This weekend I sat the 8 and 10 yr old down and explained to them that our country was hurting. People are having protests because they are angry. I wanted to end there and spare them any more specifics but I knew that I didn't have that luxury.
"There were some who destroyed property and stole things because they were upset" I explained. "Most people protested by marching together peacefully as a group to let their voices be heard". As I was reviewing the idea of marching and protesting, in their eyes was a sense of recognition of what I was talking about. Their father has planted firmly the legacy of social justice of which they are the heirs. We have so many books about the civil rights movement and even have one that includes all the lyrics of the Black national anthem, "Lift every voice and sing." As a family we want to make sure our daughters learn the importance of the privilege to which they were born and the responsibility to be light wherever life takes them. We encourage family service projects and foster an environment where they listen and value the stories of others who may not look like them.
They understand there exist deep pain and extraordinary triumph throughout the history of black people in America. We purposely expose them to all sides of the coin.They are blessed to be at a school where Black history is integrated regularly in their social studies program so they are growing up knowing there is no American History without the fabric of Race relations running through it. This is an ongoing conversation we have with our children that we initiate. We have control over the dialogue so when upheaval arises within our community, it is jarring.
It is so disturbing for me to talk to my kids about real-time hate crimes and injustices Black people face because of the color of their skin. I feel so deeply and have such a utterly strong sense of empathy, my eyes are welling up with tears as I write this post. I pushed through and continued. "People are angry because a Black man was arrested by a White police officer, His name was George Floyd and he was killed by the officer." I didn't know it would come out so matter of factly but I really couldn't find the words to soften the blow. Honestly maybe it shouldn't be softened. I was still very emotional about the whole situation and I think I wanted to just get the words out so I didn't completely lose it while talking to them. They looked at me puzzled. My oldest daughter then breaks the silence and says, "I don't think it was an accident" She then elaborated, "Officers know they are supposed to protect so if he died it wasn't an accident." I was not prepared for this logic. It was very insightful for me to hear her thoughts through her words. I was so super grateful that I gave them the space to talk about this even though I was gutted by the concern and fear they both were sharing about these events.
We have gone through great lengths to teach our kids to respect police officers and thank them for their service. Our cousin is a police officer and he has come over in uniform and talked with the kids about his role in the community and his responsibility to the citizens he protects. As we continued our discussion I could tell it was hard for them to understand how sometimes you can act the "right way" do the "right things" but still be treated as if you did something wrong, like you are a threat. With a heavy heart, I thought back to what my oldest had originally surmised. It was not an accident. I told the girls, "I don't know if the officer intended for Mr. Floyd to die that day but He saw him as threatening while arresting him. Not because he had a weapon, but because of the way he looked and so he and the other officers decided to take that threat away". As I was sharing this with them I felt the emotion welling up again like a tidal wave. I repeated in my head. He was threatening because of the way he looked, his skin, his "blackness?"How can any of us look less threatening? I can not do a thing about my skin color. It just seemed like a hopeless situation in that moment. I sat with that thought for a minute and when I came out of the sea of thoughts the girls were looking at me with curiosity wondering where I had gone.
I had no comforting words to ease this tension in their minds. I did not know the "right" thing to say. I resisted the urge yet again to make it ok. That tension is what makes us stronger and will make them better. It will challenge them to love when they hurt. It will challenge them to just be when the world tells them they should be busy. In that moment I just squeezed them tight and we sat in silence, breathed in each other's essence and enjoyed the space we were in. In that moment, the problems of the world seemed to crack and fall away like an outer shell and the light of the universe seemed to shine so bright on their little faces. My spirits were lifted and I smiled to myself and thought this is what hope feels like.