Not every child is raised the same; systemic racism creeps in to erase a part of childhood innocence.
If you have played Chutes and Ladders 10,000 times as I have, you know the four little characters. There are two little girls, one in a purple dress and one in pink pants. Then, there are two little boys, one white and one brown. My 5-year-old almost always goes for one of the little girls because the colors of their clothes are like a ‘unicorn.’ On the other hand, my 8-year-old son gets visibly upset if he does not get to be the white boy. When asked ‘why,’ he can’t quite put it into words except to say that he likes how that boy looks better. It breaks my heart every time. It’s piercing to hear that your beautiful little boy has already gotten the cultural message that somehow his skin isn’t good enough. My little guy will often ask me why he can’t have peach skin like I do. My answer is always the same, ‘I love your beautiful skin.’
Just recently, Andre Maurice Hill, an unarmed black man, was shot and killed in his garage by police in Ohio. It’s a news story that unfortunately isn’t new to us, but as my boys get older, these stories, these deaths, are at the forefront of my mind.
Are you a Grey’s Anatomy fan? If you are, you will remember the scene where Miranda has ‘the talk’ with her young son about what he should do if he is encountered by police. Before I was a mom, I remember watching that episode and bawling because I just couldn’t imagine having to have that conversation as a white woman of privilege.
Now, I am a mother to two young brown boys, and we have had that conversation. I don’t believe there is a ‘right’ thing to say because it all just feels awful. I sat down with my boys and let them know that, in so many words, if they ever were to be in trouble with the police, I don’t care about what they did or didn’t do, but that I wanted them to come home safe. And to come home safe, here is what you need to do: listen, don’t talk, and no matter how scared you are, don’t run. What I am asking (and begging) my boys to do is to go against everything their body will want to do. See, as victims of severe abuse, their little bodies are often in fight or flight mode. Their instinct is to run. That instinct that once kept them alive could potentially get them killed. That is terrifying.
As we get ready to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. for his activism, his courage to never back down against racism, and his sacrifice, I can’t help but pause. How, as a mom, do I teach my kids about MLK Jr.’s heroism, his bravery, and his perseverance, while at the same time teaching them that in certain situations, they can’t speak, they can’t act? It is a road that I am navigating as a parent where I wish there were clear answers.
So, what do I do? I talk to brown and black moms and dads that have fought this battle because I have not had to. Whenever we see police officers in public, we thank them for their service. I do not want my kids to be afraid of police officers. I want them to be respectful and honor the tough job that they are doing. I talk to educators and activists who are out there marching. I give my kids mentors and strong brown and black adults for them to look up to. And I pray as my boys grow up, the systemic racism in our country is acknowledged, and a wide spread awakening occurs.