We Are Family Podcast, Episode 6: Black Families Matter

"Equality and acceptance need to be taught and reinforced constantly so it is part of who the child is and thus, part of who they become as an adult." This week, We Are Family discusses the Black Lives Matter movement and how to talk about race with kids.

Shaun T, Scott Blokker, and their Two Children
Photo: Courtesy of Scott Blokker

We're constantly exploring what it means to be a family on We Are Family, a new podcast from Parents, but this week co-hosts Shaun T, creator of the Insanity workout and dad to twins with his husband Scott Blokker, and Julia Dennison, executive editor of Parents.com and single mama, discuss Black Lives Matter, Shaun and his husband parenting as an interracial couple, and raising Black boys today.

In their support of the changing face of family in America, Julia and Shaun talk about how to approach race with kids, how white people can educate themselves about privilege and systemic racism, and how the experiences of Black and white children differ from an early age.

"Equality and acceptance need to be taught and reinforced constantly so it is part of who the child is and thus, part of who they become as an adult," says Adrienne Farr, committee member of Blackprint, which represents and empowers the Black voices at Meredith, in media, and in entertainment.

The Black Lives Matter movement believes in diverse, modern family dynamics, too: "We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and 'villages' that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable."

We Are Family is a village for today's families—hoping to support parents navigate tough conversations and promote tolerance and racial justice in their own homes.

Upcoming episodes and topics this season include:

  • Adoption
  • Parenting with disabilities
  • Divorce, co-parenting and blended families
  • Single-parent households
  • Multicultural parenting
  • The family you didn't know you had

Listen to We Are Family on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeart, TuneIn, Stitcher, Google and everywhere podcasts are available.

Plus, follow along here:

Shaun: When my kid comes up to me and is like, 'you go in jail, I'm the police officer,'for Scott it's playful and it's funny. It's like, 'oh, he knows what a police officer is.' For me, I start sweating under my arms and it's just the thing, what's going to happen if we get stopped by the police?

Scott: I just want to hug him and say, everything's going to be OK. And everything's not going to be OK. It isn't. Unless people do things. And when it comes to being a parent, I don't even know how to begin on that.

Julia: I was on a Zoom call with my daughter and her class and the teacher was talking about community helpers and who you go to in the community when you need help. And she included a police officer and I just thought, well, not always. In fact, a lot of the time for Black people, police officers are not community helpers, and should we be teaching our kids that?

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Julia: Hi, I'm Julia Dennison.

Shaun: And I'm Shaun T.

Julia: And this is We Are Family, a podcast from Parents magazine. In this show we celebrate all the different ways there are to build and be a family.

Shaun: Today we're going to talk about parenting and Black Lives Matter. As a Black man and the father of two little boys, the last few months have been very emotional for me. My sons are Black and biracial, and they're growing up in a world where, unfortunately, that fact puts their lives at risk.

Julia: And as a white mom, I've been talking to my white daughter about Black Lives Matter, and why so many people, including us, are protesting. It's been awkward and challenging in some ways, but it's also necessary. She's only 4, but that's not too young to learn about racism.

Shaun: Because Black parents don't get to choose whether or not to talk about race with our children. We have to, because their safety depends on it.

Julia: Exactly. If you have the luxury of deciding when your kids learn about racism, that's a privilege. And to actually make change, white people need to do a lot more.

Shaun: So we sat down to have a frank and open conversation with my husband Scott, who's white, about how all of us have been feeling since George Floyd was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis, and mass protests have taken place all around the country. We talked about what we've been thinking as parents, and where we go from here.

What a lot of people don't understand, especially as a Black person growing up, our families, our grandparents, our parents, and stories of our great-grandparents talk a lot about lynching and being slaves and, just being discriminated against because of the color of our skin. So when we saw George Floyd get murdered, we think of our family members, ones who have died, those who have motivated and inspired us to be who we are, and this is still happening, hundreds of years later.

And so for me, it was very, very, very tough, a lot of what I went through, I went through internally because I'm married to a white man and I'm with his parents a lot. So I'm the only Black person around and we're being quarantined. So it was really, really tough for me.

Our family decided to take a road trip from Phoenix to Seattle, and as I started driving, all kinds of feelings came up for me. Like, what is it going to be like getting gas at a gas station in a small town that's mostly white? Should I wear a hat to cover my hair? Smile at everyone so I don't pose a threat. I'd be really stressed out if we got pulled over, so someone else should drive. I had a whole level of anxiety about this trip that the other adults in my family just didn't have.

Scott and I got into, I would say a big fight with Scott and my in-laws because I was trying to express myself in a way that I don't think they understood fully.

