[This blog was written by the author and his 17-year-old daughter.]
My priorities have always been my work and my family. This summer, my daughter’s entry in a drawing competition on racial injustice changed that perspective for me, maybe forever.
I was inspired by what was going on around me. We live in the Twin Cities area in Minnesota, just miles from where George Floyd was killed and the protests were happening. It was sad but thrilling to see the community act against injustice. Racism is a systemic concern that we need to address but too often push to the side.
When I saw the sketch, I was impressed by the depth of my daughter’s message. I realized I don’t spend enough time talking with my children about issues like inequality.
The drawing includes the names of people who have lost their lives to injustice. It was hard for me to write the names because they were actual people who didn’t have to die. Creating the drawing pushed me to see reality for what it is. It was like bursting out of a bubble. I used ellipses at the end of each color block because there were too many names to include.
The sketch was a starting point for me to think differently. Seven years ago, my family and I were immigrants in the U.S., so I understand the importance of diversity and inclusion. But these days, I think more broadly about what needs to be done from my side – and especially how we can support the next generation to think about race and injustice.
The Black Lives Matter movement personalizes injustice, for example by using names, and it makes the impact that much more powerful. That’s how we can move forward against systemic oppression. If not now, when?
As a parent, I want to help shape my children’s thinking. But I also worry about a lot of things: safety, education, masks.
Parents tend to protect their children. The past few months have been about spreading awareness. This is when you really get to see what is going on in the world. Once the BLM movement started gaining traction, other atrocities and injustices started coming to the forefront. Here in Minnesota, we live on Dakota land, but until recently I didn’t know anything about missing and murdered indigenous women.
I’m more aware of my responsibility to put in quality time with my kids, not just to be together but also to better understand and shape their thinking. In the past, we haven’t prioritized these kinds of discussions in our family and with our kids. Now we do.
A lot of parents shrug and say “kids will be kids.” But your children will be adults soon. It’s important to equip them with the ability to listen and be open-minded. Don’t push your agenda. Their perspective might be different from yours.
Walking the Talk
There are two challenges, really. One is to prioritize discussions about equality, and the other is to actually have them. Conversations about racism and injustice are hard, and I find the lessons I’m learning at home with my family apply to the workplace. Just as I feel an urgency to support my children in their efforts to stand up for what’s right, I’m also witnessing – and feeling – a greater need to stand with others in the workplace, to break down the barriers between us.
Sometimes small actions can help pave the way. As a consulting leader for manufacturing clients, my job includes heading up internal projects that are sort of hands-on learning labs, enabling associates to get up to speed on new technologies and competencies. In the past, news of the activities was typically limited to word of mouth. Three months ago, we opened them to everyone, posting them in Microsoft Teams and sending practice-wide emails. Now we regularly get responses from co-workers who are participating in the activities for the first time.
It’s a simple thing. But it’s emblematic of the limits we often place on our perspective and our own small worlds, and the importance of breaking out of them.
There are days when 2020 feels overwhelming. Yet maybe the year’s confluence of events is fortuitous for supporting our children: In these days of the remote workplace, when the lines between work and home blur, opportunities to change are all around us. Maybe amid all the turmoil of 2020, it’s the perfect point for us to find new ways to help our children stand up for what’s right. And maybe we will finally bring about the change that we need to.
The author’s daughter, Vishalli Alagappan, is a freshman at the University of Minnesota.
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