We, the parents of young children, bend the arc toward justice

When I was a kid, sometime after 4th grade, my sisters and I rode our bikes to the high school. It was the weekend, but a door was unlocked, so we went inside for a drink of water. The hallways were enticingly empty. I guess we surprised a security guard, because we came through a doorway to find a gun pointed at us. I remember my shock, and only the gun in focus, as if it were the only thing there. I couldn’t tell you what the guard looked like, except that he was white.

Even though we explained ourselves and he could tell that these little brown girls were not a threat, he would not let us bike ourselves the short distance home. He made us ride home in a police car. I did not want to get in that car. I remember the hot feeling of injustice in that, as if we had done something really wrong, rather than made the simple mistake of walking into an empty building. And I will never forget the flash of mixed emotions on my dad’s face when we pulled up to the house in a police car. For a black parent, the sight could mean so many things.

Can you imagine?

I’ve always tried to justify it, that we “surprised” the guard. Yet there’s no angle from which I can view the situation where it truly makes sense. It’s hard to imagine a gun being pointed at white children, then or now. There’s no way to separate the individuals from the context of that quiet all-white suburb, our home where we didn’t appear to belong.

I don’t tell that story often, or any of the others. They are not as serious as having a knee pressing the back of my neck, so do they count? I’ve told myself that you can’t always know when race is a factor, and there’s no point living as if it is. I’ve kept my head down, my achievements up, and my anger and grief in. But the truth is that a thin veneer of fear never leaves you, no matter how properly you speak, how Ann Taylor you dress, where you live, how nice your house is, or who you are.

Something could happen.

Still, I didn’t want to spend much time thinking about that. I was never an outspoken activist. It was easier to dismiss the things that happened to me. It was easier to ultimately look away from the deeply unjust things that happened to others, always without consequence to the perpetrators. With stories but not video of police brutality, it was easier to assume the circumstances were dicey, the issue was one bad apple, you couldn’t know for sure if race was a factor, no point living as if it was.

I’m guessing many of you did the same.

Now there’s no dismissing, excusing, or looking away. Through the filming of Amy Cooper and George Floyd, we all see exactly what happens to black and brown people in America. The lies of “resisting arrest” and “threatening my life” so casually spoken with the absolute knowledge that it would work. Any “bad apple” assumption cannot hold. They knew that their threats would work, and that says everything you need to know about racism being structural in our society.

Brave people filming injustice, diverse crowds turning out for massive protests, police officers joining in, schools ending their contracts with police, murder charges … I can hardly believe the changes that have been so long coming. I see it dawning on so many people that it hasn’t worked to be colorblind or “not racist”; it’s time to be anti-racist.

And we–you and I, the parents of young children–can run with this momentum. We must.

We are the ones who can raise a better generation of humans. Our kids make us better people, too. You can’t get any closer to the source of society’s solutions than young kids and their parents.

So my husband and I are talking pretty openly with our daughter about what’s going on. She made her sign and joined a peaceful protest outside her school. We talk about it when we vote. I speak to her hopefully about young people running for office. And I’m educating myself.

I hope you are doing the same.

Simply begin where you are. No shame. We all deserve grace for conversations we have never had before. Just keep talking, asking, listening–and then acting.

Of the resources I’ve been taking in these past few days, here’s what I’ve found most helpful:

How to talk about racism, police brutality, and protests to kids at various ages, from Aha Parenting.

How to be an anti-racist: an excellent talk with helpful definitions and new ways of thinking. For one: how we’re acting in any given moment defines whether we are being racist–it shouldn’t be a permanent label assigned to “a bad person.” By professor and author Ibram X. Kendi at the Aspen Ideas Festival.

A protestor saying the real story in Minneapolis is people helping each other out.

strstr(" ", "class=") ? "" : ""An inspiring vision for community policing, by a young councilman representing the historically black neighborhood in Minneapolis.

Toolkit for 21st-century policing: Reform has already been laid out, and it needs to happen at the local, not federal, level. During a recent Town Hall, former President Obama urged mayors to commit. Has yours?

strstr(" ", "class=") ? "" : ""Trevor Noah’s thoughtful perspective on looting: Society as a contract that, time and time again, is not honored for certain Americans. “There is no right way to protest.”

strstr(" ", "class=") ? "" : ""What does it mean to defund or abolish the police? Trevor Noah hosts a panel discussion answering a question I know I’m having right now.

Self-care tips for black people. I guess eating that whole bag of BBQ chips from Costco in one day didn’t count. I’m also walking each day with GirlTrek, listening to their high-energy, affirming podcast celebrating black women in history. Join their 21-day challenge here.

The Conscious Kid, for parents who want to raise conscious kids, and GoodGoodGood, for positive news, on Instagram.

Prayer for transformation: a beautiful rendition of Om Namah Shivaya at 36:00, sung by my friends Rob and Melissa. (They also offer yoga, meditation, and bedtime stories on FB Live throughout the week.)

If you are just starting to educate yourself about race and racism in America:

And see what more you can do.

Copyright Betty Udesen / Pear Press
Written by

Tracy Cutchlow

Tracy is the author of the international bestseller Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science, a public speaker, and a creator of places to speak and be heard. Sign up for her newsletter here.

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