Obviously, they can't, because they're not Black and they haven't been through what I went through, but I went into the argument already feeling defensive. Like I was ready for battle, like I had done pretty much my whole life when I walked out of my house. I mean, we were taught to act a certain way in order to be in society.

And it wasn't just, behave when you leave the house—it was act right for the white people. And so when we saw this go down and the protests and everything for us, we've learned so much about Martin Luther King growing up in my household and I just feel like, what he did didn't make an impact on anything because people still feel, are still judging us because of the color of our skin.

And I want to make sure to say that. I don't think all white people are racist. I actually don't even think probably 90, 78, or 80 percent of them are, but the ones who are do things that was done to George Floyd, and it makes the biggest impact.

It's basically saying we can do whatever we want. We're police officers, we're superior because we're white. And so it just, it just really got to me.

Scott: I have been speechless for several weeks because I just don't know what to say because, to me, um, maybe the way I was, I could say the way I was raised, these things don't happen to people who are good people or people just in general.

And so when something like this happens, my brain, it, it uh you, you know, you see it on TV and you think, well, my parents told me as a kid that, you know, things that are on TV are make believe, and you can't always believe what you see. And I'm not saying that I don't believe what happened. It's just, I'm seeing it happen and I think to myself, "what the fuck?" When I see something like this happen, I just think, A, I want to make it go away, B, I don't know how to make it go away, and C, it's on TV so it can't be real life. It cannot be real life. And it impacted my husband so immensely that when he acts when he acted the way he did and was so emotional and crying, I just want to hug him and say, everything's going to be OK. And everything's not going to be OK. It isn't. Unless people do things and, you know, Shaun said, "why can't you say anything?"

Why don't you? And I, I, I don't know what to say because I feel like I have the superpower to make the world a better place all on my own. And, I don't know where to start.

Julia: I can relate to a lot of that. I feel like as white people, it's a lot of this, the idea that bad guys get punished and good guys don't. That right there to me feels like white privilege in this myself. And it's a lot of kind of self-exploration and this idea that like, if we all get along and hug, like everything will be fine.

And clearly Black people have not been experiencing that ever in the United States, you know? And, um, I think for me, I don't really know what to say a lot of the time, but what I've been really trying to do is listen as much as possible.

Shaun: I think that both you and Scott said something that was really interesting. You, Julia, said how bad people get in trouble, something like that.

Julia: Yeah.

Shaun: And Scott said, you know, this, this can't be real cause it's on TV.

Scott: Well, that, kind of is that the only reason why the cops get involved is because you've done something wrong.

Julia: That's what we're taught as white people, children, I think. Growing up.

Shaun: Right. And the interesting thing is, and maybe this will help you guys, before we even leave the house, we are already that person and we haven't even done anything.

Julia: Exactly.

Scott: I bring myself back to what did I think of when I left the house today? I wonder if my boys are going to be OK. Did I bring my water bottle? And, uh, do I have my wallet, cell phone, keys, and my husband? Shaun does not think those things. And that's how that helps me realize that this is monstrous.

Julia: On Parents, we did a story where a Black teen talked about all the things that his mom tells him to bear in mind every time he leaves the house and it's a really important read.

And you know, it seems trivial, but people are talking about Paw Patrol and TV shows where you have the good police officer. And I was on a Zoom call with my daughter and her class yesterday and the teacher was talking about community helpers and who you go to in the community when you need help.

And she included a police officer, and after all this education I've been having and trying to see things from the Black perspective, I just thought, well, not always. In fact, a lot of the time, and actually for Black people, police officers are not community helpers, and should we be teaching our kids that?

And then if not, what should we be teaching our kids about police officers?

Shaun: Yeah, it's very interesting our kids watch this show um, I'm not sure what show it is cause that iPad has a million kids shows, but they tell us, um, and this is so crazy and I don't think I've said this to Scott either, but they tell us, you know, you go in jail and I'm the police officer. And it gives me so much anxiety. And I'm like, this is a little 2-and-a-half-year-old that doesn't even really know. And when my kid comes up to me, and is like, 'you go in jail, I'm the police officer.' For Scott it's playful and it's funny, it's like, 'Oh, you know, he knows what a police officer is.' For me, I start sweating under my arms and it's just the thing, because we've been trained and ingrained in our minds of what's going to happen if we get stopped by the police? What's going to happen if this, that, and a third?

I just want to stop for a second here and say that I do not think all cops are bad. I'm friends with some cops and I follow some cops on TikTok who I really love! But I think they need to be aware—and particularly, white cops need to be aware—that there are very real reasons why Black people, Latinos, and other people feel afraid when they see the police.

