Our children can be such a reflection of who we are and what we’ve been through in life. I’m not sure whether that’s always a good thing. I don’t want mine to carry any of my baggage, as heavy or light as it may be for them. When I look at my four children, ranging in age from 10 to 14, I see promise and light and love. I hope that others can see that, too, in spite of their differences. And despite the way the world looks today in the midst of a pandemic and a fiery identity crisis, I know that there is hope. My children, like all of our children, are our hope for the future. The question is what do we, the ones who are creating their present, want that future to look like?
I see the promise of our children in the natural curiosity that they have about the world around them and their ability to adapt so quickly to change. I find so often that the things I struggle with, like explaining about world events and crisis, they are able to quickly digest and deconstruct. The complicated and painful history of racism can be whittled down to a simple question: “So why don’t they like Black people?” A simple matter of like and dislike that’s not so simple at all to explain. As I answer their questions and allow them to see the good and the bad of the world around them, it changes my thinking. Maybe I can’t shield them from everything, and maybe I shouldn’t. Maybe they can handle more than I think they can and are just waiting for me to show up, to share more truth and insight than they can find in a search engine.
My three sons need to know that the world isn’t always so welcoming and that they could find themselves in danger just because of their brown hue. That’s a heartbreaking reality to face, but it’s one I must face if I want them to be safe, to be prepared for whatever life may throw their way. It’s terrifying to think that the simple pleasures of life could cost them theirs if they’re not careful—whether they’re shopping or jogging or just buying a pack of Skittles. My daughter needs to understand that in other ways. She needs to know that some are waging a war against her self-esteem, and that she needs to love herself first and with her whole heart. It’s the love that frees us.
Still, I see light at the end of this dark tunnel of despair. I see it in the wide-eyed way that our children view the world, laced with the innocence of youth and the exuberance that follows. I won’t squelch that. There’s enough bitterness in the world already. And I see love in the way that they look out for one another, the way they nurture the sweet puppy and kitty under their charge at home. That love will take them far, way beyond the borders of despair and hate that threaten to tear our world apart.
One thing that I think all of us have in common as parents is this: Our children are our hearts. That’s one thing that we will always have in common, and we can begin there, with the love that motivates us to want to build a better world for them. So, where do we go from here? We chart a path toward reconciliation, a path where we reconcile our fears with our compassion. It takes way too much energy to hate or fear because of difference. We may assume that our children know that, but we can’t take that chance. Let’s teach them that it’s okay to be unsure of the unknown, but they don’t have to fear it. It’s even okay to talk about race. There are so many valuable resources out there, from the new Talking About Race web portal created by the National Museum of African American History and Culture, to the Child Mind Institute’s special feature Racism and Violence: How to Help Kids Handle the News. Let’s give them the resources that they need in order to succeed and to avoid the mistakes that still haunt us today. It will make for a better tomorrow for all of us.
Regina Cash-Clark is a wife and mother of four (twins plus two) who lives in Somerset, Franklin Township. She teaches writing as a full-time faculty member at Ramapo College of New Jersey.