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Acts of Salvation Needed to Cope With Systemic Racism Then and Now

By Celeste Hodge Growden, President/CEO, Alaska Black Caucus

Alaska Children’s Trust’s mission is the prevention of child abuse and neglect. To achieve this mission, we must ensure all Alaskan children grow up in a family and community that provides them with all the tools and resources necessary to make their dreams come true. Creating a community that is focused on ending systemic racism is part of this important work, and we are pleased to share this guest blog post from the Alaska Black Caucus on this topic.

Children learn by the time they enter school that race matters. They learn this and then they grapple with it, with or without help. Choosing to talk to your kids about race may be uncomfortable and challenging, but it’s also a beautiful opportunity to foster vulnerability and courage between parents or other caregivers and children. And it’s an opportunity for salvation from systemic racism.

It’s unlikely that many white parents, unlike Black parents or other People of Color (POC) parents, have ever had “the race talk” with their children. Until now, many white parents may have considered “the race talk” to be optional – or even racist. So they have avoided it.

As a Black parent, I knew that speaking about race with my children was not optional. Instead it was a chance to teach my children what to expect in the world and things that might save their lives in potentially deadly encounters with police officers, over something as simple as routine traffic stops, for example. Black parents share history with their kids about how the institution of law enforcement often condones the use of deadly force by police officers, and they teach their kids to never give police the slightest excuse to use such force. Talking openly and frankly about race and its impact on the children’s safety could save their lives.

But we must now recognize – and should have long ago – that for non-POC parents, talking about race is also essential. While talking about race with children who are not POC (white children) may not involve teaching them how to stay alive in an encounter with police, it can involve letting them know that existing racism in our world puts other people in danger because of race. Additionally, talking about race with white children can give them an understanding of how they can make choices to be anti-racist – a choice that does not involve being “color blind.” 

Parents who are not sure how to talk to kids about race should consider reading books on the topics by experts such as Ibram X. Kendi and others

Before the COVID-19 pandemic caused us all to engage in social distancing, I used to have more opportunities to engage in public speaking about race in America. Often, after giving those speeches on race in America, I would be asked a question that goes something like this: “Given the passage of civil rights laws, affirmative action, and diversity initiatives, and with American society now being integrated, do I feel there is still a need for black this, black that?”

I always responded the same way: “My answer would depend on your understanding as to why such a need ever existed in America.” Invariably, a look of slight confusion comes on the questioner’s face. And before the person can recover, I start to ask them a series of questions:

“Do you know African-Americans arrived in America before the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock?”

“Are you a Christian?” (Here, I ease the tension a bit by comforting the person with the fact I am also a Christian.)

“Did you know that Black churches in America came into being out of necessity, as an act of salvation in response to the acts of oppression and segregation?”

“Did you know slaves gained their freedom with the help of white abolitionists and the first civil rights organizations were formed by blacks and progressive whites who came into being during the first decade of the 20th century to help curb the wholesale lynching and massacring of law-abiding Black people?”

My audience, regardless of color, often fails this history test on the perpetual existence of systemic racism and why the need for an awareness of racism and citizen-initiated opposition to the system has existed before and after the abolishment of slavery. Too often, my audience does not realize how systems, including our government, have engaged in race-related oppression.

I haven’t given a speech since COVID-19-related restrictions began. But with protests unfolding all over America, I will thankfully need to update my message. Thanks to Black Lives Matter, modern day and highly effective civil rights groups like the Alaska Black Caucus and the NAACP, as well as progressive folks from all walks of life, our nation is now forced to have a long overdue and desperately needed reckoning on race. I am hopeful that Black parents and other POC parents will no longer be the only ones talking to their kids about race.

In the future, I will be able to close my speeches and Q&A sessions on a much more hopeful note regarding the impacts of racism and how everyone can benefit from ending racism. Of course it impacts people of color much differently than white in particular, but to end racism is to journey back towards our collective humanity. 

Talking about racism with children and with adults – of any race – needs to be seen as unifying and not divisive. We can all now realize that acts of salvation are needed. We can all see that salvation from the harmful effect of racism can serve as a bridge. We can all see the need for a bridge that all Americans, all members of the Human Race, can cross over towards a future beyond harmful racism. Let’s build that bridge by talking openly and honestly about race. With ourselves, with each other, and with children.

Celeste Hodge Growden, President/CEO, Alaska Black Caucus

About the Alaska Black Caucus

Mission, Services, Partnership Information, and Rates

Mission: To assert the Constitutional Rights of African Americans.

(1) By actively involving the Caucus in the decision making processes in the community as a contributing partner with decision-makers and representative bodies affecting the lives and livelihoods of African Americans.

(2) By actively supporting and working in areas which help to advance the educational, cultural, political, and economic well-being of the African American community.

(3) By acting as a liaison and coordinating entity for the various minority interests within the community and State.

(4) By making available accurate and timely information on relevant issues and areas of concern to minority people and their progressive supporters.

(5) By creating awareness that the struggle to achieve total equality has not yet been achieved.

(5) By emphasizing the ever-increasing need for African Americans and minorities to make renewed attempts toward attaining these goals.

Services and potential partnership activities:

  • Speaking at events hosted by your organization or company.
  • Writing guest blog posts or other content creation.
  • Co-hosting programs and/or events.
  • Other options possible depending on availability and alignment with mission.

Rates:

  • Please contact The Alaska Black Caucus to discuss rates for services and/or donation opportunities.
  • Please note that although we strive to provide free support to others whose work aligns with our mission, we must also stay mindful of the need to sustain our capacity to meet our mission. We therefore welcome payment for our time working in partnership with other organizations or companies whenever possible.
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