White privilege and imaginary play with guns
Today, I had a very clear moment of understanding White privilege. My six-year-old bi-racial daughter was playing with some White neighbor kids, when another girl came over with a very real looking cap gun pistol, shoved into her pants. She proudly removed it and said, “I have a gun,” pointing it at my daughter and the other children she was playing with.
My heart started racing. “My daughter can’t play with a cap-gun that looks so realistic” I thought. “It could be mistaken for a real gun.”
At that moment, I was saddened for the parent of every Black child and the fear that is a part of our everyday lives.
My daughter, who is being raised by an overly anxious, socially-aware, Jewish mother, is not allowed to play with guns. She immediately asked the girl to put the gun away or go home, and then came to sit on my lap.
If I ever thought that guns were an appropriate type of imaginary play, the death of Tamir Rice and the barrage of killings of Black men, women, and children by police and other White supremacists have removed this as a safe option in my mind.
After we returned home, I told my daughter:
“I’m glad I that you didn’t want to play with that gun and liked how you asked your friend to put it away. You know, last year, a 12-year-old boy was playing with a toy gun that was bigger and even more real-looking and the police killed him.”
“Why?” she asked.
“They thought it was real,” I said simply.
This is as far as I seem to be able to get in conversations about race with my now six-year-old daughter. I don’t know how to (or even if I should) go further with this conversation at this point. I don’t want her to be afraid of living in her own skin, but I also know this fear may be inevitable.
My daughter is enamored with police. Her school is on the same street as a police department and the police make frequent friendly visits. She readily accepts the stickers handed out by police officers during parades and school visits. I took my daughter with me when she was four-years-old to a Trayvon Martin rally. As we marched through the streets, I think she thought it was a parade. In the face of her confusion, I explained:
“We are here protesting because a boy who had the same skin color and was around the same age as your half brother has been hurt and these people are upset about it.”
I couldn’t bring myself to tell her, at the tender age of four, that this boy had been murdered for being Black.
When the South Carolina Nine tragedy occurred, my daughter was spending a week at my parents’ house where my dad is continually watching MSNBC and Aljazeera news. I called my mom and asked her to not have the news showing while she was with them. I was terrified of her hearing about the murders and being scared to be who she is.
Of course, I have already learned that I cannot protect her from racism. At six-years-old, she has already experienced her first overt racial incident. It was at the end of the school-year and involved a little boy pretending to shoot her on the playground. He told her it was because she was darker. My daughter started processing this incident after attending a social skills camp that had a “friendship class,” co-led by a young Black woman graduate student. When I had the opportunity to meet the counselor, I let her know about the incident and that I thought the class was helping her process it. I knew my daughter would likely go through it again and asked if her counselor could help her understand that she is not alone, and lead her through what she could do the next time this happens.
I know resilience is in my daughter’s blood. She’s a descendant of holocaust survivors and Oregon wagon train pioneers on my side and West African immigrants on her father’s side. I know I will do the best I know how to do and ask for help where I don’t know in raising her to be a healthy young Black woman.
Sadly, though, I have to live every day knowing that with the current state of this country, none of this is enough to keep her safe.
Amy Fellows is a single mom of a bi-racial (Black, Jewish and White) six-year-old daughter Ani. Amy grew up in a diverse household with an adopted Black older brother and lived near grandparents who were Holocaust survivors. Ani’s father was born in Liberia. Amy has been an advocate for racial and social justice her entire life, beginning in high school when she participated in a Multicultural Club that advocated for more racially diverse textbooks. Amy has a Master’s of Public Health and spends her work life advocating for an accessible and improved healthcare system for everyone.