The image of George Floyd pinned to the ground with a police officer’s knee pressed into his neck as he uttered the words “I can’t breathe” and called for his late mother has gutted us all to the core. Grief and outrage over Floyd’s death have spread to cities throughout the country as we watch protesters express their rage. After the 2014 death of Eric Garner, who uttered those same words as a police officer held him in a chokehold, the words “I can’t breathe” became a rallying cry for protesters throughout the country.
As parents, we’re anxious and scared about what the future holds for our children. We’re angry that racism is still so pervasive in the year 2020. We’re sad about the deep wounds and polarization that continue to divide our country.
It’s okay not to have all the answers. What’s no longer okay is not taking action to educate our kids about racism. It’s never too early to talk to them about race and to teach them to speak out against racial injustice. Now is not the time to avoid a difficult conversation. I recently spoke with my kids about George Floyd’s death and the protests that followed. My 12-year-old was in disbelief that racism continues to be as pervasive and ingrained in our society as it is. He doesn’t understand how anyone could judge or mistreat another human being based on the color of his or her skin. While this shows you the beauty of our children’s hearts, it’s also a reminder that it’s our job to educate them about the ugly reality of racism in this country.
My 10-year-old was in tears after I explained (in as age appropriate a way as possible) what happened to George Floyd. While I don’t want to see her upset, I do need her to understand that these harsh realities exist because it’s not enough to not be racist anymore. What matters most is teaching our kids to understand what racism is and to use their voice to speak up when it matters.
I’m making a commitment to have more conversations with my kids and teach them to speak out against racism in all forms. Here are a few things we’re committing to at home, knowing that this is just a start and much more needs to be done:
Talk to the kids about the ugly reality of racism and urge them to use their voice when it matters. It’s not enough to be quietly non-racist. Now is the time to be vocally anti-racist. We’ve curated a list of books for all ages that can serve as thoughtful discussion starters about racism. The Conscious Kid is also an excellent resource that offers parenting and education resources through a critical race lens. Membership levels range from $1 to $10 a month for a myriad of resources that unpack tough topics for all ages.
Don’t shy away from sharing difficult news with your kids. From George Floyd to Breonna Taylor to Ahmaud Arbery, it’s important to find age-appropriate ways to talk to your kids about what’s on television and all over social media. My 10-year-old heard about the death of George Floyd on a group chat with her friends before my husband and I discussed the sobering news with her. The trouble with that is if we don’t lead those discussions and share those news stories, our kids will draw their own conclusions about these awful events at a time when they really need our guidance.
A recent USA Today article offers thoughtful answers to the many questions your kids are likely asking now. Make sure to bookmark it to guide your discussions with them. It’s also helpful to look for news outlets that explain the news in an age-appropriate way to children. I recently subscribed to The Week Junior, a weekly news magazine for kids that does an excellent job tackling tough topics.
Remind your children that the majority of law enforcement professionals are here to protect everyone, regardless of skin color. Show them stories about police officers peacefully marching with protesters, which is what happened in Camden this weekend. We should never judge all police officers by the inhumane and criminal actions of a minority group.
Seek out diversity in all aspects of your life and look for the teachable moments. Reading books that show diverse characters is just as important as teaching your kids about racism, especially for younger children. Make sure you expose them to a diverse array of role models in the media you consume as a family, in everyday life and in your conversations.
This is just a start and doesn’t begin to address the kinds of conversations black families are having with their children. For that, we’ve reached out to a black mother of four children to share the discussions she’s having with her kids. We hope to share hers and many other voices seeking to have a constructive and respectful dialogue about race with our kids and in our communities on njfamily.com.
As we struggle to unite as a country following the tragic and senseless death of George Floyd, let’s remember our kids will be the ones to change the world for the better. As people of color are being killed, police are being assaulted, peaceful protesters and reporters are being tear-gassed and the country is hurting, show them this beautiful a capella song by 12-year-old @keedronbryant that captures what it feels like to be a young black man in America. Let’s never forget that our children are the future and love and respect must win.