Parenting in Racially Charged Times
Here's what some parents are telling their kids about the murder of George Floyd and what they can do to make a difference.
Ryan was 24 years old when it happened. He’d just finished college on a basketball scholarship. He was going on a first date, driving his mint condition Nissan 300ZX to pick up a young lady. A couple of blocks from her apartment he saw blue and red lights flashing in his rear view mirror. By the time he stopped the car, several police cars surrounded his. He was instructed on a loudspeaker to drop his keys out of the window, get out, and walk backwards — hands raised — to the sound of the voice. Out of his periphery, he saw police officers behind their doors, guns drawn. He had no idea what he’d done to warrant being pushed to the ground and handcuffed.
From inside the police car, he watched as the police ripped the seats out of his car and piled his personal possessions on the ground. After some time, a police officer came to talk to him. The car had been reported stolen, he told Ryan. When Ryan questioned who would’ve reported it stolen, he got no answer. “We’re going to run your plates and license and if everything comes back okay, you’ll be free to go.”
They let him go.
Now, with the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, Ryan told The Stream that all of those traumatizing emotions came back. “When I watched the video of George Floyd, that made all of those things come back and resurface. It really made me angry.”
‘We Can’t Just Cover Their Eyes’
Ryan is now 47 and the father of three children. He has had to have tough conversations with his kids, who are biracial. Many of the conversations have been about how to carry themselves in public, how to respond to police and how they could be treated by people of a different ethnicity.
Discussions about Floyd’s death have been happening a lot over the last week. He wants to make sure his kids are connected to what’s going on and know how they can be part of the change in the future. “I always want to make sure my kids are respectful and they have good moral compass and they make great decisions, but they also need to understand what’s happening around them and not be blind to it. We can’t just cover their eyes and hope for the best.”
‘I Want to Keep you Alive’
Francine, an African-American, has two teenage sons. Like Ryan, she has talked with her children about how to carry themselves if they are stopped by the police and how to handle themselves in public. “I have always told them, more from a standpoint of my Christian faith, that we treat everybody the way that we would like to be treated … you try to treat others with love and with kindness and respect.”
After the murder of Floyd, Francine told The Stream that the conversations have definitely changed. She told her younger son, “This is why I don’t allow you to go out late. … [I]t’s why I don’t allow you to walk the neighborhood a lot of times after dark. It’s not because I want to keep you in the house all the time. It’s because I want to keep you alive.” At the end of the day, “the goal was always to come home alive. I never thought I would have to have that conversation with my kids, but that’s the reality that we are living in.”
Not Living in Fear
Reggie is African-American and his wife, Mackenzie, is white. They have two biracial boys and two adopted African-American girls. They don’t allow their children to watch the news. It’s not that they want them to grow up naive, Reggie told The Stream. “They’re still at a tender age where they don’t need to carry the burden of what us adults are having to walk through.” Reggie and Mackenzie talk to the boys — the girls are still toddlers — to make sure they have some information but won’t go to bed with fear. “We don’t ever twist it, we don’t ever lie to them,” he explained. “But we give them just enough for them to feel satisfied that they have something without walking in fear.”
People of All Colors
The death of Floyd has impacted people of all colors.
John’s 17-year-old daughter wants to save the world, he told The Stream. “She takes everything to heart. So, she’s seeing all of the headlines. She’s watching all of her friends talk about Black Lives Matter and the protests.” They’re telling her “If you stay silent, you’re part of the problem.” John said she’s really struggling with that. She told her dad “I don’t want to be silent because I don’t want to be part of the problem,” but he said she’s really being bullied into speaking out on something that she doesn’t feel comfortable speaking out about now. “She really [is] just beside herself, I mean, in tears, in tears.”
Interestingly, the badgering has been by white or Hispanic girls on her color guard team. Her African-American friends have been supportive. “Two of her very dearest friends happen to be African-American,” John said. “And I think she handled it very, very well with them. She just texted them both and said, ‘Guys, I just want you to know I love you, you’re my friends. I don’t understand what’s going on here. If there’s something you want to tell me, if there’s something I can do better, please let me know.’ And they both reaffirmed her quite well, which was great.”
Violence isn’t the Answer
All of the parents agree that it’s difficult parenting their children through these racially charged times. Violence isn’t the answer, they say.
