The first time my daughter was called the n-word was 1st grade. She didn’t know what it meant, but she understood it was a bad word. We told her it was a mean thing to call her, and that all it did was comment on her skin color not on her worth as a person. We told her we were sorry this young boy said it, that we felt pity for him and his family if this is what they were teaching their 6 year old. In early elementary school, my Black/Mexican daughter would draw herself with brown crayons, and yellow hair, and blue eyes.
She wanted soft, straight hair like mommy. She couldn’t understand why God didn’t give her soft blonde hair. We told her how much we loved her hair. That God made her just the way she is, and counted every curly hair on her head. We explored and got creative with her dense, naturally-curly hair. This white momma learned to do box-braids and extensions. The first time we braided in extensions, my daughter gleamed. She was so proud of her pink ombre braids that she twirled in a circle to show them off. When she was 4, and our son 6, we were reading picture books about Martin Luther King, Jr., trying to teach them about the 1960s civil rights movement. At some point, one picture book described the concept of “separate but equal” by depicting white kids playing on one playground and children of color on a separate playground. My white 6 year old son wisely said, “You mean I couldn’t play with my sister? That’s stupid!” This week, we tried to explain the deaths of so many blacks this year including George Floyd.
We tried to educate our children about the protests and the riots, and the differences between them. We tried to explain the concept of white privilege. Hard concepts for adults, even harder for 10 and 12 year olds. At one point, my son sighed in his annoyance. The topic was boring him; it just doesn’t seem important to him. “I don’t care if she’s brown or black. She’s my sister!” Our daughter had many questions. She wanted to know what discrimination meant, and how to avoid it. I love that she doesn’t recognize the differences her skin tone and naturally curly hair mean.
I feel like that means that our family and our friends have done a good job of loving her for her, and not seeing her skin tone as a barrier to relationship. But our daughter’s questions quickly turned to questions about the cops and if it would affect her. My heart broke a little. Even at 10, growing up in a white family, having close adults and family members who serve as law enforcement — despite these things, she had gleaned the need to act differently because of her skin tone. We told both our children to respect the officers, stay calm, and answer their questions. In that moment, I felt surreally like the mom on the Times cover: a black woman cradling her child, who is depicted in negative space. I knew the fear that my daughter will be harmed solely based on the color of her skin, and the agonizing heartbreak that it’s my responsibility to prepare her for that fight. That is the very definition of injustice. I pray to raise a resilient woman of color. One who lets name-calling and epithets roll off her back. I pray to raise an empathetic white man. I pray my children will value connection and relationship as a path to removing racism in this world. I pray my children will be an example of removing racism and injustice in this world. I pray that one interaction at a time, built over a lifetime, that they will come to a place where they can look back at the deaths of so many people of color, of the protests and the riots, and explain them as history to my grandchildren.
I pray my grandchildren will think us stupid for our implicit biases and racial inequality.
Written by Shannon Davis