Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Ghosts of Mississippi

I watched a brilliant ESPN documentary titled "Ghosts of Mississippi" yesterday.

It's about 1962, the year that the University of Mississippi was integrated (by federal troops) and also the year that the football team went undefeated.

It's savage. Nothing better explains the civil rights era and why it was so necessary than actual footage from that time. Savage, reprehensible conduct. Stunning ignorance and hatred. I've seen footage from that era before, but it always hurts. It makes me embarrassed for the human race.

So I watch this documentary, and then I ask the question: do I want Eli 11.2 to watch it?

I've always strugged with the idea of how much responsibility he has to understand the past. We've talked at length about the civil rights era and about Martin Luther King. He understands what happened and why.

There is a difference, though, between understanding words and seeing history.

Is it enough for him to understand what happened through books and discussion? Or he does he need to see the visceral nature of hatred in motion to truly understand? Is it my responsibility as a father to show him something that disturbing, something that will educate him about hatred in a way that books never could?

I struggle with these same questions in regard to the Holocaust. It was a subject in his history class last year, and he started talking to me about it one day. He had a basic understanding of what happened, but it was a sterile understanding. I shook that sterility very quickly, because I needed to, but I've never show him any of the terrifying documentary footage that exists. Will it make him a better, more resolute person if I show it to him? And if I do decide to show it to him, what is the right age? When is he old enough to confront the darkest recesses of a human being?

Sometimes it's hard to sleep at night.

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