The Fifth Commandment

Ending systemic racism has a good shot right now because the trauma of viewing George Floyd’s death has impacted so many people around the world.  But I fear it will be a short-lived opportunity because the steps necessary to bring about such change will be too unsavory for many people to follow for the long term.  

Children are indoctrinated by their parents early on.  If racist attitudes, both overt and systemic, are shared with children as they are growing up, chances are they will absorb these ideas as their own.  Parents are the primary perpetrators of passing on the racist culture we struggle with in today’s world.

The 5th Commandment of the Ten Commandments is “honor thy father and mother.”  Children are taught to follow their parents unquestionably.  Society assumes that parents will act in the best interest of their children.  But what if the parents are ignorant racists?  What if the damage that was done to them as children is passed on to their own children by infusing them with racist beliefs?  

More importantly, what do we do about it?  Is it the responsibility of public schools and teachers to develop curriculum and instruction that may put students at odds with their own parents?  Do teachers adopt the unsavory job of explaining to young people they don’t necessarily have to honor their parents in all circumstances.  As contrary as this may sound to our collective notions about parenting, I offer a 20-year old name in the news that demonstrates clearly parents do not always act in the best interests of their children—Andrea Yates. 

The Yates tragedy is an exception to the rule—a one-in-a-million kind of story.  As a mother, Yates failed her five children by drowning them in a bathtub.  She was a sick woman who was judged to be mentally ill.  But isn’t racism a form of mental illness shared by many people?  Very few parents kill their children.  However, there are many parents that infect their children with racism.  It’s obvious, simply because there are so many racists, and racism continues generation after generation.

So, should teachers and schools intervene to stop the seemly endless cycle of racism being passed on and on and on?  Or, should our educational system look the other way and do nothing?  Do we dare mess with “parental rights?”  Do we dare mess with religious rights?  Do we let parents who are anti-vaxxers put their children at risk of dying needlessly from a disease?  Or, do we just stick with reading, writing, and arithmetic?  Perhaps we should work to include racism as a form of child abuse.  Especially if the child grows up to be a police officer.