Speaking to My Black Daughter About the Black Lives Matter Protests, I Realize How Much She Already Understood
As a mother of four Black children—a daughter who turned 14 on Juneteenth (a holiday commemorating the end of slavery as they knew it at that time) and three sons ranging in age from 12 to 28 years old—the conversation about race and racism isn't new in our home. But like an overwhelming number of parents in our country, I decided to formally speak to them about George Floyd's murder and the subsequent protests on systemic racism and inequality of Black people.
My daughter took me by surprise when she said, "This was different."
About two weeks prior, I was scrolling through my Instagram and came across the video of George Floyd being slowly murdered, calling out for his mother, and expressing what would be his last three words, "I can't breathe." Unaware that my daughter stood behind me and also witnessed what I saw, her immediate reaction was, "Turn that off, Mommy. I don't want to hear that."
In the coming days that same eight-minute, 46-second video and those haunting three words would be on repeat. I thought carefully about how I would discuss the events with my kids but was taken aback by how quickly my daughter dominated the conversation.
"Hopefully all the protesting will make the cops stop killing us," she said.
My daughter expressed concern that this case would end up just like others involving Black people killed by the police: with no justice. She spoke of her distrust with police and her anger with the judicial system. "Bad cops should be treated like a normal murderer because someone who murders is a danger to society. If there wasn't a video, the police would have twisted the words and said they didn't do it or lied George Floyd was threatening them," she said. "I used to think of my cell phone as a privilege, but everybody has to have one, especially Black people."
My daughter also pointed to the fact that more accurate history education needs to take place in school. Her fifth grade social studies teacher, she said, painted America as a powerful, great country and left out a reality: America was built on slavery and the inequality of Black people.
But then she said, "I was happy to hear the YouTubers and influencers I follow use their platform to speak up…They told us to educate ourselves and that being silent is part of the problem even if you are not a racist."
The not being silent part is what seemed to resonate with her the most. "I have never seen so many people speak out in my life," she said of the thousands and ultimately millions that took to the street all over the world to voice their disgust. And when I asked her why she believed people were protesting she replied, "because everyone saw a man die on camera, calling out for his mother. It is disturbing; people want to turn away, but they can't."
I started to imagine all the conversations being had by other Black parents and children. One of my best friends with five Black children of her own, said, "We need to allow our children to ask the questions they need to ask and answer them honestly." A father of bi-racial children said, "It's hard to have this conversation with my children because they are from both races, but it is necessary." When asked how exactly he went about the conversation, his reply was simple, "with the truth." And a quote from Black Ashley on Twitter said, "Some of us fight racism by raising our Black children to know joy. That matters."
I also began to wonder what my daughter's classmates' parents were saying to their children considering we live in an all-white neighborhood in Orange County, New York, where they didn't even observe or acknowledge Black History Month. Normally, I would have allied with other parents, and at the very least inquired why such an important piece of what should be included in the curriculum wasn't discussed. But we are new in the neighborhood and district, and I've yet to meet any of my daughter's classmates' parents. It was my error as a parent to assume the teaching of Black history was a norm, especially during our designated month of February, and considering it is 2020—a year that sounds like it would be progressive and void of racism. And by the time I found out and inquired with her school administration, most of the country was on its way to being consumed by COVID-19.
I did also message a former professor of mine who is one of the most liberal, educated, and progressive white people I know to get his thoughts. "My wife and I have decided as white people to just listen and allow Black people to take the lead," he said. My response to him was, "Word," with a Black power fist emoji.
What I learned though, the one commonality amongst all the parents I've had formal and informal conversations on the recent protests and race was honesty. As an educator and parent, regardless of race, the best we can do is speak honestly. Model empathy, not sympathy with our children so they understand the difference. The non-Black protesters across our country stand in solidarity with us because they empathize. Straight sympathy could be expressed safely in front of their televisions. And lastly admit when we are wrong and do better once we know better as the infamous poet, civil rights activist, memoirist, and singer, Dr. Maya Angelou said.
Another part of the conversation with my daughter that really stuck out to me is when she said, "Nobody is born racist. It is not in our genes." "You are absolutely right," I responded. Racism is a learned behavior that has been taught, accepted, and tolerated. That's why it's more important than ever for white allies to make a conscious effort to raise anti-racist kids and to keep speaking out.
Since our conversation, we have been reading more civil rights books, having open dialogue about the news, and re-watching movies like 13th, Just Mercy, and one of her favorites Hidden Figures. We are planning to attend an upcoming local peaceful protest organized by Black Lives Matter. As a Black woman, I teach my daughter that we must elevate our own voices and tell our stories. It is important to not only read about history but be a part of it, and document in every possible way. The only way this revolution will be televised accurately is if Black people are the ones broadcasting it.