Let’s Build a Better Normal

By Julian Scaff

Photo credit: DC Area Educators for Social Justice

These are very strange, very trying times. The predictions and hopes that many of us had for 2020 have been swept away in a tsunami of turmoil. Winter gave way to a spring full of challenges. A pandemic is still spreading across the country, keeping us isolated physically. The sort of race-based hate we should have left in the 1960s has proven it’s still alive. Often, the violence that results is perpetrated by police who are rarely held accountable. The kind of strong leadership that could guide this country to the other side of these crises is instead worsening things with willful incompetence. It feels like we’ve taken several steps back as a society. I feel traumatized and know that many of you do, as well. I’m afraid and angry at what I see unfolding in the world. This while we are all trying to carry on with our daily lives.

My stepson, Callen, is 12-years-old and African American. When his school closed, his world shrank, as did that of all of our children. He spends his days indoors, self-soothing and largely self-educating while living in fear of the virus, the police, the images of armed men occupying government buildings and looters breaking store windows. This is his 9-11. This is his 1965 Deep South, his Hurricane Katrina. Keeping that in mind— what he will tell his children about 2020— my wife and I are taking every opportunity to find the teaching moments. We’ve added lessons in managing his new reality of panic attacks and anxiety, while reminding him that he needs to be calm and collected should he ever have a conversation with a police officer. We love him, so we let him know how he will be perceived and how little control he has over such situations.  The reality of raising a non-white child in America both angers and saddens me. Parents of white children can choose to have conversations about race. They can pick the perfect time that they’ve determined the child has reached the right level of maturity. This can be as late as when the child will leave home for college. For parents of black children, the conversations are imperative and urgent. They can’t wait for the perceived readiness of the child to understand. Black children must be made to understand racism very early on and very often. 

None of us knows when things will seem normal again. I, for one, don’t want a return the normal of early 2020. I want a better normal. I want it to be normal that institutional racism is filed away as history rather than the status quo. I want a normal where science reigns supreme and people use reason to make life decisions. I want a normal where people are kind to one another as a rule and compassion is the default. I will do my part to bring about this truly new normal, and I count on you to do the same. That which is broken, let’s build it back better, rather than just rebuild.

Special thanks to Crystal Scaff for help with writing and editing.