I have to admit that I have been avoiding writing this article for many weeks. As I sat down the first time to write this, after several minutes of staring at a blank page, I realized I had written absolutely nothing down. Not even an outline or a bullet point. Why? Because I realized I wasn't sure myself how to have this conversation with my own nonexistent children. With the what seems like, recent spike in police brutality and full out racial attacks on black and brown people, I’ve been wanting to discuss this topic for months. It’s a very important discussion to be had in general, but especially for parents of black/brown children. We live in a very shitty and hateful world that unfortunately targets brown people. Every day I log onto social media, I see at least 2-3 stories of police brutality or racial attacks. It’s to the point now that bystanders are being killed just for standing up against racism. It’s not even safe to be against racism today, in 2017. We aren’t progressing, we’re going backwards. So how do you prepare your child for this kind of truth?
I absolutely believe that every parent to a child of color, should have this conversation at some point. They need to understand that this world is not all glitter and rainbows. They are going to be treated unfairly. But most importantly, they need to be shown what to do, should they (and they will), find themselves in one of these types of situations. I as an adult black woman, live in constant fear, knowing that I could be murdered leaving my house at any moment. My guard is up 24/7, I don’t trust anyone. Looking at the wrong person, turning down a man, being in the wrong place at the wrong time…all these things could result in my life being taken away. Furthermore, any time I think I’m just being paranoid and think that I can let my guard down, a new story about a black person being attacked and/killed for doing nothing comes out and I’m terrified all over again. This week it was for jay walking without an ID. That isn’t even a law, yet a black man was abused by an off duty police officer for it.
Being adopted into a white family, whom never has to think about these types of situations. We never had these types of discussions. Still to this day, white family members, have way too much faith in the police and still have this mindset that things will be just fine. Like we, as black people can just call the police in times of need and not worry about them killing us, or that a simple traffic stop won’t end in me being shot 18 times. So how do you, as a WAP who still thinks the police are honest law upholding citizens, who play hopscotch with the kids in the neighborhood and help old ladies with groceries, explain to your brown children that they can be murdered by these very same people who are supposed to protect them?
While I think this conversation needs to be had, it needs to be handled delicately. You want to be honest, but also not completely scare the shit out them to the point they can’t even enjoy life. But what advise do you give? And at what age? Tamar Rice was 12 years old, and murdered by police. TWELVE YEARS OLD. Your 12-year-old child could be next. Everything we as black people have been taught for years that is the “right” way to handle these situations, have gotten us killed within the past year. “Put your hands up” got Mike Brown shot 6 times. being “honest and polite” got Philando Castile shot 5 times at point blank range just for reaching for his license that the officer TOLD him to get. “Don’t resist” has gotten so many black people killed, I don’t even know where to begin. So how do you tell someone, especially a young person, that even if you follow the laws and rules, someone might still kill you just for having the “wrong” skin tone? That question is the reason I have avoided writing this article for so long. Eventually, I thought about what things I wish I would have known when I was that age and know what I know today, what how would I approach my children with this topic? Obviously, this isn’t the “end all, be all” way to have the conversation, but it’s a starting point. These are just some things to keep in mind when figuring out how to discuss the topic that you absolutely must discuss.
Use your best judgement
Look, you know your child better than I or anyone else does. You know what they are dealing with, their personality and you will be able to figure out the best way to approach this topic in a way that will work for them. If you have more than one kid, it may be worth having the conversation individual tailored to their way of understanding. I also previously mentioned the “right” age. Again, this is left to your best judgement, but keep in mind that police are out here killing 12 year olds and younger. They should be prepared.
Be honest, answer questions
I think one of the most important things to do when discussing this or any serious situation is to be honest. Kids are not stupid, we know when you’re withholding information. Now, as mentioned in the previous point, obviously use your best judgement but there are ways to address the situation without lying to them about the seriousness of it. Also, be prepared to answer questions. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is, to have questions you need answered and adults dismissing them because “you’re too young to understand”. If I was too young, I wouldn’t be asking the questions. These are not optional situations to avoid. I don’t get to stop being black when it’s convenient for me, so provide honest answers. Even if that answer is “I’m not sure”, but we will figure it out together”.
