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Trayvon Martin & Race: Can Our Kids Really Understand?

Image by Joanne Bamberger. All rights reserved

 

I know many others have weighed in on the Trayvon Martin tragedy and the question of talking about his killing, as well as the issue of race, with our kids. But as a white mother of an Asian daughter, I’m still struggling with exactly how to explain to her not only the horrible story itself, but also the reality of how the world is for me and how it will be for her.

Yes, I’m white. And I know that carries with it the whole “white privilege” thing. And, yes, my husband and I have had many talks with our daughter, who is now a middle-schooler, about issues surrounding race in this country.  She’s learned about Martin Luther King, Jr. We recently took her to see the MLK Memorial in Washington, D.C. We’ve talked about why it’s there and why it’s important for it to be there.  We read all the inscriptions on the wall that runs along the perimeter of the magnificent statue of the civil rights leader.

But how can you explain things that are as horrendous as Trayvon Martin’s murder in a way that a child of any age will understand? Children, as probably most of us do, have a way of tuning out or filtering the ugliness of life so that we can manage day-to-day. I think children our daughter’s age are particularly adept at that after having read the Hunger Games series. If they couldn’t, how could they devour books that graphically describe teenage kids battling each other to the death in such gruesome terms?

Obviously, as parents we need to talk with our children in age appropriate ways about race and prejudice because they are sad facts of life that aren’t going away anytime soon. But I keep asking myself how we can do that in a way in which our children can understand the enormity of the problem and, for those of our kids who aren’t the beneficiaries of white privilege, how do we prepare them for how they’ll be treated differently in their lives?

It’s a bigger conversation than Trayvon Martin. Of course kids who are old enough should be talking about how and why Trayvon died, why the man who shot him hasn’t been arrested, and why there are differences of opinion on whether he ought to be in jail or not.  But in the larger conversation about the realities of being a person of color in America, when do we start talking about other questions related to race? For example, at what age do we try to prepare children for the possibility of being called the “N” word? Amanda at Parenting by Dummies blog, who is the mother of biracial children,  recently wrote that her fourth-grade son came home from school, having been called that by one of his classmates. It wasn’t until that moment that she realized she hadn’t adequately prepared him for that moment.  But is it even possible to prepare a nine-year-old for that?

And Kim, who writes I’m Not the Nanny blog, who is also the mother of biracial children, recently wrote about how her husband, an African American man, knows too well from personal experience that even if he’s broken no traffic laws, he could get pulled over for no reason other than the color of his skin as has happened to him several times in the past. How do they really talk with their children about that reality so that if it happens when the whole family is in the car, they’re prepared to understand that maybe their dad did nothing wrong that made the policeman pull over the family car?

And then there’s me. My beautiful daughter often sees herself as unattractive and less worthy of attention because the color of her skin and the shape of her eyes are distinctly different than most of the children she knows. And since she is a budding tween, she’s become uber-aware of the fact that the vast majority of the women and girl celebrities she sees in the magazines she’s beginning to notice don’t look anything like her, sending a not-so-subtle message that beauty in America doesn’t look like her. Trust me – I’ve talked until I can’t talk anymore about how everyone has their own beauty and that everyone is different. We’ve looked at each other in the mirror at the same time and talked about how my blue eyes aren’t any prettier than her chocolate brown ones. And how funny each of our faces would look if we had the other one’s nose. And how boring the world would be if we were all the same. But she’s 12, and she’s not buying it.

Clearly, these instances don’t compare to the killing of Trayvon Martin and I’m not trying to say that they do. But there’s a bigger conversation we have to have with our children, especially those of us who are parents to children of color, about what life’s realities are for them. Some of those lessons they’ll hear and others they won’t. We can’t force our kids to listen to the lessons about racism in America. They’ll only hear them when they’re ready.

As a mother,  I want to do whatever is possible to protect my daughter from the ugliness of some people’s attitudes and try to find a way for us all to believe that most times people aren’t trying to be overtly racist. But I also know I have to prepare her as all parents must about the meanness in the world so when events happen, she will, at least on some level, be ready for them.

Read more from me at my blog PunditMom and in my Amazon best-selling book, Mothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media are Revolutionzing Politics in America.

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