Talking to your kids about the police following the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, Jr

Heavy on my mind and heart is Eric Garner and Michael Brown Jr. Wherever you happen to be on the spectrum of agreeing or disagreeing with the verdict, we can all agree that it is a heated topic when it comes to discussing the relationship, if we can call it that, between the black community and law enforcement. Whether there were proven racial motivations in this case or not, this is one of many instances where the black community felt targeted, attacked and stereotyped.

Concepts like, DWB- Driving While Black, is a very real occurrence that happens often to many black, mostly male, drivers in the US. Also, WWB- Walking While Black and SWB- Shopping While Black are other common situations the black community faces daily in our country, being racially profiled and questioned, searched or accosted and many times while completely innocent of any wrong doing.  We sometimes forget that racism and stereotypes still exist in this country, especially if we do not have to face them daily, but they do exist and the discussion around Eric Garner and  Michael Brown Jr. is a reminder of these situations. I decided to talk to my son and remind him of the rules if he was ever to come into contact with police officers.

I started my talk with my son, Gabriel, after the second grand jury came back and rioting began in such places as Ferguson. Gabriel had plenty of questions and I tried to tackle each one as they came. First, was the race question. "Mom, even though grandpa is black, I don't look black so will I face the same issues?"  I told him that just because he doesn't look black, brown skin has also received some mistreatment. "So no, you are not off the hook." I told him he is not exempt and should never take for granted the fact that he does not look black.

His next question had to do with the respect for the police officers since we have family and friends who are in the profession. "Son, we absolutely need to have respect for police officers. Not all of them are bad or are racist. If we need help or our safety is in question, you best believe we are calling the police. BUT, I said, "if approached or stopped by a police officer, you better listen to what they are saying. And NEVER resist! I repeated, NEVER resist." I felt myself tear up and said something like, If for some reason you are pulled over and stopped, immediately get your hands into a position they can see so they know you are not a threat to them."

At this point of the conversation, I'm balling and can't believe I'm having to talk to my son about this. I resent that I have had to add this discussion to my birds and the bees, avoiding drugs and alcohol conversation. Just like the dreaded sex talk, the conversation about what it means to be black (and brown) in the U.S go on. And not just for our sons. I had the opportunity to ask another mom about her experience as a mom whose daughter is biracial.

How did you talk to you daughter about Ferguson?

I told her that people in the world are very upset right now because the police are using their power to treat unfairly Black people. That the hatred and racism of the history of slavery and then the Jim Crow laws have continued on in the minds of many white people. That unfortunately some of those white people become police and then abuse their authority by treating black people and in particular black boys and men unfairly and often violently. My daughters are 5 and 8 so I did not tell them specifically what happened because I desire to preserve their innocence and lack of fear a little longer before the world completely intervenes and negatively impacts them.

    What if mom is not Black? Is there such a thing as white privilege that her son may not ever know.

    The challenge with privilege is it has nothing to do we how we feel but the privileges we receive simply on the basis of our skin whether we choose it or not. Racism is so engrained in DNA that even if it is not blatant most people have some level of unconscious programming. White people can go into the world and can be generally accepted for who they are. They are not seen as a threat to anyone or "different." They can speak up for whatever they want and then they can go into their homes and be left alone. We live in a culture where there is unequal access to the basic human rights of housing, education, health care - and the disparities are drastic between the poor, those of color and everyone else. When White people drive in their cars and get pulled over by the police they don't live with the fear in our DNA that they will be killed, they feel justified in speaking up for their rights and feel confident that generally they will not be mistreated. When they go to school they don't have to worry that the teachers will assume they are not college bound and go to schools where there are police on campus giving criminal tickets for tardiness. They don't have to change who they are when they go to job interviews for the fear of "talking black" or strive to excel above everyone because of the fear of the job consistently going to a equally or less qualified white candidate. The important thing to understand is that racism is alive and well, our country was founded on slavery and our wealth grew as a result of free labor. Blacks were torn from their families, their culture broken and treated like animals. Later with the Jim Crow laws the inequality continued. Later the black community was broken once again with the introduction of crack cocaine, police brutality and unequal access to education, housing and healthcare. These have all been blatant and intentional. It would be naive for us to think that there is not intentional policies in place to keep the people down. White people can be “good people” and not feel any different or better than others and still benefit from their privilege. My husband is a college educated entrepreneur and firefighter who has been hazed on the job at LAFD, handcuffed and harassed by LAPD over 6 times, had guns drawn on him by the LAPD for questioning their treatment of a neighbor. I know that I don't have a target on my back, this is why I choose to drive us around often and I shutter every time my self-respecting husband wants to speak up for justice to authority because I know that in a blink of an eye they can kill him. It is real, and the conversations need to take place. As you wake up to this, please be a leader in your community and share what you are learning and have the conversations.

    How can she teach her sons what it's like to be a black male in America?

    I think the greatest gift she can give to her son would be to expose him to other black men, all different types for him to learn from them. Although she can do her best to teach him about his cultures as well as the history and current day concerns, she will never be Black and so cannot really speak from experience. Just as a mother cannot teach her son how to be a man, a white mother cannot teach her black children how to be black. She can do her best, but she will never fully know the experience because of the privilege she has directly as a result of her being born white. 

    What did your dad (parents) teach you about race and is it different than the way you will discuss it with your daughters?

    My parents taught me that racism is alive and well. That we are all equal but are not all treated as equal. That concerned people must organize and leverage their power in numbers to make changes in our society. I agree with what they taught me and it has deeply informed the choices I make in my life. I will definitely teach my children the same thing. i will also teach them that racism is taught, you are not born with it. We are born believing in love and oneness and this is our natural state. Many people were born into hatred and are living with tremendous pain themselves. Those who know love have to be leaders in spreading more love. 

      What are your hopes and fears for your daughters? 

      My hopes for my daughters is that they will know they are perfect exactly as they are -- that they don’t have to be, do or have anything to be completely loved unconditionally. I hope that they will be so full of self-love, connection to their higher power and confidence that they will not fall victim to intentionally and institutionalized racism. I want them to be leaders, community builders and use their voice, wisdom and privileges to speak out on behalf of those who do not have a voice. 

      As moms we want the best for our children. We talk to them incessantly about keeping safe and avoiding danger. Talking to them about dealing with the police has got to be added to the conversation.  At least for now.


      Special thanks to Celia Ward-Wallace
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      Sonia Kang

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