Reassure them that they are not the problem
I remember something I struggled with greatly was thinking that there was something wrong with me, anytime I was faced with racism or discrimination. It took many years of self-discovery and learning that the world is fucked up, to realize that I was not the issue. This feeling will be heightened in a child as they don’t yet understand the concept and full scale of racism and discrimination. While having this conversation, make sure you make it clear that there is nothing wrong with being black/brown. That some people in this world are ignorant and treat people terrible, but that is not their fault. Assure them that there is nothing wrong with their skin color, that they do not deserve that kind of treatment.
Come up with a plan
As with any emergency, you typically create a plan. Everyone in the house knows the plan, what number to call, who to call in what order, what to do in case of ___. For my family, we always know emergency phone numbers to call. My aunt lived down the street, we were always to call her first as she was closer, then call our parents, and obviously 911 should the situation warrant it. This should be the same for situations of racism/discrimination. These are also emergencies and if we don’t know how to handle them, we won’t tell anyone. There are also MANY situations of casual racism that we don’t know how to handle or how to report. If you have ever been a POC in PWIs, you know what I’m talking about. People of color have been told for decades to just accept the way we are treated. In many cases, it IS easier to just accept it or let racism slide. You have no idea how many times I have had to report fellow students or professors for very racist things, and absolutely nothing happened. So why even bother? It’s important to do so, but if you repeatedly see no results, after a while you give up. If you are not talking to your kids, giving them the tools to handle these situations or at least what the next step is, we are not going to say anything. We will just allow it to happen repeatedly, or deal with it on our own…most likely in ways that probably are not the best. This plan will vary depending on situations, your family and where you live but, this is why you should be having the conversation.
Have a family meeting
This primarily applies to those of you who may have mixed families such as myself. We are 3 black kids and 3 white kids. While racism and police brutality is primarily something that will target your brown children, it is still worth discussing with the WHOLE family. I talk a lot about needing to be a parent AND an ally as a white adoptive parent. The same applies to siblings. You as white siblings and parents, aren’t absolved of the responsibility of speaking up and doing something if someone else is being mistreated. Especially if said person is your child/sibling. So, have the discussion with the whole family. Not only what to do if you find yourself in that situation, but what your white children are supposed to do/say should they see this happening to their sibling. If you see your black sister being dragged across the lawn by her hair by a police officer or thrown across the classroom in her chair, what are you supposed to do? Who do you call? Who do you alert? Do you call 911 on the police? What is the plan?
Put yourself in the shoes of POCs.
As a white person, you do not have the same life experiences that we do as people of color. You probably have never had a reason to think police are horrible, or even had to think twice about being stabbed on the train, but we do. As a white adoptive parent, with a child who will face fears like this every day of their life, you need to approach this conversation with as much empathy as possible. Do some research yourself about what is going on in the world. What horrors people of color are facing. When having this discussion, don’t come from a perspective of naive white ignorance, come from a realistic point of view. Putting your hands up may work for white people such as yourself, but putting your hands up while black is a “threat” and could get you killed. I talked previously about listening and not dismissing, and this is one of those cases to put on you ally ears and listen to what POCs are saying about these things. There is nothing more frustrating that hearing “all lives matter” from a white family member. Or trying to explain why I’m absolutely terrified of being pulled over for anything, even as small as expired tabs, as it could end in me being killed, then hearing a white family member laugh it off or dismiss it as being “dramatic”. Sandra Bland was stopped for a simple traffic violation and ended up dead in her cell. We are not being dramatic, we are living while black while you live in your fantasy land of no racism protected by your whiteness. When you have this conversation, you need to snap back to reality.