“Parental Social Justice”: Q&A with author Traci Baxley
His knees buckled. She realized that she alone could not protect her five biracial children. She needed other parents, including those who were unlike her, to see her black children as part of the global village – to value their humanity and nurture their sense of belonging.
From there, on the ground, she set out to create what she called a mosaic of ready-to-raise moms whose deep concern for justice in an unjust world drives them to act. Her son’s safe return home did not diminish her resolve.
âThe values ââand actions that we practice at home will be reflected in the way our children move around the world,â she said. “When we create spaces of belonging in our home, our children will grow up to create spaces of belonging in the world.”
This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
CNN: What is parental social justice?
Traci Baxley: In its simplest form, social justice is about human rights. The guiding questions become: How do we create human dignity for people, whatever their identity? How do you create space for more compassion and kindness for everyone?
I live in the active hope that our country can stop being so divided. Active hope involves not only wishing for change, but also taking concrete steps to achieve it. I want my kids to know that everything they do has an impact on others. What brand do we want to make? Where do we want these ripples to go?
CNN: What advice do you give to people fighting for social justice?
Baxley: We often think of activism as something other people do. Or we think you have to be a certain type of person to do it. But as parents, we take a stand every day in our homes about how we shop, how we eat, etc. Everything that we teach our children, it’s going to show up in the world. Our daily actions are already creating ripples.
My advice is to start in spaces that are familiar to you and that you are passionate about. Perhaps the cause that matters most to you is the environment, homelessness, or some other issue in your community. Maybe it is something that has a direct impact on your family. For example, my niece has Down syndrome, so it’s something we come together around because it’s personal.
Then you will start to see what is possible. Plant the seeds in your children that helping habits are part of who we are and what we do as a family.
CNN: Some parents have told you that being or raising “good people” is enough. What is your answer ?
Baxley: The difference between parental social justice and educating good people is the action piece. Raising good people is the minimum for me. Is it enough to raise children who are kind and do no harm? We really need to raise pro-justice children who intercede when the wrong is done.
If you are completely comfortable, you are not doing enough. It is a sign to push yourself a little more. Activism is messy; you’re not always going to do it right, but it’s part of learning and growing. We cannot let fear cripple us and do nothing. There is too much at stake. We are all part of this human family.
CNN: What role does self-compassion play in this work?
Baxley: This part is the hardest part for me, but I’m learning to breathe and give myself space to learn, do better and be okay with it. Self-compassion is good for our own soul and also helps us to be role models for our children.
I want to raise children who love each other enough to give themselves grace. If we are vulnerable and show our bumps and bruises, they will know that this is all part of the growing experience and of being human.
When our children have learned self-compassion at home, they can feel compassion for others more deeply.
CNN: Some parents believe that avoiding discussions about sexuality, race, poverty, identity and other sensitive topics is the safest course. Instead, you are calling for open dialogue. Why?
Baxley: Even though we don’t talk about these things, the children are getting the messages. Being silent, or doing nothing, is the worst way to be a parent or an activist.
CNN: Why doesn’t isolating children protect them from societal messages?
Baxley: If you’re trying to isolate your kids, the only thing they’re missing in the bubble is you. They’re still receiving information from the outside world, and you’ve ended up creating an invisible shield that keeps your own messages from getting through.
Establishing open dialogue as a family value reassures children that no topic is off limits. When my teens come to me to tell me about things they found on Twitter, I can ask follow-up questions. âTell me more about it. Where did you get that from? How do you know ? The answers will reveal any gaps in their understanding or any misinformation that needs to be clarified.
Avoiding talking about difficult topics will prevent you from seeing what messages have already penetrated. After the children have shared their ideas or understandings, unwrap them with another set of questions: âWhat are our values ââhere? What do you think? What do you think is true? How can we find more information about this? ”
If you haven’t created a safe space in your home for your children to come to you for this conversation, you are missing out on a huge opportunity to anchor them in your values.
Small acts can have huge impacts. Just imagine the ripple effect across the world if each family did a little act of kindness for someone else. We could make big changes by fine-tuning even a little bit what we do in our families. This is really where we have to start.
There is a saying in sports, “you play like you train”. The home is the best place to practice active hope, righteousness, and compassion.
Jessica DuLong is a Brooklyn-based journalist, book contributor, writing coach, and author of “Saved at the Seawall: Stories from the September 11 Boat Lift” and “My River Chronicles: Rediscovering the Work that Built America”.