March 3, 1991. Rodney King. In a day that will live in infamy, African-American Rodney King was beaten with batons by Caucasian police officers after a high-speed car chase. The incident was videotaped by a witness named George Holliday and the footage was released by the media, causing an uproar and creating an atmosphere thick with racial tension. In 2013, the movie Fruitvale Station was released that was based – either loosely or heavily depending on what account you believe – on the death of Oscar Grant when a police officer shot him with a pistol instead of the taser he said he had meant to use. Fruitvale Station was released right around the time that a jury was deciding whether or not George Zimmerman was guilty of murder/manslaughter for the death of Trayvon Martin, a 17 year old African-American; as in the case of Rodney King, racial tensions were high surrounding the Zimmerman case.
Social media is showing us in real-time the need for social justice. Whether its injustices in a US city or the ongoing crisis in Eastern Europe, technology allows us to know about events happening all around the world as well as events in our own “backyard.” Whether it’s an article on Facebook or a Youtube video that goes viral, social media enables us to stay informed on the issues facing us and our world. Issues like human trafficking, the collapse of the middle class, racism and ethnicity-based genocide, and the subjugation of women have garnered lots of attention. Research on the Millennial generation reveals that this exposure to the issues facing our world has shaped the identity of a generation that embraces diversity and lists social justice as one of their core values.
In today’s 21st century world, our children are being exposed to many issues that may or may not affect them directly. As parents, it is important for us to discuss social issues with our children. By discussing these issues, we can help our children process what they are hearing/seeing and guide them as they try to make sense of the world.
We as parents need to share about the good as well as the bad. The media is most often dominated by conflict and tension; covering a murder gets more attention than covering a wedding. It is important for us to show our kids how some things have gotten better. For example, when high profile court cases consume the news, take the time to talk about the history and context to help them recognize how we got here.
Take trips to the inner city so that your kids can see real-life poverty. Consider watching a film like Hotel Rwanda with your older teens to prompt discussion on ethnic warfare. Discuss the women’s rights movement that centered on the right to vote and own property and compare that with Saudi Arabian women learning to drive. By being actively engaged with your children in this area, you not only communicate to them that caring about others is important, you also help them learn how to think through contemporary issues as a national, digital, and global citizen.
There are always people better off and people worse off than we are. There are always serious issues facing our society and the societies of the world. As parents, we need to help our kids develop compassion for those less fortunate than themselves and help them think of ways that they can help make even one person’s life better.
Part two of a four part series on social justice.