January 17, 2022

By Andrea Young, Executive Director, ACLU of Georgia, January 17, 2022

On the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday: Teach our Kids to Love America and Love Truth

Our country was founded on the ideal that we were all created equal. That doesn’t mean we’ve always lived up to it.

Every generation is constrained by the blinders of its time. A hundred years ago, many Americans considered other ethnicities – Italian or Polish, Irish– dangerous or inferior. Today, we just call them White. When the interstate highways were built in the 1950s and had to cut through a White or a Black neighborhood, it’s not hard to guess which way they usually went. The house my own mother grew up in, was torn down for a highway. And today, housing values in those neighborhoods remain low, and kids are still getting asthma from breathing that exhaust. Few people think Black people should die younger that White people, or that Black mothers should die from childbirth more often than White mothers- but they do. That doesn’t mean we’re all racists, it does mean we need to do something about it.

Few of us today want to be prejudiced against anyone, at the same time, we all have prejudices, based on a person’s appearance, age, or accent, and none of us is perfect. So, should we teach our kids about the racism of the past, that most of us reject today; ways that treating people differently because of their race got built into the system that we need to fix; or how our unconscious prejudice can affect our decisions? Of course. Discrimination based on race, gender, age should concern all of us, whether we are White, Black or Brown.

Our kids should be taught an accurate view of our nation’s history— including the good and the bad.

I have a granddaughter. She represents the 11th generation of our family in America. Five generations of our family experienced the bondage of American slavery and an additional four generations, including me, experienced segregation because of our race. Segregation that prevented our access to most neighborhoods, schools, parks and jobs, stores, banks. Despite this lived experience- we still believe in the American Dream—that all Americans should have an equal opportunity to fulfill their potential—through hard work, talent and determination. That is the promise of America and it’s a promise I want my granddaughter to learn- at home and in school. I also want her to learn about anything that has or is getting in the way of making that promise a reality for everyone- regardless of how humble their home or the color of their skin.

Whether you are White, Black, Latino or Asian, as a parent you want your kids to get an accurate view of history, including the ways we have and have not lived up to our own ideals on race and inequality at different times in our history—including now.

As we remember Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., we remember that he taught us, to judge people not on the color of their skin but on the content of their character, so we can all continue the uniquely American project of trying to make that ideal a reality.