Telling my White four-year-old about Alton Sterling and Philando Castile
The past 24-hours have been wrought with power struggles between me and my four-year-old, leading to emotions running high for both of us. In response to this, we have been brainstorming strategies for dealing with emotions of frustration and anger…and since I have regularly talked to my daughter about Black Lives Matter (see this recent post), Raising Race Conscious Children’s “Consider feelings” strategy seemed like a relevant and tangible way to tell her about the most recent police violence against Black bodies.
My first attempt was in the morning: “You know, there are a lot of people in the United States who are feeling really sad and mad over the last few days…”
My daughter did not engage at all in this attempt, and I decided to let the subject go for the moment.
Later that day, we were on a bus to purchase a new air conditioner and three brothers, who presented as Black, probably ages six, ten, and twelve, began sweetly trying to talk to my ten-month old baby and were rewarded with smiles and intent looks from my baby. This lovely NYC bus exchange prompted me to try again when we got off the bus.
“Remember how I told you earlier that a lot of people are feeling sad and really angry right now? Well, I am feeling sad and angry, too.”
“Why?” my daughter asked.
“You know how we have talked about how the police don’t always treat people with brown skin the same as they do people who are White? Well, two men who are Black were hurt really badly by the police and they died. (Click here for a post that speaks to talking about racial justice as opposed to violence with young children.)
“And just now I was feeling really really sad because I was thinking about the three brothers who were trying to make your baby brother smile and how unfair it is that that have to worry about being hurt by the police when the the police’s job is to make sure people are safe.”
“But they don’t hurt White people,” my daughter digested and confirmed.
Then she asked: “Why?”
“That is a really complicated question (why the police hurt people who are Black but not people who are White). The answer has to do with the history of slavery in our country which we have talked about before…and even though people who are Black aren’t slaves in this country anymore, they still do not get treated the way they should be treated.”
At this point, the heat interrupted this brief encounter and our conversation ended. This was not a first or a last conversation about racial justice, but rather an ongoing conversation that I hope will empower my daughter to be a White ally for racial justice.
As someone else’s tweet once said in different words: “If Philando Castile’s and Diamond Reynolds’ four-year-old daughter had to live through this hell, the least I can do is tell my daughter about it.”
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. Sachi identifies as White and is a mother to a four-year-old daughter and ten-month-old son.