Right now, the phrase “Black lives matter” is being invoked to affirm very different ideas, from the truth of the infinite value of each human being and the need for correction of injustices against Black lives to the endorsement of an organization that openly seeks “to disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family” and “dismantle cisgender privilege.”
What is a parent to do, or, for that matter, what is any person to do when a child or family member, friend, co-worker or neighbor expresses full-on support for this Black Lives Matter organization and thinks anyone who does not is a bigot?
As dicey as such conversations can be, we owe it to people to discuss the truth about reality charitably and clearly. The duty of a parent to broach the subject with children is even greater.
This column seeks primarily to help parents speak with their teenagers and older offspring. (I am hoping my years of teaching college students about controversial issues has taught me something.) It would be best if the discussion could be a multi-staged project. My recommendation is that parents and children watch some key films that should stimulate important discussions. (Warning: Those I haven’t seen but that come highly recommended by trusted others are marked with an *; still, I recommend that parents themselves vet all movies.)
Part of the discussion should serve to demonstrate that you are fully aware that Black people in our country have endured and continue to endure injustices and that you adamantly oppose those wrongs; another part should help them see that understanding the bigger picture is necessary for responsibly assessing the BLM movement and the various groups that use that name, especially the Black Lives Matter Global Network (which owns the blacklivesmatter.com website).
Get on the Same Page
Don’t immediately start railing against all the problems with the mission statement of the Black Lives Matter Global Network (BLMGN) — although you should address those eventually. Make a distinction between BLMGN and the need to address problems with racism in our culture. Don’t become an opponent of BLMGN or of your child; rather, take the role of someone who would very much like to hear about their interest in and understanding of racism, since this has long been a concern of yours, as well. Compliment your children for their promotion of justice and civil rights. Express your horror at racism and excessive police violence. Talk about incidences of racism you have witnessed in your lifetime and register your outrage at such things. Tell them what you have learned about racism from your friends or co-workers who are African American. If you have ever been a part of a public protest in respect to any issue, speak of that and how happy you were to be able to express your views about some violation of human rights. Explain to your children that you have always seen your involvement in the pro-life movement as an involvement in fighting for the rights of Black people. Indeed, Planned Parenthood targets women in Black communities to the point where it is justifiable to speak of Black genocide. (Sadly, the Black Lives Matter Global Network is pro-abortion.)
Films Can Spur Dialogue
Arrange to have an ongoing conversation. Make learning about racism a project between you and your children. You want to lead the discussion to the point where eventually you can watch with them the new documentary Uncle Tom, which is essential viewing, for it shows that not all Black people agree on the right solutions to the problems. Within the documentary are testimonies of Black people who are very critical of past involvement of politicians in the Democratic Party in denying civil rights to Black people; of the problem with fatherlessness in the Black community; and of the failure to have the achievements of Black people celebrated who do not accept the self-identity of victim. A major force in the political world today is political activist Candace Owens (who appears in Uncle Tom and identifies lawyer and radio-show host Larry Elder as one of her mentors). I have learned a great deal from author and commentator Shelby Steele (for instance, his “Is White Guilt Destroying the Promise of Civil Rights?”), from professor Voddie Baucham and esteemed economist Thomas Sowell.
Since the ideas of Uncle Tom are so challenging and not politically correct, it might be best to start with movies that have shown the problem of racism in our culture. Some of the good movies about slavery and racism are To Kill a Mockingbird, Harriet*, Just Mercy*, Glory, Belle*, To Sir With Love and The Courage to Love. And for those who develop a passion for understanding the history of slavery, there is Roots. PBS has multiple good documentaries on race in America.
Those films might transition well to a discussion of the truth that all human beings are equal in dignity and the fact that this truth was not recognized until Christ himself proclaimed it. Discuss the fact that that truth is one that came late to mankind — the most brilliant ancient philosophers did not recognize that all human beings are equal; indeed, most cultures have believed their culture to be superior to all others and have disdained and even enslaved those belonging to other cultures, especially those they have captured in war. Inform them that the slave market of African Americans in the New World began when Africans of different regions and tribes sold others into slavery.
