Our world is changing. It’s a good thing.
It’s a long, overdue thing.
The death of George Floyd has led to protests, name and policy changes, and a general awakening. The year 2020 will go down in the history books. Up to this point, I’ve been relatively quiet about what’s been happening for one main reason: I’m white and I just don’t think it’s my place to unload my opinions. I’ve never experienced what George Floyd or Breonna Taylor or Ahmaud Arbery or countless other black people have experienced. I’m sure I’ve been judged by someone, but that judgment has never caused me pain I carry with me for the rest of my life. Pain … or worse.
So, I wanted to talk to someone who knows. I wanted to listen. My friend Leah is a Black mother with two boys. She spoke with me about her experience with racism and some of the conversations she’s having with her sons to keep them safe. Here’s what I learned.
It’s Time To Listen
Leah’s sons are 11 and 17. I love Leah. She is an incredible person. She adopted her 11-year-old, Hudson, when he was very little after fostering him. Hudson was at-risk, and Leah was eventually awarded custody. I worked with her at the time, and I will always remember tearing up at my desk when she told me about the first time he called her “mom.”
Leah’s also helping raise her sister’s 17-year-old son William. After Leah’s sister passed away, William was adopted by Leah’s parents, making Leah’s nephew her brother, which she says they often joke around about.
Leah and I are both writers and producers. We’re both raising two boys. Our difference? Our skin. She is black and I am white. I worry about my boys, but not in the same way Leah worries about hers.
And Leah does worry … more so about William, because he’s 17 and will get his license soon. She tells me she knows there’s a segment of the population, police or not, who see William as a threat, even though he’s respectful, kind, and gentle.
Leah said, “I’m concerned about him being pulled over by someone gruff, demanding quick answers. That will, for sure, confuse William and probably make him tongue-tied or cry. The Elijah McClain case has hit me hard. His last words remind me exactly of William.”
Leah says she had talks with the boys before and after George Floyd’s death. She showed them some of the video, but not all of it. Hudson kept asking ‘why’ that was happening since Floyd was doing what he was supposed to be doing. For William, it further illustrated what he already knew can happen.
Leah told them how to behave if ever pulled over by law enforcement: “…hands on the steering wheel…don’t talk back, let officers know if you have anything like a phone or whatever in your pockets or where you are reaching for your license and registration, know your address and our phone numbers…”
My parents never had this talk with me. It probably never crossed their minds. It makes me sad Leah has had to teach her boys these things.
But she doesn’t use the word sad. She says it’s a stressful and hurtful time, but she’s also proud of white allies and groups who are outspoken and protesting.
I have yet to protest, so I ask what I can do.
Leah suggested, “Bottom line, you can’t be afraid. Read, listen, learn, and post or say what you feel is right. Be prepared because there will be people in your circle who don’t get it or disagree. Trust me, I’ve had people in my circle like that and I just bless them in my mind and send them on their way. It’s life and death for me, so my toleration level is very small.”
Leah had a lot of great advice for me after I asked. She told me that asking questions is a great place to start. Leah’s other suggestions:
- See color. I’ve definitely said something like “Oh, I don’t see color,” at some point. Leah says see it and celebrate it! And talk to my sons about it when they ask. Leah suggested, “Give him a visual. Imagine Disney World—everything the same color, all the buildings green, all the characters in green outfits, all the food green, all the rides green … BORING!”
2. Diversify toys and books. This is a great piece of advice for me because I know I don’t think enough about diversity when I picked out toys for my sons. As parents, we lead by example.
3. It’s okay to say “I don’t understand,” or “Explain this to me.”
4. Don’t deny a person of color’s experience. Listen and learn, and most importantly, love.
Our world is changing. Check out these ideas on how to support the Black Lives Matter movement from home. Try these ways and children’s books to help your children grow in understanding about race and racism.