In this country, white parents raising white kids have the luxury of not really learning much history beyond what serves the white narrative. The status quo largely works for white parents, especially those who also benefit from ability, religious, gender, and/or heterosexual privilege. Even as we pay lip service to celebrating MLK Day, we can float along ignorantly oblivious of the decades of organizing, protesting, and movement-building Black people have done in the name of equality and justice. We can never learn the violent legacy of white supremacy.
This lack of intentional historical education — in particular from a decolonizing and anti-racist lens, has unfortunate consequences that play out in how we parent, socialize, and “citizen.” Consequences that, at the most basic and harmful levels, include the perpetuation of white supremacy.
Nevertheless, white parents are very quick to grab onto the latest sound bite or trend that allows us to simultaneously virtue signal and remain comfortably white. Perhaps there is no greater time this blatant incongruity shows up each year than around Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
After an atrociously vicious 2020, in the name of racial equality and justice, I hope this year can be different.
For starters, we can’t celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. with our kids (and schools) without making a connection to Rev. Raphael Warnock, the recently elected senator from Georgia. Warnock’s historic win on January 6 makes him only the 11th Black Senator in the history of the U.S. Senate, the first Black senator from the state of Georgia, and the first Democrat from that state in 16 years.
For the last 15 years, Warnock has been the senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, the same church where Martin Luther King Jr. (and his father before him) pastored until his death in 1968. The bold progressive social agenda, reconstruction of ideas, and the abolition of racism and economic inequality that MLK preached are the same ideals Warnock teaches, preaches, and has been arrested for today.
You’ll be hard pressed to find a white parent who doesn’t celebrate MLK Jr. with their kids. Get ready for “I have decided to stick with love … hate is too great a burden to bear,” and “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is what are you doing for others,” from every.white.person.on.your.feed this week.
What we also must see is a celebration where the full ideals MLK Jr. worked for are being embodied today. In simple terms, every white parent who celebrates MLK Jr. and didn’t champion Warnock in the Senate race must be called out. The dangers of whitewashing the values MLK Jr. worked for by not connecting them to the progressive agenda Warnock stands for are too high. It allows us to remove MLK Jr. from the socio-political demands of his time and the radical lengths he went to achieve them — which were far greater than fluffy and easy love and acts of service.
“We tend to forget that Dr. King was widely disliked for his message of liberation for oppressed people in this country—Black people, Brown people, Native people, all poor people,” Zenobia Jeffries Warfield wrote in Yes! Magazine. “The year he died, nearly 75 percent of American people disapproved of him, according to a 1968 poll.”
We must make these connections for our children because it teaches them that progress is slow and long, yet always happening, and that every stride toward equality is on the shoulders of those who’ve gone before us.
“It is easy to look back through the rear-view mirror of today and act like the victories of yesterday were inevitable, but they came with a great struggle,” Warnock himself said years ago.
We must make these connections for our children because it helps them link the familiar civil rights leaders they’ll learn about in school to the civil rights leaders of our time today. It is imperative that our children understand that activism and the quest for racial justice aren’t things that happened decades ago and are finished. It is more important now than ever before, and there are people leading that fight today. And our children can play a part in creating an anti-racist world.
Let’s be parents committed to making connections for our children that tell the long story of activism, movement builders, organizers, and champions for equality and justice in this country. Let’s be parents who don’t let the polarization of present-day politics prevent us from recognizing the civil rights leaders in front of us right now who are fighting the same fight MLK Jr. fought. When our kids come home (or turn off the computer) sharing what they learned about MLK Jr., use that moment to teach them about Raphael Warnock, LaTosha Brown, Stacey Abrams, Nsé Ufot, Melanie L. Campbell, Tamieka Atkins, Helen Butler, and Deborah Scott.
Let’s be parents who pick up the phone and call our friends who virtue signal MLK Day yet voted against Warnock. Let’s be parents who invest in BIPOC organizers. Let’s be parents who are, in Dr. King’s words, “drum majors for justice,” and let’s be ready for all the kids who will drum alongside us. Even better, let’s follow the kids of color who’ve been drumming for justice all along and teach our white kids about them, too.
Add these beautiful children’s books by Black authors to your kids’ shelves.