Your friend Tikisha was telling you the other day that she’s teaching her seven-year-old daughter a ‘black code,’ or in other words, a way of acting around the police. It went something like, “Yes, officer, no officer, what can I do for you today, officer?” It’s a conversation that she decided to start having in light of what’s going on in this country with #BlackLivesMatter and the almost daily accounts of black folks getting killed by the police.
You found it odd because, really, what are the chances that the police will stop a seven-year-old little girl? You ask your friend just that and she looks at you like you’re crazy. “Anything could happen to any of us at any time.”
She’s right. What would prevent an officer from shooting a little girl? And getting away with it?
Now you’ve found yourself thinking about race and wondering if you should be speaking to your daughter, too. The truth is, you don’t go anywhere near conversations about race with her for various reasons. One, she’s only five, and this police thing is straight boogie monster. The last thing you want is for her to be afraid to walk down the street for fear of running into the police. Two, you don’t want her having low self-esteem about being black. It’s so hard to put a positive spin on the fact that we were sold into slavery and forced to work for the white man. Which brings you to your third reason. You don’t want her looking up to the white man either, as if his force makes him superior. That feels the same as teaching her to know her place and that you will not do.
But you can’t deny what’s going on, and turning the channel every time something comes on the news. Is it time to talk about race to your kid?
It’s a question that you pose to Dr. Jane G. Fort, Psychologist, and product of two educators. She says, “It’s never too early to start having the race conversation with your kid. You don’t want her to be blindsided.” Indeed, you don’t, but how do you know that it’s not too much? She says that one way to deal with it is by answering questions as they arise. In her case, the conversation was discussed when she was around 6 or 7 years old, and discovered that while in their black neighborhood of Nashville, they could ride the front of the bus, but outside of that they were forced to sit in the back. The day she made that observation, her father, a historian, sat her down and gave her a history lesson on slavery. But what about the fact that slavery and Ferguson is a depressing topic for a kid? She says to focus on the positive aspects of America and the black community. Let her know that what’s on the news is not the whole story.”
When stated like that, it sounds doable.
Ironically, you’re discovering that you’re not the only one at the doorstep of these conversations. Your friend SekouWrites was telling you that one of his boys just started talking about race with his 9 year-old kid. The dad was explaining the judgment that comes from people when you wear baggy clothes. As they finished the conversation, the kid said, “Oh, that’s why the teacher said that.” Apparently, a substitute teacher at his private school wouldn’t let him answer any questions in class because she assumed, perhaps because of his baggy attire that day, that he was being disruptive. By the time class was over, she realized her mistake and said, “You’re not who I thought you were.”
To quote your friend Sekou, “the world is coming. It’s best to get in front of it.”
He’s so right. The world is coming and if you don’t act first, the outside world will be teaching your kid about race, and it won’t be pretty. It probably won’t even be true. As Dr. Fort also said, “kids take in a lot more than we know. She needs to have a buffer.”
Okay, it’s settled. Your daughter will be getting her first history lesson, like yesterday.
By Erickka Sy Savané
This article first appeared on MommyNoire.com