A few months ago I was asked to speak about race at a cooperative pre-school here in San Francisco. The group was mostly white middle to upper middle class and socially progressive. There were a few folks of color in the room. Some were church folks, others academics and others stay-at-home parents. These were good folks who really wanted to be better about understanding race in order to better navigate an increasingly diverse world.
One of the best interactions happened a little like this:
White mom, “What is the best way to talk about race with my child? To just bring up race always seems like such an awkward conversation.”
One of the few African American moms, “Just talk about it. That’s how it becomes less awkward. Because I can guarantee you that families of color talk about race all the time and it’s not awkward at all.”
With the first day of school happening this week in San Francisco, I assume the events in Ferguson, MO and the killing of Michael Brown, the demonstration and the response by authorities will be a topic of conversation in the classroom. I also bet that even in our well-intentioned and socially progressive community, most of the kids will not know what is happening.
I also bet that most African American kids will know exactly what is happening.
Now I am not saying that we need to expose our young children to the images of violence and destruction that are coming out of Ferguson, but we must each find a way to help our kids – especially non-Black kids – understand what is happening: the history, the events and the aftermath. Because make no mistake, our ability: Asian, White, Latino, etc. to NOT have this particular moment in our country’s story impact our life proves the painful point that so many are raising — Black people in the United States really don’t matter.
I also think that each of us must find our place in this ongoing struggle about race that has again been raised by Ferguson. We must not succumb to the false notion that the only way to be engaged in the struggle is to be protesting on the streets or doing nothing. While there will always be those who will not welcome new people to the movement, if more people from all walks of life, circumstance and geography fail to engage the difficult conversations that are in front of us, there will be no widespread change.
Each child is different, so obviously, we must talk about Ferguson in ways that are appropriate to their age, maturity and ability to process. We will not have all the answers and may feel ill-equipped to talk about race or Ferguson we must do so anyway despite these feelings. Because by choosing not to raise these issues, we perpetuate a culture of anti-Blackness and non-Black privilege that have been the foundation for what is taking place in Ferguson.
These are hard conversations, they are awkward and we may instinctively want to avoid having them. But, if you also believe that most Black families in the United States have talked about Ferguson, what does it say about the rest of us if we have not?
Talk with your kids about Ferguson.