Stress the fact that the spread of Christianity is the reason for the rise of the idea that all human lives matter because all human beings are made in the likeness and image of God. All. Yes, Christians have held slaves and Catholic thinkers have justified some forms of slavery — just as Christians have committed all sins — but Christians were also the first and most zealous advocates of emancipation. And that is not surprising since Christianity is all about freedom — the freedom to live out fully one’s vocation as a son or daughter of God. Catholic theologians such as the Jesuit Father Francesco Suarez were among the first to provide philosophical arguments against slavery, and many missionaries worked to liberate slaves. Watch the films The Mission, Amazing Grace and Lincoln.
Progress Has Been Made
Ask them to think about how the culture has managed at least to some extent to curb racism and then examine where more should be done to root it out. Speak about the success of the nonviolent measures of Martin Luther King: See Selma*, King: Man of Peace in a Time of War* and Seizing Justice: The Greensboro 4*. Introduce them to films that show the difficulty of the lives of Black people when their basic rights were not acknowledged. Note that in some ways these films show that when people participate in joint activities and get to know the “other” they come to realize that the “other” is not very different and definitely not inferior: Watch 42: The Jackie Robinson Story*, Remember the Titans, Gifted Hands, Something the Lord Made and Hidden Figures. You (or their grandparents!) should tell them about the difference it made when TV shows started featuring Black people and when, eventually, whole series were situated in the Black community.
A great exercise would be to read and discuss the Civil Rights Act of 1965, how it came about and the difference it made. Talk about some of the prominent Black people in our culture today, not just athletes and entertainers, but people like Ben Carson, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. And watch Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words. It took too long to have a Black president, but Barack Obama was elected twice — and that would not have been possible were the United States hopelessly racist.
The Causes of Racism and Solutions
How best to help those harmed by racism? First understand the problem: Race in America by the creator of the Veggie Tales (not without its critics) explains some of the reasons for the economic disparity between the white and Black community. For older children, the intense movie Raisin in the Sun (written by a 27-year-old Black woman) powerfully shows the struggle of Black people for decent jobs and housing. Addressing the economic plight of many Black people requires expanding job opportunities, and expanding educational opportunities is key to that. One of the most promising educational endeavors in poverty-stricken areas are the Cristo Rey Jesuit-inspired high schools, which provide a top-notch education as well as job experience. The movie Stand and Deliver shows the power of education, as does Akeelah and the Bee.
The greatest problem throughout society, regardless of color, is fatherlessness; 72% of Black babies are born out of wedlock. Remind your children what the speakers in Uncle Tom said about how a lack of an involved father impeded their progress. For some balance, watch The Pursuit of Happyness*, a story of a heroic and caring Black father.
Problems With Black Lives Matter Global Network
Once you have set the stage by considering the history and broader context of the civil-rights movement, it’s important to recognize that not only is Black Lives Matter Global Network pro-abortion, it is Marxist and an advocate of gender ideology, and it even considers the nuclear family to be a Western prescription (as though that were in itself a flaw), despite research that shows the adverse effects of the decline of traditional family units. The key positions of Black Lives Matter Global Network are thoroughly incompatible with Catholic principles. Just look at its mission statement. Moreover, the violence that destroys businesses, both Black and white, often sets back Black individuals and communities for decades. Listen to the pleas of a Black female business owner. Just take a look at Detroit, once one of the richest cities in the U.S., which has not recovered from the riots of the late 1960s.
Yes, Black Americans have reason to protest that their inherent human rights have not yet been fully honored in our culture, and it’s right for all Americans to support their quest for justice. However, the violence and destruction that have spun out of control in the past few months have ruined the lives of many innocent people, especially many in the disadvantaged communities they want to help. Help your children understand that calls for defunding the police are a recipe for disaster, as was shown by the unpoliced occupied areas of Seattle and Atlanta that led to the deaths of innocent people, among them children. Certainly police forces need to examine their methods and root out corruption and any bigotry in their midst, but defunding them is unlikely to help that happen, and it has the potential to make innocent people even more vulnerable.
Clearly, there is a wealth of material suitable for discussion. To reiterate: Parents (and others) should avoid making discussion of “Black Lives Matter” a battle. An honest assessment of that movement is necessary and will touch on many important issues on our culture. But whatever one thinks of any of the organizations that call themselves Black Lives Matter or of the larger Black Lives Matter movement, it remains true that many Black people don’t feel at home and justly treated in U.S. culture; we should all be doing what we can to change and to build a culture free of racism, where the rights of all are recognized and protected and where all of our neighbors feel safe and welcome.
Janet E. Smith, Ph.D., is a retired professor of moral theology who
speaks and writes on life issues and the corruption in the Catholic Church.