This is the thing that I don't think a lot of people understand. If you have a gun and the person has handcuffs and a gun, you have things that can and a baton, you can, and a taser, you can hurt me, and you can kill me. It is your job to make me feel really good about the fact that I'm safe right now. And I think that if cops, like my friends on TikTok, took a proactive approach in doing that, I believe that cops actually have the power to eliminate so much angst and fear.

But don't get it twisted—we still need police reform, and to think about the role of police more broadly so our communities feel safe and supported.

Scott: So two weeks ago we left the diaper bag at a park and we were at home and I'm like, "Hey, where's the diaper bag?"

And he said, "Oh gosh, I left it on the sidewalk." So I drove back.

Shaun: This was back in early June. We were in Bellevue, Washington, and there had been massive protests in the area. The city had instituted a 5 p.m. curfew.

Scott: And I am there at 5:30 and I don't know what's going on. I go back to the park, the park's empty. I don't see my bag. And all of a sudden, these two cops roll up and they say, you can't be here. And I get nervous. But they were very nice, and they said, hey, this is what's going on. And, uh, you can't be here. And it was a cop that found our bag and were very nice to get it back to us.

Shaun: But, you're also white.

Scott: That's very true.

Shaun: Like who knows what it've been if I went back to get the bag.

Scott: Very true.

Shaun: It was after curfew and they let you walk around and see if you could find your bag.

Scott: Very true.

Shaun: I, in my brain, I'm like, there's no way they would have been, like, you have to get back in your car.

Scott: Very true.

Shaun: At least that's in my mindset.

Scott: Yes.

Julia: I do think that people probably do become police officers, it comes from a good place and want to help people. I think it's the system that sets them up for failure. And they've done a lot of studies that unconscious bias training with police officers doesn't necessarily work. So it's just tough to know, um, what we, we do about that, because I don't think everybody was into being a police officer just for the power trip.

And, you know, I think to your point, a lot of people do it because they want to help in the community. Um. But you know, the system I think is broken. Clearly.

Shaun: Yeah, I think that, I think it definitely comes down to the system.

Part of being a Black parent is preparing your children to deal with that system—and how it can treat them based on the color of their skin. If you've been listening to this show, you already know Scott and I created our family via surrogacy, using our sperm and an egg donor, who is Black. So the boys are twins, but Sander is from my sperm and Silas is from Scott's, so he's mixed-race.

Shaun: And he looks white and then we have Sander, who is, he looks like a little Black kid and, you know, they're so cute and so innocent. And we've had conversations with Scott's parents too that it's so crazy. And it makes me and his mom, I think more than anyone in the house, so sad to think that one day they are going to leave the house, if we don't fix this America, and be treated completely different when they were raised in the same household with the same morals, the same manners, and purely because the color of their skin and it just, it just, it just, it kinda just makes me sad as a parent, you know?

That gives me anxiety, because if this is not changed, I'm going to have to tell Sander, I'll try to make sure he's not afraid of the police, but at the same time you have to have him be smart. It's like, there's a possibility when you're 17 years old, you're going to be pulled over purely because you're Black. So make sure you have your license where it's supposed to be. Not in the glove compartment, like keep it in a little compartment right on the dashboard, right? Um, you know, it's just like these type of things. Don't move, roll the window down, some people say, don't roll the window down. It's just all of these crazy things. But, um, but then there's the other side of me that doesn't want to do that and have him come ask me questions, like, why is someone treating me like this? You know? Cause you don't want to put fear in him. It's really tough.

Shaun: I worry about what's going to happen as my kids get older, and how to have these conversations. But I'm also celebrating the joy and love we have together as a family, and in our extended village. I want my sons to know the richness of their history and take pride in their Black culture—and to know that it isn't just about oppression. More on that after the break.

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Shaun: Welcome back to We Are Family. We're talking about Black Lives Matter, and what we can do as parents to help build a better, more just and equal world. It can seem really overwhelming, but one step we can all take is to educate ourselves and our kids about Black history—no matter what their racial background is.

Julia: A lot of us didn't get much Black history in school, or if we did, the lessons were likely taught through a white lens, and probably focused on slavery and segregation. So we have some homework to do.

Scott: My first Black history lesson, I remember it vividly. I was playing professional soccer in Cincinnati and one of my roommates was Black and my best friend was Black, who also played on the team and another guy.

