Flickr photo by gabi menashe

What Fraggle Rock Wants You to Know About Racism

Guest column by Charlie Byers

Saturday morning cartoons steered me wrong on many, many issues. The idea struck me a while ago, when something reminded me of Captain Planet cartoons — a series ostensibly about ecology, but where ecological disaster was threatened not by sloppy policymaking or by an apathetic public, but by a team of super-villains bent on destroying the world with acid rain and deforestation. Which might make for good watching, but in the long run, has very few practical applications. Likewise, I think of the long list of after-school specials tackling racism, which all seemed to agree: racism was the burden of a few bad apples, who held the flawed opinion that some other group, because of the color of their skin, wasn’t quite a good as the rest of us. No history, no social structure. Nothing to even bruise that peculiar 80s individualism that said every social problem could be boiled down to a few individual choices. These are explanations that may have planted the seeds of bigger ideas, but they’re ideas that we’ve all, eventually, found lacking. They’re ideas we’ve either had to expand on or throw away entirely.

Yes, I do recognize that I am talking about children’s cartoons from 30 years ago. And yes, I have been accused of over-analyzing things, a time or two. But that power to absolve history — to absolve ourselves, is one of the great temptations that come with the power to explain things to a child. These are the things I think about at 2 a.m, lately, while I’m trying to waltz a gassy newborn back to sleep.

Last month, my wife and I welcomed our first child, Virginia. I imagine we’re experiencing a lot of things that all new parents do: a little less sleep, some new expertise in car seats and diaper-changes, and a lot more wonder at life itself. We get to wonder how we will prepare her for a future we can’t predict, and where the things we teach her will fall short. But I’m also wondering how we will weather the temptation: which of our well-intentioned explanations she will have to untangle on her own, down the road, and in which of those un-tanglings she might find her parents’ generation more complicit in the state of the world than we’d like her to.

At some point, though, this is also the way I worry about faith. I don’t fret much about having to explain racism or recycling to her, but there’s something intimidating about having responsibility for this child’s spiritual upbringing. Just like everyone I know, she is someday going to reach the limits of what all our best-intended teaching can prepare her for. We all want our faith to make sense of the world, especially in the moments when those beliefs seem to crumble. But we also find ourselves living in a world where justice and mercy seem manifestly missing from the grand design of things, sometimes. What should a parent even hope for?

The other side of the story, of course, is that someone was at least trying to offer some insights through the TV shows of my youth. People in my age cohort might be awful at relationships, and we might spend more time on Facebook than is healthy. But by golly, we know which bin aluminum cans go in! We know not to mistake quaaludes for Sweet Tarts. We know what bulimia is. We even knew, for a little while, that chlorofluorocarbons are bad for the ozone layer. These are all messages that someone, somewhere, hoped would equip us for the world we would inherit. It’s hard to fault that intention.

It’s easy to wish that we will do better, as parents, but I think that misses a greater truth, that everyone, sooner or later, has to make her own peace with the world. So, Virginia, here’s a different wish:  I hope you will answer fear with courage. I hope your faith is bigger than the details, and bigger than disappointment. I hope when you have exhausted the wisdom of what Fraggle Rock wanted you to know about racism, or what your parents wanted you to know about God’s love, that you will look kindly on us, and leap with confidence. We hope you believe in you.

Join SpokaneFAVS for a Coffee Talk forum on “Faith and Parenting” at 10 a.m. June 6 at Indaba Coffee/The Book Parlor, 1425 W. Broadway. Byers is a guest panelist.

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Growing up Multi-Denominational

As I look back on my childhood, I realize how lucky I am that my parents gave my brother and me the choice. We were able to choose what we believed in and how we believed in it.

One comment

  1. It’s a wild adventure only love would make.

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