Patrick Murphy, MS, LLPC
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How I Explained Charlottesville to My Kids

It's a battle of thoughts, and racially-motivated rioting is when reason loses.

The events in Charlottesville, Virginia, have been described as many things — hateful, terrorism, supremacist, etc. There are self-flagellating white liberals grieving over whiteness. There are Blacks who are tired of hearing the same old song. There are conservatives saying, “Hey, that ain’t us.” There are cyberbullies doxxing people who look like the neo-Nazis who gathered there. And I, well, I’m just trying to help my kids — the oldest of whom is mixed — digest it.

Yes, there are people who hate other people because of what they look like, and those hateful people are idiots.

Unfortunately, there are idiots all over the place, so avoiding them can be difficult. But to my ears, white people talking about whiteness sounds like making it all about what the whites are going through. Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe it’s because while my oldest son is half-Malian and my younger two kids are white, I’m skimping on the history of racial tension in America for the sake of preserving family unity. Some people may call me a coward for that, and that’s fine. But when you have a tween, a second grader, and a toddler, I figure that keeping it simple the best approach.

A person’s value isn’t in what they look like, it’s in what they do. Your brother, your sister, your cousins — we protect each other, no matter what.

I started with the extended family that still keeps in contact. Mine is multiracial (White, Black, Latin, Asian, and Native), and stretches from California to Texas to Bamako, Mali. Mostly Christians, a few Muslims, as well as a couple atheists. Politically, from center-right to center-left. Socioeconomically, from wealth to poverty. This diversity came into being exactly within the last two generations. Previous generations were working class Irish Catholic and were generally poorly disposed towards minorities. I’m saying this because the redefinition of our family’s in-group happened quickly but irrevocably. The dynamic of family trumped generations of attitudes.

If anyone starts anything with you, document and report. If anyone starts anything with your brother or sister, protect them. I’ll handle the adults. But protect each other.

In a way, it was that insular, Irish Catholic culture that accommodated such changes. A major cultural feature of this particular group is, when problems happen, to shut out the outside and rally around the family. Once A., my oldest son, and his Latino-Irish cousin C. came along, and our families began bonding with the non-white parents’ families, they too were included. If you wanted to break it down into psychobabble, what happened was that once these old cognitions were challenged and dissonance between two of them came to the fore, the cognitions that no longer fit the reality the family system faced were left behind.

Now this may be naïve of me, but maybe that’s where the “cure” for bigotry is. Granted, in-group/out-group dynamics, aka “Us vs. Them”, is part of our evolutionary process, and isn’t going away. However, if we’re ever to have some semblance of racial unity in this country — or even racial tolerance — old cognitions are going to have to die out. We don’t need to revise history, or ignore old grievances, but we do need to figure a way to create a new “in-group” that includes all Americans.

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