Last Spring I was asked to join a racial reconciliation group. I had no idea what to expect and honestly was a bit terrified for our first meeting. Even if you know that you are all there for one reason, you still fear that you might look ignorant, insensitive, or worse, racist.
As a mom to black children I'm constantly trying to figure out how to do this right. How do I parent them well? How do I prepare them for what lies ahead without scaring the crap out of them in the process.
There are so many things about race that I just don't want to talk to my kids about. I just don't want them to know about it. It's as if they don't know then surely it can't happen to them. As if I can protect them from the things that I see on the news. As if because I'm white I can shield them from this. Even that thought seems crazy to me, and insensitive and racist in it's own weird way.
Even though I want to shield them from racist thoughts of this world, I don't shield them from everything. When a child was hit by a car last year and the social media world surrounded the parents as they mourned the loss of their child, I shared his story with my kids. I wanted them to know that you really can get hit by a car and die. I wanted them to be prepared for playing in our front yard. I wanted to educate them. I didn't want them to not know this reality.
When our friend Ronnie was killed in Libya we shared openly with our kids about the details of his death. I am not afraid of them knowing this reality. We live in a world where people die, and I want them to know that, and be prepared for that.
We have always believed in talking with our kids about sex from an early age. I don't want my son finding out about things from his stupid middle school friends. They won't know the truth, and whatever they say will probably be a skewed version of the truth. I want them to know the truth about sex from us and with a biblical foundation. So we tell them.
But yet when we were at the MLK parade a few weeks ago and some marchers were shouting “I am Trayvon Martin. I am Eric Garner. I am Michael Brown” and Deacon looked up at me and said, “who is Michael Brown?” I thought, but I don't tell them about this. I can't. I don't know how.
I tell them about kids getting hit by cars because I want them to look both ways. I tell them about kids getting cancer because I want them to be empathetic and understanding of the world we live in. I tell them about Ronnie dying because I want them to value the gospel above anything else. I tell them about sex because I want them to be educated.
But I haven't told them about the fact that because they are black they might be watched. That because they are black they might get followed. That because they are black people will assume things about them. That because they are black they are scary to some people.
I don't know how to tell them that.
How do you tell a 9 year old that? How do I do that?
I also don't want to tell them that. I don't want that to be the truth. I don't want this to be their reality, and so I think that if I don't tell them then it won't be truth for them.
But then I read this article about 3 black adults that were adopted by white parents as babies. They grew up in wonderful families, but it wasn't until they were older that they started to find their identity. I read that article about three times and thought I don't want my kids to write this article in their 20's. I want to educate them, but I'm so scared.
I don't want them to know what it's really like out there. I think this comes from a good place. I feel the need to protect them. To protect their hearts from hurt. Isn't that what momma's do for their kids?
But then I also want to prepare them for this world that we live in. I want to prepare them for what they will endure in their lifetime. Honestly I don't think it won't happen to them, but this momma just doesn't want it to happen to them. I don't want any of my kids to get hurt. I don't want any of my kids to be less than. I don't want any of my kids to experience things I've seen on tv and heard about from friends. I want to protect them with all of my love and power.
But what I'm slowly starting to learn is that by not telling them, I'm actually hurting them. By not allowing them to know all the truth, I'm setting them up for failure. I believe this in other areas of our lives, but I just can't grasp it here. It's too much. Too hard.
So last week I emailed a friend of mine from this group and asked her the question I find myself wondering often – how do I do this? How do I raise black boys? I am so ill equipped. I don't know what to do. I just want to wrap my arms around them and protect them from it all. She so wonderfully encouraged me with these words, and I want to share them with you:
“I believe every parents job despite the color of your child is to prepare and equip them for the world they live in. It's how we prepare children to live out their faith. It will take you being intentional and strategic like all of you are doing. Continue to make yourselves uncomfortable, make sure your kids are interacting with people and kids who look like them. Create opportunities for your white children to be the minority at times.”
And so I will push on. I will get uncomfortable. I will show up to this group with ears ready to hear. Together we're helping each other be better parents. Together they are helping me educate my boys without putting fear in them. Together they are helping me see the world through different eyes. I will continue to to try and find ways to equip my boys instead of shielding them, even if it's hard on my mama heart.
If you are like me, and you want to learn from those around you that have walked different roads, consider starting a group like this one in your home town. Go HERE to sign up for a guide to bridge building in your own community.
I was thinking about this very topic this morning. My boys are 9 and 7 and we haven’t talked to them about this yet. I can tell they are both going to be tall and strong men one day. I love seeing them grow but know in reality we need to prepare them for how they may be perceived. Any chance you will cover this on your podcast?
I would love to see how this goes for you. I have been reading a lot lately and hearing a lot about how people feel like they have to teach their kids to be on guard with the police because of their skin color and I feel like this just creates a horrible cycle. If we teach young black men that they are going to be targeted by police and that they should have fear, what is going to be their reaction when they have to interact with them? Seems we set them up for failure. As the wife of a police officer, I feel it on the other side. My husband pays for the sins of others because he wears a uniform, not because of anything he has ever done. I can’t tell you how many times people have come to our front door at home and asked to speak with the policeman that lives there (he has a take home car) only to find out that it is a parent using him to be the bad guy because their kids won’t mind. We perpetuate the idea that police are enforcers and are out to get us and then expect kids and adults to look to them as their help in time of need. Not sure of a solution, but I would love to have the conversation.