“Mommy, why are people protesting?”
“Well, some people did some really bad things to a man named George Floyd and people want everyone to know that Black lives matter.”
“But mom, what about the coronavirus?! People shouldn’t be that close together!”
“You’re right, sweetie. This is so serious that all of these people are risking their lives because they’re tired of stuff like this happening.”
I walk off to cry in a corner.
To say that this year has been challenging would be an understatement. Racism is part of the Black experience in America. I can recount endless personal experiences but I wanted to delay the racism conversation with my 6-year-old as long as possible to preserve her childhood. But something about George Floyd and Breonna Taylor was different. The rose-colored lenses of the world suddenly cracked, and I was forced to confront it head on.
I’ve purchased so many books to encourage her love of self — from the coils in her hair, to her beautiful brown skin. I’ve ensured she’s always in an inclusive and loving environment, and I’ve assumed my role as Mama Bear and will jump in to protect my little cub if necessary. Now, I have to tell her that the features I’ve spent so much time praising are the same features that may cause someone not to like her — or, even worse, harm her. I start the conversation with, “Some people won’t like you, simply because of the color of your skin.” She responds, “But my skin is beautiful! I don’t understand why someone wouldn’t like it!” She begins to cry as I take her into my arms.
The conversation is uncomfortable but necessary. Here are some tips on how to speak with your children about racism.
Black History has been severely revised in America, so it is important to seek facts and understanding before beginning the discussion. Learn about the more subtle forms of racism. You may not have all the answers to their questions, but reassure your children that you will work together to be anti-racist and seek understanding.
[Related: Can we build anti-racist communities?]
Don’t make blanket statements.
It may be hard for children — especially young children — to reconcile racist behaviors while having friends of other races. Be sure to soften the language and clarify that the conversation doesn’t apply to an entire race of people, but some people within that race.
Buy diverse books and toys. Watch diverse movies. Make a point to go to restaurants and events outside of your neighborhood. Support Black businesses. Use inclusive, non-qualifying language, e.g., a movie vs a Black movie. Most importantly, call out racism everywhere: at work, in your family, and on social media. Changing the hearts and minds of people is a big step towards racial equality.
The conversation with my daughter went well. She’s since followed up with questions and is beginning to understand bias. It’s uncomfortable. It’s unfair. It’s heartbreaking. Still, have the conversation.