Racism Is a Secret I Did Not Mean to Keep
I have been wondering how to talk with my children about George Floyd and the global demonstrations demanding justice. Usually when something upsetting is in the news, I will ask them "what have you heard about...?" "have you seen...? What do you know about...?"
But as we are in the middle of a different global upset, and have been basically locked inside our two bedroom apartment for the past three months, they aren't seeing or hearing anything except Captain Underpants and old baseball games on youtube. Our family has been navigating a little mental health breakdown, and the kids are pretty stressed, anxious and overwhelmed already.
But you all helped me learn that staying in our mentally ill pandemic bubble (truly such a safe quaint space in these troubled times) is the privilege we have as a white family. Not talking about it is a privilege and a mistake.
I did not know where to begin. I followed the great advice of an experienced and trusted teacher to a) not say too much and b) keep things simple, focusing on topics they understand like fairness (which is so important to children this age), standing up for what you believe in, standing up for other people who are being hurt or do not feel safe.
True to form, Big Sister had many more questions and feelings than her brother and immediately helped me recognize how wrong it is for white parents to not engage in explicit conversations about racism. She looked up at me with huge tears in her eyes and said, “I thought this was a problem that had been fixed. Why didn’t you tell me?”
"Why did you keep this secret?" she wanted to know as tears streamed down her face.
I did not know I was.
We have loads of books, attend protests, and talk about racial justice, write postcards, donate. The inherent and unapologetic white supremacy of the Mormon church was one of the factors that led us to leave that organization. But we never sat down and laid out the facts plain as day for our children. You know, this is how babies are made. The kids know about Ruby Bridges and MLK and Juneteenth and have baby dolls with many skin tones. They know all about melanin and inclusivity but this is the secret of white liberal racism, huh? She still thought white and black folks being treated differently were old problems, like dinosaurs or how Mom managed to function in olden times without the internet.
I didn't know what to say or how to start or wondered if they were too young so I didn't spell it out. But I've struggled my way through lots of other thorny questions that felt WAY above my pay grade. Sex. God. Death. Climate change. Marriage equality. Why Grandma yells at Mama. Why didn't this come up?
I was wrong not to bring it up.
If they know the correct names for their body parts they should know that not everyone in America is treated fairly. I had to unlearn. My children need to learn. It is my moral and spiritual imperative to help them hold the pieces of this broken world and find a way to help.
If you don't know what to say or how to say it, like everything else worth doing, don't wait. Just begin.
Racism is a secret I did not mean to keep. But now that we're talking, we'll keep this conversation rolling now and for the rest of forever.
When I showed them pictures of demonstrations across the globe, the kids wanted to make a sign and let the world know they want change too, so we will be working on that and joining in the 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence at 3:45pm this afternoon.