How I would talk to my future four-year-old about Michael Brown and Eric Garner
“There are a lot of people who are sad and mad because a police officer hurt a man who was Black. You know that police officers are supposed to help people, but this police officer hurt a man and he died. What really makes me mad is that that people who are Black have to be scared that a police officer might hurt them. That isn’t fair. We are White, and we don’t really worry that a police officer might hurt us.”
My daughter was two-and-a-half when the Michael Brown and Eric Garner verdicts were released—and the words above did not spring to my lips immediately. In fact, I felt relieved that I did not have to talk about the decisions with my daughter. I generally lean towards the “as young as possible” side regarding conversations about race with young children, but even I felt that I had a “pass” on this one for my two-and-a-half-year-old.
I listened to the stories of friends with four-to-six-year-old children about the conversations they were having (or not having) and I struggled to come up with the words I would use had my daughter been just a bit older. Finally, it dawned on me. There were several parts to the conversation about Brown/Garner and countless other innocent Black males (and others who have died at the hands of the police).
Part One: The racial justice conversation about the reality of what it means to be Black in this country—and the White privilege that perpetuates this reality. For me, this was the part I was “ready” to talk about to my future four-year-old. I realized that what gave me pause was something else.
Part Two and Part Three: The conversation about extreme violence (part two) and/or death (part three). I feel clarity about not wanting to expose my daughter to extreme violence. At the same time, I feel clarity about wanting to talk about death as something natural that, indeed, is part of life. The National Institute of Health’s Clinical Center has a comprehensive guide to Talking to Children about Death that I found helpful.
Part Four: A larger conversation about the role of the police from the perspective of White parents—I have many thoughts on this subject, which could be the subject of another post. I welcome guest post submissions from readers who have had conversations with children about this topic. For inspiration, visit Talk About The Talk, a site sponsored by Brotherhood/Sister Sol that is dedicated to acknowledging “that the conversations about the police that happen in Black homes are often very different than they are in White ones.”
As I muddled through what I would think about saying to my daughter in a year or two, it felt enormously helpful for me to separate the racial justice conversation from the other components of this conversation. It was freeing not to feel the need to talk about everything related to these tragedies.
A day after this revelation, my thinking on this topic, and coming to terms with what I was and was not ready to talk about, paid off. My mom and I were walking home with my daughter and we passed a church surrounded by dozens of police officers and television media vans. “Why are there so many police?” I wondered out loud.
“Policía?” my daughter inquired, turning around in her stroller to look.
Curious, my mom crossed the street and asked what was going on. She returned, directing the following to me, aware that my daughter would not understand her communication in its entirety: “It’s a funeral service for the man who was shot in a public housing unit last month.”
We had stumbled onto the funeral of another unarmed Black man, Akai Gurley, who left behind a daughter the same age as mine.
“Por qué policía?” my daughter repeated.
“They are having a funeral for a man who died—so all of his family and friends and the people who loved him are coming together to remember all the wonderful things about him.”
“Por qué?” she asked again in typical two-year-old style.
“Because they are sad, so they are coming together to help each other remember him.”
On this day, I did not talk about Part One: racial justice. I talked about Part Three: death—which also necessitated my conscious thought-process about the message I wanted to send to my daughter.
Right now, I am still rehearsing: “There are a lot of people who are sad and mad because a police officer hurt a man who was Black…” I am anticipating my daughter’s pleas for more information. I am ready to tell her that there are certain details I am not ready to share because she is too little. I tell her every day that there are things in the world that are not for her because she is little. Namely, crossing the street by her self, a bed, sharp knives, tampons…
I was relieved that I had come to terms with the different parts of this conversation, and determined what I was ready to discuss and when.
If you are interested in further exploring this topic, read an interview with two parents on the topic of Ferguson: “Talking about Ferguson with our Little Boys.”
Sachi Feris is a blogger at Raising Race Conscious Children, an online a resource to support adults who are trying to talk about race with young children. Sachi also co-facilitates interactive workshops/webinars and small group workshop series on how to talk about race with young children. Sachi currently teaches Spanish to Kindergarten and 1st grade at an independent school in Brooklyn.