And they're like, it's February, we're teaching you about Black history. Here's the book you're gonna read today. Here's the movie we're going to watch tomorrow. Here's another book you're going to read. And I loved it, it was amazing. I don't know that you can rely on schools to do that. I think like Shaun mentioned, you know, being proactive as parents or as family members to do that with your kids, is that way, you know, for sure that they will be able to have some sort of lesson or understanding of what is happening.

Julia: That said, you can work with other parents to push your child's school to include more lessons on Black history—and not just for Black History Month. But there's also a lot you can do to supplement whatever is taught in the classroom at home.

Shaun: Yeah. So I remember when they put the Paul Robeson statue up.

If you don't know, Paul Robeson was an actor, singer, athlete, and activist from New Jersey who fought against lynching and segregation. Back in 1915, he was only the third Black student to go to Rutgers University, where he was valedictorian of his class. He was also the school's first Black football player, and an all-American. He went on to earn a law degree at Columbia before becoming famous for roles like Othello on Broadway. So I was proud to see our community in Arizona honor him with a statue.

Shaun Our kids were so young and I still took them over. We have Black history books that our babysitters bought and these books are probably for a 6-year-old, but we still read them to them.

We also have books of different races of parents and different types of parents. So there's two Black dads. There's two Black moms. There's a white and Black interracial couple in the books that we have also. I think just at such a young age, our kids having an interracial family. I mean, they have their grandparents who are Scott's mom that are white. They have my mom, who's Black and me who's black, and Scott, it's just like, so I think subconsciously they're getting, you know, as, as much as we can at their age, what our culture is about. Even from the way that we talk y'all like our humor. I, at home, well, I'm just pretty much the same on social media.

Like, I'm loud. I'm dancing all the time. Being that our culture is growing up in our house and my kids see that. And I think that's a big part of the culture because a lot of times when we would go to school, and we were in the lunchroom and the Black table was loud. We would get in trouble for being loud.

And our lunch aides didn't know that at home we sang, we danced, we put on shows, our family was loud. Like, that's how we express our excitement and happiness. And we get told to be quiet. And so it suppressed who we were. And so I, around my kids, I am the loudest, I'm dancing, I show them dances, I showed them African dances.

Julia: There's this book I absolutely adore called Julian is a Mermaid. Have you seen that book?

Shaun: No.

Julia: It's about this Black boy who wants to be a mermaid and he goes and joins the mermaid parade in Brooklyn. It's just so wonderful. Cause it just kind of plays with gender fluidity. He's a Black boy, he's with his abuela. The illustrations are just so beautiful.

And I read that to Ezzie over and over again, but when I first read it to her, she was like, he can't be a mermaid. He's a boy, you know, and you start to realize, Oh, these concepts are there. You know? And I really think that to my point earlier, it's a privilege to be able to think, Hmm, is my daughter old enough to talk about race to?

Um, and it's probably a lot younger than you think.

Because as white parents of white children, we get the privilege of asking, let me Google what's an appropriate age to be talking about it. Whereas Black parents or parents of Black children don't have that privilege. They have, they experience it, their children experience it firsthand.

Shaun: As soon as we know we're pregnant or my mom or whoever, it's a part of the conversation. They hear about it before you have to talk to them about it because before I even really kinda knew a police officer I knew relatives that were arrested, so you ain't even have to tell me, you know? And arrested for no reason, you know, "I got pulled over by the cops today, man. They put my handcuffs on and I didn't even do anything." That is a normal conversation where I'm from.

Scott: Julia. So I want to ask you a question. So Ezzie is 3.

Julia: She just turned 4 now. She's 4.

Scott: Oh, congratulations.

Julia: As of, last week. Yeah.

Scott: Um, so when you see things going on on TV, are you talking to her?

I only ask because I mean, I don't, we are an interracial gay couple and I know it's about us, but it's like, what are other people doing? You know to educate, I guess.

Julia: I think there's a huge amount of responsibility on my shoulders. I feel lucky that I'm bringing Ezzie up in Queens where it does feel very diverse, but then when you look around and see a lot of her close friends, well, a lot of them are white, even though we're in the middle of Queens.

So it's sort of thinking about that. I don't know if you guys tuned in to the CNN Sesame Street town hall on anti-racism, but it was just so great. And Sesame Street is just always so good at articulating these things. But I think it's important to know that, and we've talked about this on the podcast before, that there was a time when we would pretend there were no differences, like, Oh, there's no difference. We're all people here.

And that is true. But children do see that people have different color hair. They see that people have different color skin.

Julia: They see differences, but they don't see them as something to discriminate against until adults teach them to. Um, so I've just been trying to have 4-year-old level conversations with Ezzie cause she's seen me upset and crying.

