Race and Faith

Explaining Racism to My 6 Year Old

It’s a normal Sunday morning in our home.  The house is buzzing with sleepy little boys trying to figure out how to squeeze toothpaste on to their toothbrushes, four year old Judah pulling up his size 5T jeans and not caring that they are backwards, and my wife grooming her long, jet black, and vibrant purple hair in the mirror.  I’d say we’re making pretty good time to leave for church around 9:45 AM.  There is a lot of preparation that goes into getting a family of 6 out of the house, into a minivan, and off to fellowship.  Every now and again, that time is burrowed by viral videos, pics or posts from our friends, and the occasional business related tasks.  However, this morning was different; maybe not in family logistics, but rather what distracted us in the course of a weekly Sunday morning ritual.

My wife -joined by a very nosey, yet very bright 6 year old Aaron- was sitting on our bed using Google to browse through photographs for a new #BlackLivesMatter social media idea Look Up Radio would employ.  She came across some Google results that read, “The Shooting of John Crawford III” (the 22 year old African American father of two who was shot and killed in a Beaver Creek, OH Walmart by police officers without proper warning in August 2014 – and yes, he was unarmed), and “Cops Kill Man in Walmart”.  While headlines like these are always infuriatingly frustrating, unfortunately they have also become very familiar and predictable in a time and a society that has allowed gross negligence in terms of justice for African Americans.  Not to mention a system of discrimination that affects the economy, family structures, and education (among other things) in the Black community.  What was most alarming this morning is that the words of the headlines were recited by a 6 year old, followed by this question to his mom and dad: “Mom! Dad!  Why did they kill him?”  You could probably imagine that we were shocked at the seriousness of his inquiry.  I mean, really taken aback that he even asked that question! Moreover, we were speechless that he understood the concept enough to ask about the police officer’s motive.  We were stunned.  Faced with the horrible reality that we now have to explain to our brown boys that there are people who kill because they hate; and unfortunately, our skin color matches the color of hate.

This seems to be the norm for African American parents; the burden of telling our sons and daughters at a very young age what racism is, how to behave outside the home as to avoid unnecessary attention from police, how to behave if you are stopped by the police, and most importantly, how to stay alive, if possible.  Heavy stuff.

This is our reality – a reality that many families who are not Black or Brown never have to deal with.  My heart was broken this morning because a piece of my son’s childhood just withered away and I could no longer protect him from the world’s harsh truths.

Have you experienced this?  How did you explain racism/police brutality to your children?