Helping Our Children Grow Through the Current Racial Protests
A note from the author:
Dear White People,
The deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd that have sparked protests and civil unrest across the US are personal. The recently departed are someone’s son or daughter.
Do you know what it’s like to have your son tell you that every time he sees a police officer he worries that he will be stopped, beaten or killed? I do.
If you are my friend then I consider you a friend to my children as well. For their sake, I beg you to DO SOMETHING.
“What can I do?” you may ask yourself.
Start with acknowledging the truth that racism exists – both personal and systemic racism. When you see it around you or in your own heart, address it — stop & choose differently.
For today, let’s start there.
I LOVE you & I LOVE my children.
A white mama of black children,
I am the mother of three beautiful bi-racial children. Their father and I adopted domestically from the Nashville area because we couldn’t have children of our own and were committed to serving children in our community. My children are now 22, 17, and 14. We have a complex family story. For the past twenty-two years, my children and I have had regular conversations about race and identity. This past weekend, those conversations went to a whole new level.
Last Thursday, May 28th, 2020, my 17-year-old daughter sent me 4 screenshots of a message she had composed for Instagram. “Also should I post this on Insta?” she asked. The picture was a Black Lives Matter banner, and her post stated that even though she doesn’t post much she wants to use her voice. Then she succinctly and eloquently stated her view that black people should not be afraid to go for a run (Ahmaud Arbery) or go to the grocery story (George Floyd). I told her it looked good and gave a quick edit.
My daughter: Okay thanks. I’m proud of myself tbh (to be honest). It’s gotta be voiced and I don’t do it enough.
Me: I’m proud of you too!
Being a thoughtful and intentional young woman, she posted on Friday, May 29th, 2020. Why ask me and why wait? My daughter lives with her dad and stepmom in a predominantly white community. Although she is mixed, she is light enough that she could pass for white. Her post was not just about the events in Minneapolis. It was about identifying as a young black woman amongst her peers. She wasn’t sure how her white Instagram followers would respond to her statement. Would she be supported or ostracized? But for her, it was more important to let her voice be heard than to be popular.
On Saturday, May 30th, while we were FaceTiming and making plans for her to come over, she sent me images of two dark-skinned black women wearing bright orange outfits.
“I wish I could wear clothes like this. The contrast of their skin and the bright colors just pops!” she confessed.
When she arrived at home, she immediately told me about the ever-growing positive response to her post, which had encouraged her to share more. After dinner, we turned on network news because I wanted her to see the extent of what was happening across the country. Until then, she had received most of her news via TikTok. We watched in disbelief as police in Minneapolis threw tear gas and shot rubber bullets at protesters and news reporters, and then we turned to local news, shocked to see our courthouse burning and our city under a 10pm curfew. Both of us were talking with each other, interacting with social media, and texting friends simultaneously. We were engaged with history in the making.
We took a walk on Sunday, May 31st. We reviewed the events of the weekend, discussing the direct impact on her two brothers. Somewhere in the midst of the conversation, I gently asked, “Remember those two photos you sent me of the girls in the bright dresses?”
“Yes,” she responded.
“Tell me more about that,” I prompted.
She went on to tell me how sometimes she wishes she was darker. “I’m light enough to pass, but I’m black.”
“I thought that was part of it, sweetie. Listen, you are a beautiful, strong black woman. And you could rock those bright colors if you want. You’d look great!” I encouraged.
She half-smiled, taking it all in.
This is only a snapshot of our weekend together. I am incredibly grateful that my daughter trusts me enough to process with me, to open her heart and let me in…to give me the privilege of walking with her through the questions and emotions – the anger, the sadness – the pain.
There is no quick answer or easy solution to the events we find ourselves in here in America or the personal impact it has on us as individuals. But what our brothers and sisters in the black community want and need from us is to be heard, just like my daughter.
Here are some suggestions for processing these events with your children of every color:
1. Show them what is happening. – Turn on the news for a limited time (the amount of time depends on their age). Let them see firsthand the events unfolding in our country.
2. Have a conversation. – Ask them what they saw. Let them ask questions.
3. Affirm their emotions. – It’s okay to be sad, angry, scared, and confused. Encourage them to talk, not keep things inside. Let them know they are not alone.
4. Encourage connection. – Remind your children to reach out to their black and brown friends to let them know they care. This is something we need to do intentionally, especially in this time of social distancing.