Teach Your Children Well
Baltimore magazine|August 2020
Teach Your Children Well
A mother of four struggles with how best to talk to her children about racism.
JANELLE ERLICHMAN DIAMOND

If I’m being honest, I have a certain level of anxiety in writing this essay. Putting to paper all of my shortcomings when it comes to combating systemic racism opens me up to criticism. Admitting my outrage without action is just hot air. Just believing Black Lives Matter as some abstract thought isn’t enough. I keep seeing the same message: If you’ve ever wondered what you’d do during slavery, the Holocaust, or the civil-rights movement, you’re doing it now. In my mind, I’m getting arrested at a “sit-in.” In reality, I’m at home with my four children doing my best to home-school and get through a pandemic. Am I not as brave and progressive as I thought?

My kids—Milo, 13, Willa, 11, and Zeke and Gideon, 9—spent their first years of life in Baltimore City. They attended a public charter school that pulled students from every zip code, and our classrooms were filled with students of many different races and economic backgrounds. A few years ago, when we moved just over the line into the county, our kids enrolled at a school that we love, but where we, as Jews, represent one of the few examples of diversity.

We—my husband, Ron, and I—try to teach our kids daily about what’s right and wrong. We talk about the news, never hiding the hard stories. We vote—in person when we can and always dragging our kids along, so they grow up knowing that this is what we do in a democracy. We repeat, over and over, that everyone is loved and welcome and equal in our eyes.

We march, as we did in that first big Women’s March in Washington, D.C., after the last election (and the subsequent smaller ones in Baltimore). We’ve also marched against gun violence and for abortion rights and now we stand in the streets for Black lives. I go for many reasons, but mostly to breathe in—if only metaphorically now through my mask— the air of like-minded people. And make sure that my own voice is heard.

But are we just surface activists? After the BLM march in Roland Park, I posted a picture of my daughter holding her “RACISM IS A PANDEMIC” sign on social media and wrote: “I worry about posting the wrong thing and offending someone. To post #blackouttuesday or not. To attend a mostly white protest in support of racial justice or not. But then I thought, if I do nothing else but show my daughter that we don’t sit idly by when we see our fellow humankind hurting, that’s enough.”

But let’s be honest. That’s not enough.

It’s time for the tough conversations and self-reflection. My kids are my opportunity to do better.

I think about reaching out to my friend, Tanika White Davis, a Black mom who has twin boys a year older than mine and an 8-year old daughter, but then I see she has posted her newest Sun parenting column, “No Sage Words for This Moment in History.” “It is all just too much,” she writes. “And I am exhausted from feeling all of it, all at once.” How do I put my burden on her after reading this? “I know I should have more to say,” her column continues. “But I am no sage. I am just a mother of three Black children, trying to protect them. You’ll forgive me then if I spend what’s left of my energy doing just that.”

I want to say to her: “Help me help you.” But that just feels like extra work for her. (Though she later scolds me: “You know you can always reach out to me.”)

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August 2020