For Your Society

The key to fixing systemic disenfranchisement is education, not indiscriminate kindness

The key to fixing systemic disenfranchisement is education, not indiscriminate kindness

The key to fixing systemic disenfranchisement is education, not indiscriminate kindness

The key to fixing systemic disenfranchisement is education, not indiscriminate kindness

The key to fixing systemic disenfranchisement is education, not indiscriminate kindness

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Artistic works by, and about, marginalized individuals

A simple way to make an impact is by supporting the artistic productions of marginalized individuals. Not only are the arts a noninvasive way to hear firsthand depictions of life from members of other communities, but your financial support also enables them to continue creating.

Reading biographies and nonfiction is an excellent facilitative method to engage with the history, resilience efforts, and current obstacles of others. But used correctly, other mediums like photography, cinema, and poetry can be just as impactful as teaching tools to help children see the world through someone else's eyes. Pair the materials with engaging questions that promote critical thinking so you and your children can make the most of these stories.  

As a note: remember that there is as much diversity within marginalized identities as there is outside of them. Understand that it will require many interactions for even the smallest understanding of another's culture.

Age-appropriate resources discussing our nation's history

As parents, we might think our children are too young to expose to the painful realities of the world we live in. But research has indicated children have learned to pick up on racial differences as early as preschool.

I get it. It's uncomfortable to talk to children about the national and global injustices we have experienced. But many marginalized parents already do this work due to living in these systems. And many of our children are targets of hate before they are old enough to understand why they are treated differently.

Before we can prepare the next group of change-makers, we have to accept the responsibility of educating them. In the early stages (age 2-5), books like Todd Parr’s It’s Okay to Be Different are great to introduce family, race, and ability diversity. As children age, sites like Teaching Tolerance have a great library of age-based resources to share with youth from kindergarten through high school.

Teach children to see and accept differences

Marginalization isn’t an accidental happenstance: it’s the product of targeted smear campaigns, upheld through turning a blind eye to harmful legislation and strengthened through societal compliance.

But contrary to popular belief, marginalized people do not want our identities erased. We embrace them proudly. As a black woman, my life has been strongly shaped by the assumptions or rejections I have experienced based on my race and gender—it’s important to me. What we do want, however, is to be accepted as a viable example of the human experience and to be seen for our diversity and humanity.

Avoid giving children language that explains others through frameworks of privilege. Examples include describing same-sex couples through the heteronormative lens of having one partner who acts like a “girl” and one who acts like a “guy,”or describing black people as white people with tans and very curly hair. These comparisons center whiteness and/or straightness as the standard. Instead of teaching children to translate or remove identities for comfort, teach them that each identity brings its own unique experience.

More than “hate,” discuss the specifics

Love alone has failed to eradicate sexism, racism, homophobia, or any other ”-ism.” Love alone won’t stop mass incarceration, prevent the next instance of anti-Semitism, or stop the erasure of trans and intersex people. It takes education and intention to change disparities. We can't improve the present by equally distributing love. Not just faith, but also love without works is dead.

You don't have to be a "bad person with bad intentions" to further the legacy of oppression: it is both systemic and impersonal. In addition, the “love everyone” color-blind method denies the underlying systems that perpetuate mistreatment, and in turn, upholds them.

In order to accomplish the work that has to be done in our society, we have to educate our children on the specific forms of hate being used. For example, it’s not enough to say “it’s bad” when people accuse George Soros of funding protest and progressive activism. Inform them the way that these comments and the use of terms like “shekels” are a dog whistle that connects to a larger anti-Semitic set of language, falsely encouraging narratives of greed and selfishness about the Jewish community.

You can tell a lot of about a speaker’s intentions by the images their words conjure.

Be introspective

There are many who will vehemently deny the disparities we face as historically marginalized groups, and understanding our struggles doesn’t always translate to empathy for other marginalized individuals.

Even if you are already marginalized, reach across the aisle to educate yourself on other groups’ issues. Over the past few years, I’ve challenged myself to see parallels between my own experience the struggles of trans, Native, and Jewish communities. In the process, I’ve gained a deeper understanding of more elusive forms of anti-Semitism that others often miss. I’ve also discovered many of us battle multiple systems at once.

The most meaningful action you can take to improve the world for your children is to do the work. Seek support through Facebook groups, newsletters, podcasts, and other understated resources. It's hard for all of us to accept our areas of privilege. People are multifaceted and although some differences are more pronounced than others, they all have the potential to expose one to mistreatment.

If you are interested in taking your understanding of identity to the next level, I suggest checking out resources like Kimberle Crenshaw’s framework of intersectionality. If we as parents better understand the ways interacting identities impact one’s experiences, we will be better prepared to teach them to our children.  

Lastly, remember: Love is a powerful thing, but without targeted intent, it won't improve anything.

A. Rochaun Meadows-Fernandez is a diversity content specialist whose work can be seen in The Washington Post, InStyle, The Guardian, and other places. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter. 


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