By Alicia Hinds Ward, spouse of a retired National Guard Airman
On August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., stood in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial and delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. He dreamt of a world where his “four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” It’s now June 2020, and I still carry that dream for my children.
We still dream of a world where character is the deciding factor and not skin color, sexual orientation, or gender identity. But dreaming isn’t going to cut it anymore. We need action to change this judgmental system that believes children of color and children not fitting gender roles are somehow inferior.
Prejudices still prevail in 2020, stemming from generational belief systems which do not always support healthy dialogue and opposition to those belief systems. Compounding the problem, our LGBTQ children of color also often face marginalization within our own racial and ethnic groups due to harmful religious and cultural beliefs regarding human sexuality and gender roles. They face a trifecta of attacks from community members, family members, and society as a whole that discriminates against them based on their race, sexual orientation or gender identity.
So where are they safe? They don’t feel safe from the police, society, or in many cases, even their own family and communities. They often don’t even feel safe in schools.
When children are taught that they are worthless through both indirect and direct methods, this label often follows them throughout their lives if intervention does not occur. The dream that every child receives the same opportunities and exposure becomes more critical to their emotional well-being and safety. When children are not even safe and free from prejudice and disparate treatment in their homes and in their schools, it’s crystal clear that we must do better.
The question is, how do we remedy these enormous challenges and create a better world that is safe for our children? My children. It is not and will not be just through dreaming. We have to do the work. Action is required right now to create the world we want for all of them.
We must take action to build a world where inequity and inequality are eliminated. I want this especially for generations to come. We have to immediately adjust our mindsets by first acknowledging that we all carry some biases within us based on culture, exposure, and assumptions. In that acknowledgement, we must then begin the work to change these biases. This is where we can start real and global change.
Children who identify as LGBTQ face higher odds of being ostracized from their family and support systems. The 2019 Human Rights Campaign Report highlights that 77% of Black and African-American children were exposed to negative comments and stereotypes about LGBTQ people, 59% are made to feel less than, and 47% say they’ve been mocked. This is a travesty.
We must call out bad behaviors, and perpetrators of bad behaviors, that are detrimental to our children’s emotional well-being and protect them from those who harm or seek to harm them. When disparaging comments are made around and to our children, we prevent them from speaking their truth to us and create dangerous circumstances that can lead to behavioral and mental health issues.
Sexuality and gender identity are not and cannot be a character claim. We must create a safe space for our children to be accepted as who they are by listening, caring, and seeing them for themselves and not who we want or expect them to be. We must create spaces at home where the more than 19% of youth who identify as LGBTQ feel completely safe.
It’s also no secret that our system of policing needs significant reform. Mapping Police Violence reports that Black Americans are two-and-a-half times as likely as white Americans to be killed by police officers. As a Black mother, I’ve taught my sons a list of do’s and don’ts to make it home alive as almost every mother of Black children has. No parent should have to do this. Black Lives DO matter.
Law enforcement officers must receive additional training; far more than they currently receive. They must be better screened to identify inherent racial and cultural biases, and when the biases are identified, they must be trained to have a better methodology of adaptation. The real point is, every person is important and careful attention must be made to decrease to the point of elimination the odds of Black people dying in law enforcement interactions.
The world I want for my children throughout this process of building a new world of equity and equality is based on respect. Respect for ourselves and each other. Respect for our similarities and differences. Respect for the individual that is free of judgement based on skin color, sexual orientation, or gender identity. It is a utopia of freedom where people can be themselves, and therefore, their best selves.
Change will only come by recognizing, rooting out, and eliminating bias and negative stereotypes. Only then will the dream voiced by Dr. King and nestled in our hearts start to become reality. This is the truly free world I want for my children.
This article first appeared in the July 2020 issue of Modern Military Magazine.