By DeLisha Sylvester
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash
As a parent, one of the things I grapple with is navigating how to explain to my children what racism is and how it will affect them. Notice, I said” how” instead of” when.” the fact of the matter is that” when” happens too soon. I learned about race in the first grade. I remember watching Roots, Hidden Colors, The Color Purple. I remember ready Margaret Walker’s “Jubilee,” Nikki Giovanni’s "Nikki-Rosa", and Countee Cullen’s “The Incident.” So as I navigate the conversation of race with my 8-year-old daughter (my son is 2), I am cognizant enough to understand that she will, at some point, experience racism in her childhood. She will wonder, “why?” What she did wrong in the situation, what she could have done differently. I will have to soothe her tears as they spill onto the pillow, asking me, “Mommy, why do they want to hurt us?”
My jealously sets in. I hear white counterparts explain that they will have “age-appropriate” conversations with their children. I envy them. I envy that they can make that decision. What is “age-appropriate” for black children who can be killed by police as young as seven years old? What do I tell my daughter? Do I tell her to be glad that she has made it eight? How do I explain to her that she could be harmed just as much, if not more than, her brother? That her possible death won’t make the news or garner the level of attention that her brother would? I do not have the right to decide what is “age-appropriate” as it relates to racism in America. Why? Because America has taught me that my children’s lives don’t matter. That they won’t be believed. That they won’t be cherished when they leave my house. That they could be killed because they belong to what is perceived as “the wrong race.”
He was murdered because it was believed that he whistled at a white woman. He was beaten and taken from his family in the night and used as an example. I think they did it because they were bored. They took it amongst themselves to exert power over a body that was not too long ago enslaved. They believed they had the right because black lives didn’t matter. They weren’t valuable unless it was at the benefit of white people. He was 14 years old.
Do you know George Stinney?
He was murdered because it was believed that he sexually assaulted and killed two white girls in 1944. They coerced his confession, they convicted him with a jury of all white men in less than 10 minutes and sentenced him to death via the electric chair. He was 14 years old. December 17, 2004, his conviction was overturned because it was ruled that he was not given a fair trial. Seventy years after his death.
She was sleeping on her grandmother’s couch when the police raided their home. They did not knock. She was killed when an officer fired his gun. She was seven years old. The officer did not go to jail for her death. He was not fired.
My daughter is eight years old, and I can’t protect her when she leaves my house or goes out to play, not even in her sleep. The best I can do is teach her how to navigate this world so that she always comes home.
So that she comes home to me.
I wonder if my white colleagues fear if their children will come back home to them. I wonder what an age-appropriate conversation about race looks like. I wonder if they use phrases like” all lives matter” or” I don’t see race.” I wonder if they teach their children not to see me.
Unfortunately for me and many that look like me, we do not know the luxury or privilege to pretend we don’t see them.