Driving home today, we heard the news on the radio. It was discussing the American football player who refused to stand for the national anthem; it was discussing black people being killed by police in America.
And so the questions came.
‘Mama, what did that say about the police hurting black people?’
‘Mama, why are police hurting black people?’
So we spoke. I told them if a white person and a black person committed the same crime, the black person was likely to be more harshly sentenced, to spend longer in prison. S started to cry – she said we need to speak out and get these people released.
I told them how people of colour are more likely to be treated unfairly in daily life. How they might be denied the same opportunities white people had.
What a hard thing to say to my children, but how easy it was to say it. If we are allies of the human race, we cannot deny racism. It exists. My children could quickly grasp the idea of racism on an institutional and individual level. It was easy to have this discussion (don’t be afraid), but so hard that we had to have this talk.
I said, I hope the two of you grow up to be people who stand up against this sort of behaviour. You might be able to challenge racism in your future jobs, you might be able to reach out and include people that might be left out. But don’t wait till you are grown up. You can make a difference now.
And they talked about how they could help make things better. They spoke as children do, ignorant of the centuries of enslavement and oppression, but so sweet and pure and ideal.
‘Mama, _______ is kind of sort of black and he’s so nice! Mama, ______ is black and she’s very, very kind.’ They went on, naming names of children they knew. Using these children as examples of wonderful people of colour – but not yet realising their friends might be hurt now or in future because of their colour. Not understanding they themselves might be hurt one day because they are raised by two mothers.
But they named names*.
And I sit here, home after a morning walking through thunder and lightning, thinking that the most important thing is connection. Putting names and faces and stories to real people instead of buying into stereotypes.
I’ve had emails from people saying they’ve used our family, me, to discuss with their children about queer families. I don’t mind. I come out, I am who I am (trying to have) no hesitations because I know it’s important to the world to be a real person. Not just a label.
So, my sweet children, go on naming those names. Go on questioning the system. Go on planning how you can make a difference.
And, my sweet friends, go on thinking about this stuff. Consider discussing it with your children. They are capable enough to handle the hard stuff, and really, aren’t we all responsible for challenging racism? One way to do that is to teach the next generation that inequality exists. It’s real. But diversity is wonderful; cultures are deep and rich and powerful. They are worth defending, worth learning about.
These conversations are worth having.