...what took the rest of the world so long to finally figure it out?
This past Saturday, my family and I had the opportunity to participate in CNN & Sesame Street’s Town Hall on Racism (clip above!). We submitted a question via video, one I, and apparently many other families have constantly had on our minds:
“How can we both educate our young children about racism and how to defend themselves against it, while also preserving their innocence and shielding them from additional anxiety?”
Our children are young. This topic is massive... how do we protect them? We were fortunate to have the question answered by Dr. Beverly Tatum, author of a book I remember hearing about when I was in high school, Why are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?
Her response, paraphrased below, was practical - and real:
“As parents, it is first our responsibility to remind our children that we will take care of them and ensure their safety, and we will protect them. But we should also be aware that many of our children, sometimes as young as 3 or 4 years old, have already encountered some form of name calling, and may already know something about racism. One thing they do understand very early on, is what is fair and unfair, and it is important to teach them how to stand up to themselves and others.”
As I reflected on her answer, I realized how much of it already rang true in conversations we had already had.
During this whirlwind of a weekend, hours after the segment aired, my family and I participated in a local protest. My 5.5 year old held up her sign, which we had made for a protest earlier that week, proudly shouting, “BLACK LIVES MATTER!” and "NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE!"
We had participated in a caravan protest the prior weekend, so I preemptively first gave her a crash course on why we say Black Lives Matter. Given her age, I wasn't yet ready to delve into the specifics around the violence that spurred these protests, rather the fundamentals of racism.
As we scrawled ‘OUR LIVES MATTER’ on card stock with a Sharpie, I somewhat uncomfortably started to explain that there are people who think, for some reason, that because our skin is brown, we are not as special or as important as they are, and that isn’t right.
Then, as Dr. Tatum so wisely reminded us- my daughter reminded me that she was already well aware of that concept, and she met me where I was.
“...you mean like how they treated Ruby Bridges? And Rosa Parks?”
A kindergartener, she had learned about Ruby at school, and Rosa both at school and at home. Our nightly bedtime reading sessions often featured stories and biographies about historical figures of color.
“Yes- exactly. But they just say those things not because they're true, but because they’re jealous, and they’re trying to make us feel bad about ourselves."
Then, at risk of sounding like Viola Davis in The Help, I asked her - “So- are you smart?”
“Are you kind?”
“Are you beautiful?”
“Then is there any reason people should think you are less important than anyone else?”
“That’s absolutely right. So that’s why we say ‘Black Lives Matter’ - because we want EVERYBODY to know Black people are important, and we matter, too... and that’s why we’re reminding them today.”