The other day, I took all three of my kids out to lunch for the first time in what feels like forever. On the way, we passed a lone man, holding a sign that read “Black Lives Matter” and my children, who thankfully can all read well by now, asked me why was he holding a sign that said “Black Lives Matter?”
They are 10, 8, and 7. The oldest is heading into fifth grade; the youngest into second grade. I know my rising fifth grader’s past teachers have touched on slavery, to an extent, and all three of them have heard me talk about it, in as age appropriate a way as I could manage.
In the past, we have talked about racial disparity – how not everyone is treated the same, based solely on the color of their skin, and how unfair that is. We have talked about privilege, and that it is not something we have earned but it is something we can use for good, to be allies of those with less privilege.
I have no doubt that I can get better about these talks – I’m still learning, too. But I also know, that I need to talk about it, even if I get it wrong sometimes, because not talking about it does not help them navigate the world better, or make the racial injustices go away.
These conversations we have with our children are of utmost importance, now more than ever.
So when they piped up with the question, “Mom, why is he holding a sign that says ‘Black Lives Matter’?” I knew they had some of the groundwork laid, but my job was not done yet.
So I told them about George Floyd. And that his death – his murder – was the fault of police officers who were not doing the right thing. I told them this most recent death is just one of a long list of black men and women who have died wrongly by the hands of the type people I, and other adults, have told them that they could trust: police officers.
Minnesota seems so far away to my kids; they wanted to know then, if I knew anybody, or if they knew anybody, who had been affected by police officers using excessive force. Unfortunately, I did not have to think too hard. A good friend of ours lost her nephew, Anthony Hill, at the hands of police. He was unarmed. He needed help, and he lost his life because those particular police officers could not see past the color of his skin.
And before they could go completely all anti-police – because kids often see only two sides of a coin – I went on to explain that police officers are like everybody else. There are wonderful men and women in uniform that do their best to protect and serve our communities. And then there are those in uniform that go too far – and that is an understatement.
I told them I don’t know fully what the answer is to the current problems plaguing the police and their interactions with the black community, but I said, at the minimum perhaps there could be better training on de-escalating situations and education about mental health. Because no matter how good a good police officer is, even they can learn to do their jobs better, with less harm to those they are sworn to protect and serve.
As a white mother of white children it is of utmost importance that I raise them not only to look beyond the color of someone’s skin, but to understand the importance of everyone’s lived experience. Especially living as we do in the deep south, where they see Confederate flags on the daily and see and hear examples of racial disparity and social injustice everywhere they look.
It’s not enough to raise kids that aren’t racist. I want them to be anti-racist, and that can’t happen unless I’m willing to answer hard questions with harder answers.
When my children asked about the sign “Black Lives Matter” I could have just said – he’s holding that sign because Black Lives do Matter – but I didn’t, and I couldn’t just leave it at that. I knew they were asking why he felt he needed to hold a sign that to them, stated the obvious.
Answering their questions wasn’t easy, but it was necessary.