Friday, June 12, 2009

Hatred through an 8-year-old's eyes

So last night I'm watching the evening news in the living room. I've been trying to make a semi-habit of it to help expose the kids to something that doesn't have a Disney logo on it. I caught the news bug fairly early from watching - and ruthlessly picking apart - newscasts, so I figured a little repetition of history wouldn't be a bad thing.

Great in theory, but not so easy to manage when the subject matter isn't packaged in sugary sweetness.

To wit, the reporter covering the shooting at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum shared, in excruciating detail the views of James Von Brunn, the gunman (oops, alleged gunman because of the whole, you know, innocent-until-proven-guilty silliness that idiots like this hide behind. But I digress...) Suddenly, narrated graphics took over the screen, and my 8-year-old was reading, wide-eyed, the contents of the note this moron had left in his car:
  • The Holocaust is a lie.
  • Obama was created by Jews.
  • Obama does what his Jew owners tell him to do.
  • Jews captured America's money.
  • Jews control the mass media.
My son asked me, simply, "Why does this man hate us so much?"

I felt like a deer in the headlights, afraid to move lest I make a bad situation worse. I took a deep breath and considered my words carefully. Noah has learned extensively about the Holocaust both in school and at home, so he's keenly aware that the world isn't always fair, and that bad things happen to good people sometimes - often because of their religion, race, gender or orientation and not because of anything they might have done.

He knows none of this is logical. He accepts that there are people out there who would single him out because of who he is. Even before this happened, my son's perception of the world was already nicely and necessarily tarnished.

I used it as an opportunity to explain why we need to be proud of who we are, why we need to speak out against people who hate, why we can never forget where we come from, what happened to us along the way, and why we must empathize with - and advocate for - anyone who's victimized in this way.

He's a sweet, sweet boy, who unfailingly puts others ahead of himself, so his response was no surprise: "He held the door open to help that man. He did a good deed for him. It's sad that the old man didn't appreciate that someone was being nice to him."

I gave him a hug and said no more.

22 comments:

margalit said...

You have to start way back at the beginning to explain why. And it's almost impossible for a young child to take in, but it's necessary to understand that amount of ignorance and blind hatred. My kids have always, even since they were in preschool, known about antisemitism, the shoah, and the history of the hatred. It was the ONLY way I could think of to both protect them from the things they would later hear (and they did, in spades) and to make them understand that it's pure ignorance behind such evil ideas. YMMV, of course.

Beverly said...

I am so sorry.

colleen said...

I hate the way they give a forum to killers like that! It's one thing to read about it but another to have the images and words being broadcast everywhere.

Is it learned, collective infective mental illness? Is it self hate projected? I have wondered and pondered it.

Love to your son, Carmi.

kcinnova said...

You make a good argument for exposing your kids to the news. These kind of things were exactly why I didn't expose mine to the news at that age. I didn't want to have to explain rape, murder, semen-stained dresses and blow jobs in the Oval Office (thank you, NOT, Bill Clinton).

By repeating (visually and orally) that deranged and evil man's words on the news, it gives credence to such filth. And that really irks me.

Your son is wise beyond his years. I wish he didn't have such awful reasons to be so wise.

Anonymous said...

That crazy old coot didn't hate you or your son, he hated himself and wasn't man enough to face that fact, or stong enough to be a better person.
Unfortunately, the weak of soul prey upon the good thinking they can appear strong.
I feel sorry your son has to learn about the worlds wicked ways, but we all do eventually.
P.S. as someone on another site said, If the killer had served in WW2 and still denied the Holocaust, he was a special kind of crazy.

Bradley B.

bobbie said...

Children frequently go right to the heart of things, and see them for what they are. They constantly amaze me with their simple wisdom.

My father was a bigot, directing his hatred at Jews, blacks, "those people", etc. Yet even as a small child I knew he was wrong, and of course wondered why he felt as he did. I never figured that out, but I'm grateful that others in my life - many of them the people he hated - showed me better examples. It is so sad that our children too often are faced with these harsh facts of life.

Star said...

I am sure you said exactly the right thngs. It is so hard to be in that situation. YOu don't wnt to lie, and you don't want to mar their view of the world, or make them unduly afraid.

Katney said...

Would that everyone had the wisdom of an 8-year-old!

Thom said...

Well done. You handled this perfectly I think and just knew when to stop talking. This just gave me hope in our kids for the future. Maybe all the bigotry and hatred I've lived through will one day disappear and the color of ones skin, the choice of religion, politics, sexual preference will no longer make a difference. Your 8 year old gives me so much hope for the youth moving on to eventually lead our country. Please give him a hug for me :) Aloha

Wendy said...

Aww, it sucks. Childhood is so short. They don't stay innocent for long. I like how you handled your son's questions. And I agree with Katney's comment.

Breeze said...

It's a tough thing to deal with, when your child is exposed to the negativity of this world. Fortunately there is more love than hatred in our immediate world and I hope that this cushions my children when they are exposed to these aspects of humanity.

