. One tip I’ve seen consistently is to try and create some distance between your family and the event -- reassure children that these events will not happen to them, that Mommy and Daddy will always keep them safe. Another important suggestion I’ve seen is to give children a sense of hope. Fred Rogers famously recounted his mom telling him: “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” It’s a wonderful piece of advice for any parents trying to help their kids process scary events on the news. But in times of war and civil unrest, perhaps we can take these ideas a step further and also talk to our children about solidarity and standing up for injustice.
The concepts of racism and solidarity are difficult enough for adults to grasp, let alone children. In the wake of Michael Brown’s death, a number of posts popped up urging Asian Americans to simply care about what’s going on in Ferguson. Most were fantastic posts, but the fact that enough people asked “Should we care about any of this?” to warrant these posts is disconcerting. I get it -- as children of immigrants, many of us have been brought up with an “every man for himself” attitude. My own parents absolutely bought into the bootstrapping "model minority" myth -- it was likely much easier to remain complicit than to accept the alternative, as Julia Carrie Wong notes -- and it wasn’t until late high school and early college that I really started to think and care about social justice. But when I did start to care, and when I did start to learn about the complex history we share as Americans, I learned how to really listen to others instead of just screaming my own opinion. I learned to judge less. And in the process, I felt a greater sense of agency and responsibility and belonging in my community.
We have not broached the topic of Ferguson with our older daughter yet. But we have talked to her about injustice, and how important it is to speak up when she sees someone being hurt by another person's actions, which is a start.
We should absolutely care about what’s going on Ferguson because we are all affected by racism, and I don’t think this is something we should hide from our children, lest it become an even more difficult concept to grasp as they get older. Teaching children empathy and to stand up against injustice -- to care about the plights of others and to speak up not only when they are being bullied but also when they see another child being bullied -- is important on a number of levels. Not only is it the best way to bully-proof your kids, it can also help them process scary events and empower them to affect change.