By: Dawn Irwin
I don't really know how to begin this piece, so I'm just going to start writing, sitting in the uncomfortable knowledge of not knowing the best way to begin this conversation.
The past several days have been extremely emotional for me. And, I recognize that the emotions swirling inside of me do not even come close to the emotional baggage Black people in our country have been forced to carry for over four hundred years.
It has been extremely hard to watch video after video of protesters being brutalized by police officers around the country. I also recognize that what I've seen is nothing in comparison to the brutalization the Black community has been experiencing and witnessing for decades. The fact that I didn't do more to stop their nightmare before now weighs heavy on my heart.
I have felt a full range of emotions since the murder of George Floyd. Rage, frustration, confusion, desperation, deep sadness, helplessness, and most of all, shame. These have enveloped me on more than one occasion. But, by the end of last week, I also started to experience some other feelings. I felt inspiration, connectedness, pride, hope, and love. These latter emotions all stemmed from my five year old son.
It has been impossible to shield my children from the reality of the last few weeks. If I'm being completely honest, the fact that I was shielding them from the racist world we live in at all is a significant sign of my privilege and I regret not having done more to build their awareness. Although I can't change the past, I can recognize my mistakes and vow to do better.
My son heard his father and I having conversations about the protests, the brutality of the police, and the gross mistreatment of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) in America. He also saw me watching videos explaining systemic racism, violence against Blacks, and researching resources for anti-racism. This, as you can imagine, has lead to many questions and conversations.
We have been as honest and transparent about current, as well as past, events as we possibly could be. Questions he asked that I didn't know how to answer, we tried to figure out together. When he asked why Black people are hurt by other people, I told him about White people being afraid of losing power over Black people so White people created ways to keep Black people from feeling safe and left them out of the communities they live in. I told him that White people still hurt Black people to fill them with fear and make them feel like nobody cares about them.
"But, I care about Black people! No one should be unkind to them. No one should hurt them!" he said to me with all the passion a five-year-old can muster.
"That's why it's so important for White people like you and me to use our voices and make sure we stop others from hurting Black people. We need to make sure Black people know that we care about them and will do what we can to help them."
A couple of days later, my son heard my husband and I talking about a protest taking place in our town. He immediately jumped up and demanded that we go to the protest. "If we go to the protest people will know that they can't be mean and hurt Black people. We will tell them to be kind. We need to show them (Black people) that we care about them."
Then he said,
"If I don't go, how will they know that I love them?"
The next afternoon, my husband helped my son make a sign. As we arrived at the protest, he was amazed by all of the people that were there. "Mama! Look! All of these people care about Black people too!"
For an hour and a half, he held his sign, waved at cars, and said hi to the folks that walked by. And, at the end, he knelt down for 8 minutes and 46 seconds with all of the adults in honor of George Floyd.
My five year old son understands the injustices of our country better than I ever have. He believes with every fiber of his being that its his responsibility to spread love and fight back against hate. I didn't need to, and shouldn't have, sheltered him from the cruelty of our oppressive society.
How can we expect our children to break the cycle of systemic racism if they don't even know it exists.
Kids are smart, capable, empathetic beings. We hardly ever give them the credit they deserve. It is our responsibility as adults to trust them with this knowledge and support them on their own social justice journeys. I waited longer than I should have with my son. I won't make the same mistake with my daughter.
I am on this path of discovery myself. I am trying to become the best ally I can and embrace an anti-racist way of living. I have no idea what I'm doing, except on one front: I am being open and honest about my own anti-racist journey with my children. We are learning and growing in our allyship together.
As long as white people keep doing our best to educate ourselves, act against oppression, and treat our children as capable allies, social justice will become the norm for our children and generations to come. That's the kind of world I want to live in, don't you?
The Conscious Kid - https://www.theconsciouskid.org/
Raising Race Conscious Children - http://www.raceconscious.org/
Center for Racial Justice - https://centerracialjustice.org/resources/resources-for-talking-about-race-racism-and-racialized-violence-with-kids/
PBS - https://www.pbs.org/parents/talking-about-racism
Other resources can be found here - https://bouncebackparenting.com/resources-for-talking-to-kids-about-race-and-racism/
Holly Beckert and Dawn Irwin are moms, early childhood educators, and advocates. Please enjoy reading all about our adventures inside and outside of our classroom!