A few weeks ago, I wrote about how we as parents can talk to our young children, specifically, about racial injustice. I wrote the piece a few days before riots began heavily erupting across the country in response to the senseless murders of so many, with the recent death of George Floyd as the main catalyst. I’ve sat with that piece, even after it was published. I thought about that piece as my son heard a reporter talking about 26-year-old Breonna Taylor, who was murdered by police in her apartment, and asked if they were talking about me because we share a name.
When I wrote that article, I was numb. I was not void of feelings about what was happening, but I tried to avoid as much news about it as I possibly could. Even as I talked to my son, explaining what happened to George Floyd and how he died, I still felt somewhat numb. Only a week or so before, I had a similar conversation with him, explaining how Ahmaud Arbery was murdered while jogging because he was also perceived as a threat.
I’m not sure when the numbness wore off, but it very quickly did. I began holding onto my son tighter, all while thinking of my very own words: “How to talk to our children about racial injustice.” Was I really writing that article for a mom like me, with kids that look like mine, with their beautiful, deep brown skin? The truth is that I’ve been having these conversations with my son well before he turned six. I’ll be having these conversations all over again with my daughter as she grows, too.
I’ve dealt with him being called “aggressive” in preschool. I’ve dealt with him being sent home multiple times in daycare and the staff being surprised when my husband and I requested a meeting to discuss what was politely not being called a suspension. When he was about 3 or 4, he told me that his classmates touched his hair multiple times and that he didn’t like it. Whether I realized it or not, I’ve been having these conversations with him and even if he can’t name it just yet, he’s been experiencing racism.
He recently celebrated his 6th birthday, and my heart did the jump it does with each birthday. On the one hand, I am excited to see how much he has grown and all the new and exciting things he can do. He is maturing. This would seem like a good thing, except I’ve always held this deep fear of the day when he’s not “cute” anymore. I’ve held my breath for the moment when he is seen as a threat. At some point, George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor were all 6. When did it change for them? What did their parents say to them? What can I say to my son as the world seems to crumble around him every day?
Hope is defined as a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen. It is also defined as a feeling of trust. Both of these definitions seem so far away from how I am currently feeling. I’ve felt these feelings before. This isn’t new. This unrest and tension and protests and riots are not new. My son was born a few months before Ferguson teenager Michael Brown was murdered, and he was only an infant as I held him tightly while watching the verdict of not guilty roll in. I remember clutching him as tightly as possible as I watched the riots erupt then, too, and then again, and again, and again, over the course of his life so far, as so many people scream and fight for Black lives to matter.
But in the middle of all this, is still hope. That small sliver of hope never leaves me. I am raising two beautiful Black children who are living in a time where real change is happening and will continue to happen. My hope is to parent freely, meaning that I can raise my children to be happy, proud and free while being able to parent without fear. I do not want them to be stifled by expectations or racism or any other forms of oppression. This does not mean keeping them ignorant of the magnitude of these things, because the day will come when they encounter oppression and inequality and will ask tough questions of me, and I will have to respond with tough answers. My hope for my children is that the work that is happening now will not be in vain, and that they will understand the struggle, work to be part of the movement to make the world a more just place and bask in joy while doing it. All hope is not lost. They will be alright, and so will I.
So to the parents who struggle with finding hope or joy right now, know that our babies are growing up in a world filled with so many lessons, so many truths, and yes, so much pain. But we also have the ability to teach them to find joy in the radical power that love, hope and possibilities bring.