I’m preparing breakfast for my daughter. I turn on the news. Before I can get a sip of my twice-reheated coffee, my kitchen is flooded with images of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile killed by cops with questionable training. The worst part: it has happened before … 566 times from January to July, 2016 and counting. How many people have to die before real change ensues? How many peaceful protests will go unheard?
Then more nauseating news bleeds onto my kitchen floor: a peaceful protest of the above turned to terror by one unhinged man gunning down cops.
My daughter, sheltered from the carnage in the kitchen, eats her breakfast. Mommy smiles like everything is okay. Nothing is okay.
As a human, I’m sickened. As an American citizen, I’m saddened. As a mother of color, I’m frightened.
One of my brothers can’t even go for a jog in his own affluent neighborhood for fear that his white neighbors will call the police, thinking he’s running from something, instead of trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle. That’s sad … and scary. My grandmother begged me not to take my daughter to our park today because there has been violence against blacks in adjacent neighborhoods, and there aren’t many of us in our community — she’s afraid we might be singled out. Two people of color playing badminton in broad daylight … we’re just asking for it, I know.
Others in my family hope they don’t have boys for fear of them growing up under constant persecution. How messed up is that? This is America for millions upon millions of tax-paying, educated Americans of color. Moreover, it affects all of us one way or another.
Did you know that interracial couples are becoming a new normal, steadily increasing in numbers since 2000? ~ Time Labs
Dr. Alvin Poussaint, author, educator, psychiatrist, reminds us that historically, unchecked racism can destroy society and lead to genocide. Surely no one with common sense or unimpaired memory can deny this. And in his 1993 keynote address “How Racism Affects Everyone”, Dr. Poussaint reminded us “The primary focus of the civil rights struggle has been to make a black life count as much as a white life — still a difficult point to move toward in this country. When a relative value is placed on a life, it sends a message to persons doing the oppressing, as well as to the persons being victimized.” That was over 13 years ago, and look where we’re headed.
This is a viral video shared by StoryCorps entitled “Traffic Stop” about Alex Landau’s and his mother’s account of his horrific and significant police encounter in 2009.
“We never talked about race growing up. I don’t think that was ever a conversation.” ~ Alex Landau, (black) victim of police brutality
“I thought that love would conquer all and that race really didn’t matter. I had to learn the hard way.” ~ Patsy Hathaway, (white) Alex’s adoptive mother
The answer is not violence. I have cops in my family, and I can tell you that they are like the rest of us: some good, some bad, most just doing their job so they can get back home to their families. Killing cops is just as bad as cops killing citizens. Killing is killing, and killing is wrong. Period. We mourn for all those who have been victimized by unchecked racism. The solution starts with acknowledging the problem and healing the system both in our government and in our homes.
For those who believe people of color being killed (566 from January – July, 2016) at this rate is not their problem because they’re not black, then perhaps they haven’t considered how the persecution of minorities will affect their children, too; or how their children can positively impact this injustice with their help. They, too, have a stake in this, and they, like all of us, have a say in the outcome.
As parents, as a united group that wields powerful influence over the very future of our children’s lives and our country’s leadership, the onus falls to us to address the double-headed elephant in the room:
- How do we protect our kids when some of the police are the ones they need protecting from? AND
- What can we do as parents to change this ultra-violent and racially-charged culture in our own country? How we raise our children today makes a difference in everyone’s lives tomorrow.
Protecting Our Kids of Color
These are just a few practical tips from parents of color and parents with children of color for how to behave when encountering the police.
- Never run. If you are jogging for exercise, wear obvious exercise attire that does not include a hoodie.
- Record your encounter. Careful not to do so in an antagonistic or provocative way.
- Always be compliant and polite. Always. Keep your responses brief and respectful, even if the police are not. Swallow your pride and stay alive.
- You will be doubly judged by what you wear. Be mindful of how you dress when you drive, when you’re in non-minority areas, or anticipate any dealings with the police.
- Never carry anything dark, heavy, and/or shiny in your pockets. Keep this in mind when shopping for smartphone covers. Anything that can be remotely mistaken for a gun by the wrong type of cop should never be carried on your person.
- Never reach for anything unless instructed to do so. If you get stopped by the police, don’t assume it’s okay to get your ID, etc. Not if you’re of color. You may be shot. Keep your hands visible at all times until instructed to retrieve your ID or license and registration; then, before reaching, notify the officer of the location of these items and ask permission to retrieve them.
Unfortunately, this only scratches the surface. We could go on about how to warn our kids of color not to get stranded by asking their white friends to hail them a cab; and how they must establish a friendly rapport with shop clerks upon ingress, so as not to be harassed while shopping; and how our boys can’t go for a stroll in residential neighborhoods after dark; and where to even begin with bullying and the N-word? It’s an ongoing challenge for families of color and a never-ending fear parents face for their children.
What Can Parents Do to Alter the Course of Racism in America?
If you’ve acknowledged the problem of racism in this country, you’ve started to alter the course already. But there’s more to be done, simple things we can all do at home with the kids that, over time, can affect true change.
Plant a seed, water it daily, and the tree you grow will outlive us all.
- Educate the kids about their heritage — all of it. I recently found out from an Ancestry DNA test that I’m 56% African, 29% European, 12% Asian, 3% Native American and Pacific Islander. My daughter’s ethnic heritage is even more diverse, with roots on five of the seven continents. I’m raising her to be multiculturally aware and to identify as a multiracial American.
- Encourage the kids to socialize with peers of diverse races and cultures. It’s not only good for children developmentally, but we all learn (we have to an example) to expand our perspectives and stretch our gray matter when we diversify our social interactions.
- When we witness or even exhibit prejudice, turn it into a teaching moment. It’s natural for everyone to form prejudice and behave accordingly from time to time. When you catch it in yourself or your children, acknowledge it, correct it, and turn it into a teaching moment. To let it slip by is to risk prejudice forming into racism down the line. Teach the kids while they’ll still listen.
“None of us are pure and free of everything. We all have the capability of being racist. The benefit of being sensitive to multiculturalism is an ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes. When an effort is made to understand other cultures, then we can better understand ourselves.” ~ Dr. Alvin Poussaint
If you would like to share your story and/or tips on this topic, please comment below or contact me. This is an important ongoing conversation.