Like many of you, I’ve spent the last week in a state of horror at the ongoing state of racism in America. The shooting of Ahmed Aubrey. The phone call by Amy Cooper. The murder of George Floyd. The uprisings in cities across the country, where the intensity of unrest is at the highest level I can ever recall seeing. This isn’t surprising. This has been coming.
There is the sense that we haven’t solved much of anything when it comes to dismantling the underpinnings of systemic racism that we see play out time and time again. The actors change, the details change. The fundamental problem does not.
As a white American and a parent I’m realizing that I am not doing enough work personally or with my kids to be not only “not racist” but “anti-racist.” I have been too comfortable in my own community to feel the urgency that is clearly needed. As a person I need to do more and as a parent I need to do more. I am gathering resources for talking to my kids about race, and I’ll include links to those resources at the bottom of this post.
Last night I had a conversation with my 6-year-old son about the murder of George Floyd.
I muddled through it. My lack of ease in having the discussion only reminded me that I have not been having these discussions with my son. If I had been having them, I probably would have been more articulate and less awkward. I would have been more comfortable with the messaging. It was a start, but it will only improve if I make a habit of it.
I explained to my Kindergartener that people are not always treated fairly when they have dark skin. I tried to explain that police don’t always treat people fairly. I’m not trying to vilify police, but I do need my white child to understand what it is that Black parents have to make sure their kids understand as a matter of safety.
As a matter of life and death.
I told him that George Floyd was killed by the police officer. To be honest, I was not sure of myself in terms of how much to say about murder. I did not go into elaborate detail and I did not show him the video, but I did include the basic facts.
I want my son to understand that this isn’t right and that if anyone is being treated unfairly we need to do something about it. If I want my son to understand that, why haven’t I made it a priority before? I also want him to know to look both ways before crossing the street, and I have made that conversation happen many times.
I think the answer is simple: I haven’t had to have these conversations because they haven’t directly threatened my kid or my family. So how do I expect him to learn? I have not done enough and I need to do better. That has never been as clear to me as it is right now.
My son said that the conversation about George Floyd made him feel upset. He said “Why did you tell me that bad story? It made me sad.” And then he said “If I saw something bad happen I would throw a tantrum to stop it.” Even my young son understands that being treated so terribly would result in an outburst.
It’s ok that he felt bad hearing the story. It’s a bad story. He needs to hear it. I need to talk to him about it. More needs to be done by all of us who have had the luxury of opting out of the heavy lifting – all of us who don’t feel the need to have these conversations for our own children’s safety. I don’t fear for my son becoming the next George Floyd. But plenty of other mothers, including mothers I am friends with, have that very real fear. And it is on all of us to change this.
George Floyd called out for his mother in his last breaths. “Mama.” That call for his mother is haunting. And it should remind all of us as mothers that we have a responsibility here.
The fact that he cried out for her in the moments before his death is utterly heartbreaking. Every mother has to feel this. All of us who have ever cried out for our own mothers have to feel this.
It shouldn’t take a humanizing photo to recognize that EVERY BLACK MAN MURDERED IN THE STREET IS A HUMAN. Every person has intrinsic humanity and we show time and again that we don’t see it. We crush that humanity under the weight of a knee over and over and over.
We murder these little boys as if they are nothing. My God no wonder the streets are on fire.
Let’s start having the conversations we need to be having with our kids. They aren’t too little. And if we start when they are little enough, maybe another boy like the one in that photo above won’t end up taking his last breath with a knee to his neck, calling out for his Mama.
Resources for Talking to Your Kid About Race
This resource on Talking to Kids About Race in Storytime is a helpful place to start figuring out how to have the conversations you need to be having at home with your kids.
How to Talk About Race: Books and Resources That Can Help is a great list for kids of various ages, as well as for adults who want to become better educated on racial inequality.
Find books featuring characters of color. White characters are overrepresented in children’s literature. Make an effort to seek out books that feature people from a variety of backgrounds.
Donate to Support Protestors and The Black Lives Matter Movement
Let your kids know that your family is donating to support the groups that are actively fighting against discrimination and injustice in America. Depending on your child’s age, have them help decide where your family should donate.
Where to Donate to Support the Black Lives Matter Movement
Resources for Those Seeking to Help Anti Police Brutality Protestors
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Any wrongful death is sad. No one thinks his death was ok or that is justified it should have never happened. I am the wife of a police officer and I have other family and friends in law enforcement. I am sadden by the way police officers are being treated. They too are being hated not for the color of their skin but for their profession. The majority of officers are good people but like in any profession there’s bad ones too. I just want people to think about the good police officers.
Evelyn, this isn’t about the “good police officers.” Of course there are lots of good people (and I understand that you love your husband and family members in law enforcement), but that is not the point at hand. The issue is the SYSTEM of racism and oppression that allows these things to happen again and again and again. It’s much more than a “bad apple”. There needs to be major reform and accountability here. Just wanting people to think about the good police officers will never solve the racism and systemic oppression that has plagued American for hundreds of years.
Wow. Liz! This story is a beacon of light in a dark time. I am in awe of Nolan’s response and how you have shared it this touching account. I always feel as if I am sitting on a chair in the living room nearby when you write about your talks with your children. Keep them coming. Even though I do not have children of my own, I always learn from them.
Thank you Kelly. It is harder than I thought to have these conversations with a young kid! But it is necessary and I think a lot of parents are recognizing that right now. We all have a LOT of work to do.
Thanks for sharing. I’m also trying to have these conversations with my 6 and my 4 year old. It feels awkward and weird. When we started talking to him about how people with different colored skin aren’t always treated fairly, his response was “well good thing I have white skin!” Clearly we have a lot of work to do, and we live in a diverse community where white British kids are the minority at his elementary school!! Exposure isn’t enough. We – even kids – especially kids – need to be anti-racist. Tomorrow home school will be focused on the topic… but it needs to be ongoing.
It is definitely not something I’ve practiced enough. My conversation was awkward too, which is why I really need to do more work around this. I’m taking Nolan to a peaceful protest on Friday, and I just ordered a few books for kids on racism. I need to work these conversations more naturally into our everyday experience as well.