What to tell your kids about the Baltimore riots

The riots in Baltimore are all over the news. As a parent, it would seem like the best thing to say to your kids is that riots are bad, that violence isn’t the way to solve anything.

But that would be missing the point — and missing an opportunity.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think that riots are good or that violence is the way to solve things. But what is happening in Baltimore is coming from an anger we need to face — because it is a righteous anger, an anger rooted in truth.

I don’t know how many more deaths we need before we are willing to admit that racism is alive and well. We’ve been talking about the 50th anniversary of the march from Selma to Montgomery and about how far we’ve come since then, but it’s still a reality that people are judged by the color of their skin, that assumptions are made and that those assumptions can be deadly.

And I don’t know how much more violence we need before we are willing to admit that the divide between rich and poor is growing as wide as an ocean, and that this divide is not only unfair, but breeds hopelessness, makes it so that people feel that they have nothing to gain in life — and nothing to lose in destruction.

As a pediatrician working in Boston, I see this death of the American dream get played out day after day, in small ways that feel like a slow-motion train wreck. Overworked, undereducated parents born of overworked, undereducated parents don’t always have the time or resources to encourage and support their children in getting ahead and getting out of poverty. The overworked teachers in the under-resourced schools try, but without parents and community backing them up, it’s hard. Some of my patients go to college, but few are able to use college as the jumping off point the way higher-income kids do. In this world, it’s all about connections, about where you come from and who can help you.

When you come from a poor neighborhood, not many people can help you.

If we ignore this, if we condemn the anger and the riots as just people behaving badly, it will only get worse. And if our kids watch us condemn it, if they learn from us that it’s just people behaving badly, then their future won’t be any different. Racism will flourish, and that divide between rich and poor will get even wider.

There is no simple way to fix all this. If there were, we’d have done it. But if we’re going to do anything at all, we need to feel and share that anger that is fueling those riots. We have to take a stand, and teach our children to take a stand, against the forces that make it so that the color of your skin and the zip code of your birthplace decide who you are and what you get in this world.

That’s simply wrong. We can do better. We need to do better.

So, tell your kids that they shouldn’t destroy things or hurt people. But when you talk about the riots in Baltimore with your kids, be angry along with the rioters. Because we all should be angry — we need to be angry.

Claire McCarthy is a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital. She blogs at the Huffington Post, where this article originally appeared, and at Boston.com as MD Mama.

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