Like every mother I spent most of my boys’ young lives teaching them that hitting is wrong. Having two sons that lesson had to be reinforced often. Like real often. But then in elementary school something changed. The stories I had heard about bullying now suddenly were actually happening to my friend’s children. Nasty, scary bullying that in one instance led to the police being called to the school. I live in a small affluent suburb so this type of violence seemed unbelievable. But children I knew were being put in headlocks and being threatened with being thrown down flights of stairs. My mama bear instincts were off the charts.
Unlike my sons who were raised in a “nice” town I was raised in a tough part of inner city Boston. So I taught them what my childhood friend, Kim, had taught me in third grade: how to punch. I taught them to keep their thumbs on the outside of their fists so they wouldn’t break them. I also taught them to punch hard and go for the nose—because it stuns the assailant and usually bleeds. I then told them they were never to throw the first punch but if anyone physically attacked them I would have their backs. They might get in trouble at school but they wouldn’t be in trouble with me. Because bullies don’t pick on kids who might make them look weak or embarrass them. Bullies count on their victim being afraid and witnesses being equally afraid. Fear is a powerful weapon.
As a mother, I want to thank each and every counter-protestor in Charlottesville who put their safety on the line and stood up to the bullies. Because make no mistake the alt-right movement is the biggest collection of bullies in America today. Standing up and making sure that no citizen of the United States feels afraid because of the color of their skin is the right thing to do. It’s that simple.
As mothers we need to have conversations with our children so that they know that when they hear or see someone acting racist it’s not enough to simply ignore it. We have to teach our children to be vocal. We have to teach them to speak up.
I was struck by a quote from the mother of a 20-year-old man who is suspected of driving his car into a crowd of counter-protesters in Charlottesville resulting in the death of Heather Heyer and the serious injury of many others. The driver’s mother has been quoted in several interviews as saying that she was not involved in his political views. I get it. As moms we are so worried about our kids not doing drugs, or failing out of school, or hanging with the wrong friends that we pick and choose our battles. I imagine this mom like every other mom probably felt she had raised a pretty good kid and it never even occurred to her that he could do such a thing. But he did.
The quote isn’t an indictment of her as a mother, instead it is a reminder that us mothers must have specific conversations with our children teaching them not to hate and to stand up to bigotry. I am not naïve enough to think that a conversation would absolutely have saved Heather’s life. But ignoring the issue isn’t an option anymore. Because the alt-right is targeting our children. If your children are white they are trying to lure them with the siren’s song of dominance and power. If your children aren’t white they are trying their hardest to scare the crap out of them and shut them up. As mothers we must draw the line in the sand. Because bigotry has no place in the United States of America. We must stand up to the bullies. And teaching that starts at home.