And when we were watching this CNN town hall with Sesame Street, she was kind of like, "Oh, this is why mama's sad." I said, yeah, you know, mom has been sad lately and this is making mama sad. And she kind of was just focused on that right there. And I said, well, but it's because, you know, there are people, people who have different skin color to us and Black people with darker skin color have been going through some really hard times for a long time.

And I think it's really that kind of a conversation at that level cause she's 4, um, that I've been trying to have. I just try to read as diverse as possible books to Ezzie as possible. Just trying to kind of like recalibrate what it means to be normal for her.

Scott: Yeah. I think it just reinforces what we said earlier, that parents can impact and really help make things better or make change.

Julia: So white parents—we've got to speak up, and show up, and keep working to dismantle white supremacy. Our kids are watching us.

Shaun: I see these protests and it's not just Black people out there, it's a large number of white people that said this is not right. And having white people hold up signs to say, you know, Black Lives Matters, it's so amazing. And having white people speak up on social media, that have mostly, you know, white followers. It really makes a difference because it's now saying to the people in the world, I'm going to teach my children about this. Even people who are maybe racist, or they're like All Lives Matter, they can't hide from it. It's in your face.

I've always been vocal on my social media, but I've been speaking up more lately too—and not just about George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, but about all the ways Black lives are devalued. For example, how we're disproportionately dying from COVID-19, and the violence perpetrated against the Black trans community.

Shaun: You know, I'm a Black man in America and I'm gay and I'm in an interracial relationship and I have kids, married, and have kids via surrogacy. I'm like, I wake up on defense, you know? But I also say, you know, I'm, I'm not playing defense anymore. I think I probably get in a couple of Twitter fights because I can't hold my tongue anymore about it.

Scott: I realized that in the past it was, um, silence was because I was petrified or couldn't believe what was happening. It's not working. It never worked. And it can't work going forward. And it's because of my husband doing what he does that I learned. Oh, OK, this is how we need to help our kids.

Julia: Totally.

Shaun: Maybe it was when the last election was happening. I don't know. It's been a while, but Scott's dad was so vocal on Facebook. I think he lost friends. And now that I think about it and he was talking about Blacks and he was talking about all of this, and now I think about it, your dad was doing what a lot of people are doing now.

Scott: Yeah.

Shaun: And he was doing that, and people were like, Oh my Gosh, he's too outspoken. And I'm like, Oh my gosh, all those people that I was saying, you're outspoken are now liking the fact that white people are speaking up.

Julia: Was there anything else that you guys wanted to talk about?

Shaun: No. I mean, you brought up a lot of the stuff that I've talked about. And it's the first interview I'm actually doing with Scott, uh, during this time. And cause he hasn't really spoken much. So. You've helped us Julia.

Scott: A lot. I will speak for myself because that's all I can speak for, is that, uh, I have silently been learning, been emotional, almost to tears. And then realizing that maybe this was the path that I needed to be on as far as understanding what is going on and how I can help because, like I said, feeling paralyzed or speechless because of all the stuff that's going on is not a good spot.

And I'm not saying that that's better than anyone else's, it's just, I wanted to help, but I didn't know how, and now I'm learning more that I can. So thank you.

Julia: Aw, thanks. And I think as white people, we have to get over that discomfort and we have to, you know, we're taught as I've been taught as a little girl to just, you know, behave and be polite.

And I think this is a time where you have to kind of throw all that out the window and, and do what feels uncomfortable.

Scott: Yep.

Shaun: And thank you.

Scott: Yes. Thank you.

Julia: Thank you.

Julia: So we've been doing a lot of talking, processing our own feelings, and thinking about how to approach racism with our kids. And that's obviously important. Though, if you aren't Black, please don't ask Black people to help you do that processing—make the effort to educate yourself.

And make sure that thinking and talking about racism isn't where this ends for you. Especially if you're a white parent, you have a really big role to play in taking action to end systemic racism. White people caused this, so it's our problem to fix.

Shaun: It's going to take work—not just while Black Lives Matter is trending and in the news, but over the long haul—over your entire lifetime.

Julia: So we have resources to help you on that journey. Head to parents.com/race to get started.

Shaun:And that's all for this episode. Thanks for listening, and we'll catch you next time on We Are Family.

Julia: Thanks to our production team at Pod People: Rachael King, Eliza Lambert, Susie Armitage, and Lene Bech Sillisen. This show was recorded in New York and Arizona, edited in New York City, and can be found wherever you get your podcasts.

You can find out more at parents.com/podcast. You can find Parents on Instagram at @Parents. And you can follow Shaun at @ShaunT, and Julia at @juliadennison.

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