I think your son has a nice, soft place to fall down, and to bounce back up from with you as his dad.

Breeze

photowannabe said...

This makes me so sad. Your son is wise beyond his years. Carmi, you have brought your children up with humanity in their veins.

Martha said...

I am a very easy going person and don't let much bother me even in the world we are living in these days - but one of my big pet peeves is how we have to expose our innocent children to the horrible ways of the the world at such a young ages these days. All we can do is live by example within our own families - that's what really makes the difference in the long run anyway no matter what is going on in the world around us.

Michael Manning said...

Carmi: This must be discussed because there is a new and terrifying rise of anti-semitism happening worldwide. I have a dear friend who is 82. He escaped from a concentration camp and is among the few living survivors alive today. He has lectured about his experience for 40 years and has never accepted a penny for doing so. Stories like his must never be forgotten. I was very distressed at this news piece you mentioned. But again, it makes my point that this hatred must be confronted with education and facts so the youth of today will have a deep respect of life.

NJ said...

Carmi, it's very sad to me that we live in a world where I child has to worry about someone hating him. It's rather too much that children these days can not run and play without worrying that they may be kidnapped, or that someone might shoot them.

andy said...

it upsets me that our young children need know the evils of our world at such a tender age.

innocence is lost way too soon.

from the sounds of it, you're finding the right balance...and that's hard. kudos.

andy

David said...

tell me you want a BMW and I will have my talented son build you one. I guarantee you will be the only one on your block with and Isetta 300

Carina said...

God bless him for his honesty and compassion, and God protect him from the evil that fills this fallen world.

Farrago said...

Hey, Carmi.

I can't expound any more eloquently than you have, or than the commentors to this post have, about your handling of your kid's question.

What I wish to address — once again (pulling out the soap box...) — is the nature of television news. You were put on the spot because the news program put the most sensational part of the story up on the screen — van Brunn's note. Isn't it just enough to say the note contained vitriolic anti-semitic and racist commentary, and leave it at that? But of course, television news people must cater to the lowest common denominator, and they feel that the lowest common denominator doesn't comprehend the meaning of "vitriolic," and so must show everything.

Turn off the TV when the news programs start. Their M.O. list starts with shock, awe, and ratings, and "real news" is way down near the bottom. Read a decent newspaper (or go to its website, since actual newspapers are disappearing) instead.

marcia@joyismygoal said...

Carmi I too understand those feelings and i am horrified- I appreciate your response to your son,and his- being A member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Saints --e get our share of misunderstood criticism and persecution but - we,Each of us,(you and I) know who we are and that we have a loving Lord who knows who we are and -knowing that, we can continue to live in freedom --helping others, and doing our best.

Sandra said...

I am a friend of Beverly and recently started a blog, still learning. today she told me I would enjoy your blog and I do.
My comment on this subject is this.
To read of your son and the hurt it caused him, hurt my heart. I beleive our world is changing and I hope it will continue to change. I have two great grand daugthers, they are bi-racial, my grandaughter is white,the father is black. they are accepted now better than years ago, but still there are people like this man that will never accept it and there are many cruel looks and thoughts that follow them. My hope is that the generation of my grandaughters will be more accepting in their thoughts and that they will put a damper on the racial hatred that has been rampant since the beginning of time.
Teaching your son to love others no matter what race or gender or religion is the best way to change our world is one child at a time that knows real love for others.

Mojo said...

I remember having to answer questions like that from mine when they were that age. I never seemed to have a good enough answer. And they still blindside me with one once in a while, and they're in their 20's now. I just hope the answers I gave them at 8 were good enough to make them examine the questions for themselves now.

My dad grew up "Down East" -- in eastern NC -- during the Depression. Even today there are parts of the state where it's almost like the 20th century never happened. But back in the day, bigotry in all its various forms was de riguer -- especially in that part of the state. Dad grew up with this for a model, and yet somehow managed to break the chain. My brother and I were raised in a home where the measure of a person was his character, not his color or religious beliefs.

But maybe the wisest thing I ever heard my dad say on the topic was something he said when I was probably 18 or 19. He likened prejudice to a really nasty splinter... the kind that leaves slivers buried under the skin that don't all come out at once. And every once in a while, he said, once will work its way to the surface. You keep removing the slivers as they surface, recognizing where they came from and eventually you'll get them all. And if you're aware that they're still in there, you can keep an eye out for them, and remove them before infection sets in.

It took generations for this kind of prejudice to grow and become established, and it will take a lot more generations before its eradicated. All we can do is teach our children better, and hope that the lessons "stick" well enough that they teach their children better still.

Like most things of this sort, it's a marathon, not a sprint. And like a marathon, it can't be won in the first quarter mile -- but it can be lost there. Still as long as there are Carmi's and Debbie's and most of all Noah's in the world, I have hope for it.