I’m a total worrywart and have lots of worries about my kids. I worry about bullying. I worry about hurt feelings. I worry about broken hearts. I worry about skinned knees. I worry one of them will get an liberal arts degree and won’t find a job.
I don’t worry one of them will become a hashtag.
It’s an uncomfortable truth, but it is the truth. There are many, many moms just like me who happened to be raising black children and they have much different and grave concerns for their children’s future. I spoke to one mom, Ivy Sowell, who is a stay-at-home mom and entrepreneur working towards her own business . She and her husband, Eugene, have an adorable eight-month-old son named Dixon.
“I know as my son gets older I’m going to have to teach him to live a very calculated life because of the color of his skin,” said Ivy. “Teach him to keep his hands out of his pockets in stores… when he starts driving, teach him what to do and what to say if he gets stopped by the police… when he gets in an elevator with a woman and she clutches her purse, he’ll need to be very careful of his movements… He will have to learn there are certain places where it’s not safe for him to go because he’s black.”
Ivy said they pray a hedge of protection constantly and the prayer is always in the back of her mind. She said the prayer is also the reason she’s not afraid to raise a black boy into a powerful black man.
In the wake of recent police shootings, Ivy called to her Facebook friends–particularly white ones– to speak out. She called out to all of her Facebook friends who have made comments about how adorable her infant son was or what a beautiful family they were and reminded them that they could be next.
My initial reaction was to ask how I could help. But I now realize how unfair that is to ask. It’s almost like approaching a grieving widow with a casserole and a “let me know how I can help!” The intentions may be good, but it’s unfair to ask someone to appease your desire to help on top of their own grief, and even worse if it’s just an empty gesture in response to pain.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized I– just a white Suburban mom– can help and you can too.
Listen! You must know how frustrating it is when you express yourself and someone invalidates your feelings. Know that when moms like Ivy talk about their very real concerns in raising children, their feelings are valid. Do not dismiss them.
Talk to your kids about race. It’s not enough to take the “colorblind” approach. Raising a child to be “colorblind” would only be effective if we lived in a society in which racism doesn’t exist and sadly, we do not. It’s also impossible to tackle the complex issue of racism if we’re not even comfortable acknowledging the existence of race.
Kids recognize that race exists. This is not racism. Recognizing the differences between others only become racism when we add superior or inferior values to those differences. Instead, talk to your kids about their own identity, encourage appreciation of others, share accurate information about other racial groups and explain to your child what racism is and how to combat it.
Educate your children about race. Many parents have asked about book recommendations, which I think it is a GREAT idea. Books have always proven to be helpful in difficult situations in my house. I made a list of helpful books here for every age group.
Even as a white parent, you’ll no doubt come in contact with racism at some point in your life and have an opportunity to say something when you see something. It may be a racist joke someone tells that you interrupt. You may request supporting facts and evidence when someone makes a racist assumption (because chances are there are none). It may be something much bigger like standing up for someone directly confronted with racism (because it happens all the time). You can very easily combat racism in your everyday life and your child will see and learn from this.
Stand in solidarity in response to injustice. You may not feel personally impacted, but you can still take a stand as an ally and make an impact. In Billings, MT, a Jewish family displayed a menorah and someone threw a cinder block through their window in 1993. When the family reported the hate crime to the police, the investigating officer suggested they remove the menorah. A local women heard of the incident and contacted her minister about making paper menorahs in their Sunday school classes and displaying them in solidarity against religious bigotry. Within a week, 6-10,000 homes displayed menorahs in their front windows. Allies can make powerful statements.
Get to know your local police department. Ivy pointed out that while teaching her son how to handle encounters with law enforcement, they needed to teach him not to fear law enforcement officers. The National Crime Prevention Council recommends presenting police officers to your children as a “safe stranger” who can help your child if he needs it.
For adults, Ijeoma Oluo, a woman living outside of Seattle, posted some key questions to ask regarding police reform on Facebook and they’re pretty on point:
- Do you know your city’s procedures regarding accountability?
- Does your police force have any provisions for citizen oversight?
- Is there a civilian oversight panel to review police shootings and misconduct?
- Do the officers wear body cameras?
You can find most of the answers to those questions simply by Googling the topics and your city name. Otherwise you can contact your local police department and ask. Know where your own community stands on these issues. And if you’re not satisfied with the answers?
Vote. Start with your city council. Then the mayor. Next your congressperson. Your state representatives. Don’t vote for or financially support a candidate who doesn’t believe there is a problem. See where they stand and if they don’t align with your values, vote them out. Share with your friends WHY you’re voting against them and voting for those who share your concerns and values and are committed to act.
I know this is difficult. Trust me, the more tragedies I hear about, the more I want to turn off the TV, ignore the news and just tune out. But then I think about Ivy and millions of other moms who don’t have the privilege of tuning out. I think we owe it to them to acknowledge this and stand beside them.
“We have to teach our son not to harbor hate in his heart, ” Ivy said among the many things she and Eugene plan to teach their son. “Even though it seems the world hates him.”
The very least we can do for children like Dixon, husbands and fathers like Eugene, wives and mothers like Ivy, and millions of others like them in this country is to value their lives, show them love and do our damnest to stop this from happening.