My White Children Know Black Lives Matter. Do Yours?

This is the absolute baseline of what I can and should be doing as a white parent and person.
05/15/2017 04:38 pm ET Updated May 16, 2017
An October 2016 rally to mark the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March. Evan Vucci/Associated Press.

At the end of every day, we practice gratitude with our children. Each of us names something we are thankful for that either happened that day or in general. The other night as I was tucking my five-year-old into bed, I asked him like I do every night what he was grateful for.

“I’m grateful that Black Lives Matter and that we fight for justice,” he replied sleepily. I paused, somewhat surprised as we hadn’t discussed race or Black Lives Matter that day. Should I leave the comment alone or dive in a bit? I chose the latter.

“I love that you are thinking about that, honey,” I responded. “Black lives do matter, and it’s unfair that Black and brown people are treated differently just because of the color of their skin. People, including us, fight for justice because not everyone believes Black Lives Matter and we don’t think that’s fair. “ He nodded and let out a big yawn, so I decided to end the conversation there.

The next night when I asked my son what he was thankful for, he replied, “I’m thankful that Black Lives Matter to our family.” It was a subtle change from the night before, but it indicated to me that he had heard not everyone believed Black Lives Matter and he valued that in our family we did. It was a reminder of how much kids listen.

My children absorb the world around them, whether the information is presented by me as a parent or by their friends or the media. They are constantly listening and learning, so what I say as parent is important. And what I don’t say as parent can leave just as big of an impression.

This series of night-time conversations happened before Jordan Edwards was killed by police. It happened before a Black woman in my Atlanta neighborhood was accosted by a white neighbor and told she didn’t belong here because she was Black. It happened before the video surfaced of a 14-year-old Black child being placed in a choke hold by a School Resource Officer in Pittsburgh.

For the past few days, I’ve been listening to my Black and brown friends and neighbors share their fears for themselves, their partners, their family members and mostly for their children. I’ve listened to my friends describe the gut-wrenching conversations they must have with their Black and brown children about personal safety and encounters with police. There is a book, for goodness sake, to help navigate these talks. I’m at once happy and horrified that this resource is available.

I am white, my husband is white, my children are white. I do not pretend to be a perfect anti-racist, nor do I pretend to have all the answers on how to dismantle white supremacy. I know my children do not fully grasp what Black Lives Matter means as a statement or a movement. How could they at ages 5 and 2?

But they see the Black Lives Matter sign in our window and our yard; they see me wearing my Black Lives Matter pin; they see me leaving to attend meetings and protests; they hear me and my husband discuss issues of racial injustice in our community. I try to be as open and honest with both my kids about why it’s important to fight for racial justice, from a historical and a present day perspective. And of course, we name race openly and often so our kids have a framework from which to build their understanding of how racism operates in our society.

This is the absolute baseline of what I can and should be doing as a white parent and person. Black children are dying. This is not a game. My children’s innocence is not an excuse to shield them from the realities of what’s happening in our country or in our neighborhood.

EmbraceRace, one of my go-to resources for raising race conscious children, just published a great piece entitled, Your 5-year-old is already racially biased. Here’s what you can do about it. I really appreciated the reminder that parenting is a marathon not a sprint, so even when a conversation with my children about race or racism doesn’t go perfectly, or they don’t seem to grasp what I’m saying, there will always be tomorrow. But the most important thing is to have these discussions. To keep circling back. To raise better white children.

I’m gutted that another Black child has died. I’m gutted that another Black child has been brutalized in his school. I’m gutted that my Black friends and neighbors are hurting. But until I am willing to act on the strong emotions that surface at the latest injustice, I remain part of the problem and not the solution. I refuse to set that example for my children.

For examples of actions you can take in your family and as an individual check out Black History Is American History, EmbraceRace, My Reflection Matters, Raising Race Conscious Children, Raising an Advocate, Safety Pin Box, Showing up for Racial Justice Families and We Stories. And that’s truly just the tip of the iceberg. The resources are out there.

Please, my fellow white parents, let’s get to work. Our discomfort, our fear of getting it wrong or whatever other mental road blocks keep us paralyzed from action is beyond secondary to the fact that Black and brown children are dying.

Black Lives Matter.

A version of this post was originally published on A Striving Parent. You can follow Shannon on Facebook and Twitter.

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