White Kids and Black Lives

There’s so much uncharted territory in parenting. But, raising white kids differently than most folks of my generation were raised? With few (any?) roadmaps? At a time when the failure of decades of “colorblind” white parenting and tepid attempts at “celebrating differences” is exposed by news cycles that bleed day-after-day with stories of Black people killed? All amidst a growing and building movement for liberation?

This truly is unchartered territory.

I feel constantly like I’m watching, waiting, measuring, and second-guessing as my partner and I try to parent our two white kids in this terrain. I do find myself awed by their insights and wisdom more often than overcome by my own fears and missteps. (But, I’m still tossing lots of coins in their therapy jar as we go.)

So, what follows are snippets of what it looked like over two weeks in September after Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott were killed by police:

  • A segment on NPR came on about Charlotte while we were driving to school, I noticed my kids had gotten quiet in the back seat. I let the story play. When it was over I turned off the radio and waited. A few moments later, my 7-year-old (H.): “Mama, if you were in Charlotte right now, I bet you’d put on your Black Lives Matter t-shirt and go out there with them.” “I probably would, H.” I said.
  • Next: some conversation. I tried to answer their questions and follow their lead; dancing the line of too much information and not enough; trying to be truthful and clear. I explained that once again, in two different places, police had killed Black people and that people all over the county, but especially African American people, are angry.
  • My 5-year-old: “Mama, some police officers are safe, aren’t they?” “Yes, E.” I said, “Some police officers are safe. But this keeps happening and people are protesting because they want it to stop. Nobody should have to be afraid of the police. Even police who are safe should be trying to make this stop.”
  • Conversation over. Kids move on to other appropriate and meaningful-to-them chatter about the upcoming day at school.

About a week later, Drake students organized a solidarity rally (particular shout out to Cournei Caldwell, lead organizer) and I decided to take my kids. I’ve written before about the ethically-loaded questions that attend decisions about taking kids to protests.

Hard questions. Few with clear right/wrong answers. None with only one correct answer for all kids in all times and places. So, my partner and I just keep wrestling with them (and tossing more coins in the jar as we go).

  • “Girls, my students are organizing a protest. Remember when we talked about the men who were killed by police? My students are standing together, protesting, making clear they want this to stop. I’m going and I’ll take you if you want to go.”
  • “Yes, we want to go. Can we make signs?” “Sure.” I said, “What are your signs going to say?” In unison they responded, “Black lives matter.”

And make signs they did.

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So, here’s the end of the story. My kids participated powerfully at the protest. They were physically with Black and Latino people, other people of color, and a few white people, who stood together for 45 minutes to say: “no!” They observed young people being brave and loud about the value of their own lives and their right to be free. They experienced adults responding and affirming and hugging them for making their 5- and 7-year-old voices heard.

But here’s the middle part of the story. The part where I learned, yet again, from my kids’ insights and wisdom; where I learned again why trying to be a brave parent in this unmapped territory matters so much.

It’s about what I saw when I walked downstairs to where my kids were making their signs to tell them it was time to go to. It’s about how I stopped when I saw my 7-year-old’s sign.

H.’s gorgeous colorful sign said this: “Black Lives Mater.” “They mater the same as white.” “Stop killing them.” “People that are Blak are: t. [her cousin] a.[her cousin] tobi [her aunt].”

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Did I lose my breath when I read those words and saw those names? Yes I did.

Did my heart break? Why yes it did.

Am I weeping while I write? I am.

But what I re-learned from my child, from that gorgeous, devastating, oh-so-painful sign; from her connecting her own dots and putting the pieces together for herself; is that these are not times in which any of us can live without a broken heart, lest we lose our very humanity.

That’s the insight and wisdom my child offered me. She is whole, wonderful, smart, kind, beautiful and happy. And, she is also, in her 7-year-old, not-yet-old-enough-to-really-fully-get-it-all way, also in touch with a broken heart because she is in touch with her own humanity.

And she knows who her beloveds are. She knows them by name.

It seems to me that perhaps the real questions aren’t so much about how we best watch, wait, measure, and second-guess as we attempt to teach our children about Black Lives Matter and this movement for liberation and freedom. It seems to me the deeper questions have to do with, what—if we can risk getting vulnerable enough to listen—our children are going to teach us.

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