My son Trey loves to look through pictures on my phone. On Labor Day weekend we were lucky enough to spend a few days at the beach. We had a great time and made a ton of memories. I love being able to share a place I loved as a kid with my kids. While swimming in the ocean, some older kids made repeated comments on Trey’s skin being different or to use their words, “weird.” Weird because his skin didn’t match the 99% Caucasian population that was sitting on the beach and that meant they felt entitled to point it out repeatedly at a volume they knew he could hear. These words stuck to Trey. He continued to bring it up, verbalizing how it really hurt him. We talked it through, and I honestly thought he had forgotten about it. After that weekend he was out shopping with my sister and was around kids around the same age as the ones in the ocean. They were causing a disruptive scene in the store and my sister noticed that Trey was getting anxious. A few days later he brought it up, explaining he was scared these kids would notice his “weird skin” and turn their attention onto him. Fast forward to today, Trey is looking through photos and stops at one from our beach weekend. I made a comment of how much I loved this one, his response, “I just keep thinking about how my skin looks weird.”
For about a year, my husband and I have gone back and forth about when he should have “the talk” with Trey about the “n” word. I’ve talked with Trey about racism, human rights activists, slavery, and what it means to be bi-racial. When we talk about it, it somehow always seems to be a thing of the past, like we don’t currently have a president who promotes white supremacy or where the KKK has marches and feels validated to make themselves known. Where innocent black kids (not much older than him) are killed by police for looking suspicious and our county is SPLIT about whether it was murder. Where a black man is killed in his own home sitting on his couch and the punishment is a 10-year sentence. I struggle because it feels like I would be taking away his innocence. That the reality is that people in this world will judge you, hate you, or even kill you, based on your skin “looking weird.” That his skin and a white person’s skin are not of same value. I struggle because if he was called this name, he would know the connotations of what’s in someone’s heart. That the level of hatred someone has towards his skin is merely based off that… his skin. I struggle because how do I teach my 8-year-old how to handle this situation? How do I teach him to go high when the world seems to be going low when it comes to race?
As a white person, I cannot even begin to understand the fear, the pressure, the constant battle that black people or any other race goes through, especially when it comes to raising kids in America. Where they don’t have the luxury of waiting to take away their kids’ innocence on racism. Where teaching them about police is not a “black and white” conversation and that maybe they are not always here to “protect and serve,” at least not to those of color.
We need to do better. We need to educate on why “Black Lives Matter” is only for Black Lives and why that’s more than okay. We need to teach empathy on racial issues of the past and present. We need to hold people accountable when we see hatred and demand more of our neighbors, our community, our country. We cannot be complacent. We need a world where people believe change is possible and necessary. Where injustice and oppression are never accepted as the norm.
It starts with a conversation, an open mind, digging deep to let down your defense and acknowledging racism exists. As parents, we have a powerful role in leading by example both with words and actions. Your kids see you and they hear you.
All it takes is one moment, a few words to make a lasting impression on someone… to create fear, anxiety, to make them question their self-worth. Please, teach your kids to make it a positive one.
“Change in the world begins with change in your neighborhood. And change in your neighborhood begins with change in you – a change from indifference to responsibility – a change from purpose-less survival to purpose-full living.” – Abhijit Naskar