“I guess I still go back to the non-aggression principle,” said John. “I believe the Christian response has to be much higher than that.” He added:
George Floyd’s murder was horrendous and it was a terrible injustice and justice needs to be served here, but going the opposite direction is not justice. We need to be better than that. And you know, there are plenty of people who are African American, who are calling out this, this craziness. ‘This does not represent what we were doing.’
Francine said she’s trying to step away from some of the news. While she wholeheartedly supports the protests, she doesn’t agree with the violence or destruction of personal property. “I’m very much of ‘let’s think of a strategic way that we can start to affect change.’ But I think that what you’re seeing in the looting and in the violence is just the anger boiling over. I also think that, to a certain extent, some of it’s being … used as an excuse. It has nothing to do with the cause and of the actual murder of George Floyd.”
“These people have a right to be angry,” said Susan, mother of a biracial son. “But what they’re doing is wrong by destroying people’s businesses that didn’t do this to them. … And I would love for [my son] to know that these people have a right to speak, but violence isn’t the answer. Violence doesn’t help violence.” So, what’s the answer?
Have the Conversations
For Ryan, all parents must be prepared to have tough conversations. “I think before we can have the answers, the first step is dialogue. We’ve got to … make sure that people are having the tough conversations, even when they’re uncomfortable and that … we’re sharing experiences that are actually happening.” He says that if more people share their experiences it can make an impact and ignite empathy and compassion. “And if I can impact one person with my story and they can impact someone by telling my story … well, then, we can affect change exponentially.”
Education is Necessary
“I think law enforcement needs to be better educated,” said Susan. “If they’re scared they don’t need to be police officers. They need to find better ways of restraint.” She added, “I just think they need to be more educated and not just assume because someone is black that they’re out to do harm to someone else or they’re up to no good.”
Francine said, “I think it’s about education. … educating police officers about cultural competency, about personal bias.” She also wants to provide mental health services to officers and hold accountable those who do wrong.
Color is Beautiful
Parents should also teach their children that God created all colors of skin and that they’re all beautiful. “That’s how God created them,” said Susan. “And they each symbolize part of God’s personality because our God isn’t just in a box that’s labeled ‘white.'” She added, “I think they should know there are differences and we need to love the people the way God made them.”
Reggie has heard from several people that they “don’t see color.” He’s never been offended by that. However, he wants to challenge people to see color, celebrate it and embrace it.
He encourages parents to teach their children, “Hey, God created so many beautiful, different color people like that guy right there. He’s brown. That guy right there. He’s real dark brown. He’s more of a black tone color. That lady over there, she’s peach. And over there, she’s a little yellowish and aren’t they beautiful?”and help our kids grow up with that mindset. … And I’ll go as far as to quote one of my colleagues who said, ‘Instead of us saying we’re color blind, why don’t we say we’re color rich?’ You know? And just enjoy each other because if you see my color skin and you like me anyway and you love me anyway, now I know you love me for me.”
Make the Change
Part of the solution for Reggie is intentionally being relational with people who don’t look or sound the same. People have been calling him and telling them they’re sorry he is dealing with this and experiencing the hurt. They ask what they can do, how they can pray. He says their reaching out to him has blessed him. But Mackenzie said that people also need to take action, not just say “something needs to change.” One of her church friends started a book study on a difficult topic, while another began a prayer group. Her teacher colleagues have begun to bring books into their classrooms for students to read that show races of all kinds.
Press into Your Faith
It’s a tough time. “It’s one of those spiritual things where you say, ‘God, where are You?’ Even [though] you know He’s there,” said Francine. “But you wonder, ‘Okay, what are You doing? What do You want to come out of this situation?’ So, for me, it’s very much pressing into my faith and saying, ‘There has got to be some kind of good that is coming out of all these situations. And if this is just a catalyst for change, then help us to hang on through this change.'”
“I think we all have to accept that this is going to continue on until Jesus brings us home,” said Reggie. But like Apostle Paul, Christians still must finish the race. “We still have to fight the fight. We still have to encourage people toward unity because it is the heart of God. … But the only time there is no more sin is when we are in heaven, spending eternity with King Jesus. That is when we’ll be perfection.”
John says that prayer is key and God is still in control. “The one thing where I personally feel like I have not done as good of a job is to say, ‘Okay, let’s stop a moment and pray about this.'” He says prayer is powerful, but it’s about God. “And He cares for us and He is still active today. So, this may be bigger than us, but it’s nothing even remotely bigger than He is.”