When we told our 10-year-old we wanted to attend a local Black Lives Matter protest, his initial reaction was one of anxiety and fear. His questions and concerns were numerous: “Will the police be there?” “Will they use rubber bullets?” “Can you die from teargas?”
Like many other families, we’d already been having discussions about the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent, worldwide reaction to it. So I was honestly a bit surprised by my son’s response to attending the protest. He’s always been such an eager activist, whether related to racism, the environment or LGBTQ rights.
Maybe we’d had the news on too often, or allowed him too much YouTube time. Questions and concerns came to my own mind: Was it okay that our child had heard about police firing rubber bullets point blank at protestors? Or that he’d learned of kids being teargassed? Or seen a man his Grandpa’s age being pushed to the ground, bleeding from the head, as dozens of cops passed him by?
While I didn’t want my child to be afraid, his fear was understandable and founded squarely in reality. So I tried explaining that while there had been some violence and looting at earlier protests in big cities, our town was small and it would be unlikely anything dangerous would occur. That didn’t seem to do help.
I tried a different approach, explaining it was important we attend the rally to show support for our black friends.
“Don’t they already know?” he asked.
I thought for a minute and came up with the analogy of a birthday. “You know your friends like you, but you still want them to come to your birthday party, right? It’s a way they show you they’re your friends. This is kind of like that — an important event to show your friends you care about them.”
Still his anxiety persisted. As Papa and I tucked him into bed, our son chattered nervously, mentioning he had “sprained” his leg earlier and wasn’t sure it would be better the next day. I left the topic of the protest alone, hoping some rest and a bit of time would heal his sprain and quell his fears.
That seemed to do the trick. Jon awoke his more typical go-getter self, ready to take to the streets. We made signs, changed into our best protest digs and walked to the end of our block to join the marchers as they passed by.
Aside from some initial concern at the sight of a police car, our son was a trooper. He scootered along with us or his friends, chanting with the crowd, asking questions, making observations.
The march ended at town hall, where the crowd gathered to hear several activists, clergy and politicians speak. As the speeches wore on, our youngster was wearing out. As we made the short trek home, our young protester waxed profoundly (and profusely) about racism, parsing the meaning of “no justice, no peace,” and inquiring about the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others.
His initial fears about the police had now turned to racism in general. He shared his worry that all of the racist people in the country would teach their kids to be racist, too. We discussed why it was important to show our friends that we’re always there to stand up for them. And that he can be an example to other kids who might not be getting good messages at home.
As we neared home, he seemed to sum up our experience perfectly: “If kids learn about racism when they’re young, they’ll never forget it.”
RESOURCES FOR RAISING ANTI-RACIST CHILDREN
You can find a legion of resources online — more and more by the day. These three are ones I personally recommend, having found them helpful in my work to raise an anti-racist son.
The Conscious Kid
This education, research and policy nonprofit partners with organizations, children’s museums, schools, and families across the country to promote access to children’s books centering underrepresented and oppressed groups. IG | FB
A resource for white parents who want their children to be thoughtful allies, as well as parents of color working to raise confident, resilient children. Their site offers webinars, tip sheets, book suggestions and more. IG | FB
Parenting is Political
A podcast about parenting and all of its political intersections. Hosted by Mo and Jasmine, a queer, interracial couple raising four kids in the heart of the South. Prepare to be challenged. IG | FB