Five-year-old White kids can stand up and say “stop”; And so can police officers
Dear White people, and particularly police officers and those who have police officers in their lives,
I am White mother to my two White children.
Now let me share a story:
A few months ago, my nephew (who is Black) was at school. A fellow student was relishing in a bag of Doritos he’d brought for lunch. The student was quickly deluged with other children clamoring for a chance to smell this young boy’s Doritos.
The student allowed his classmates to come up, one at a time, to stick their nose in the bag and take a deep, long, delicious sniff. (Oh that glorious Doritos smell.)
When T. walked up for his turn, the student snapped the bag shut: “Not you!” he said, “You can’t smell them. You’re Black.”
If you’re tempted right now to use words like “shocking” or “in this day and age?” in response to this story, I’m going to ask you to refrain. We have a deep, disastrous, deadly problem in this nation. Please take a deep breathe and recognize that unless you are in dangerous denial still about the racial reality in this nation there is nothing shocking about this story.
When my sister (one of my nephew’s mothers) shared this story with me, I told it to my two young children–both of whom are White. They were very upset and angry their cousin had been treated this way.
I then asked them how they would have wanted to handle it if they had been there.
Here’s my five-year old’s response. (She gave this response slowly. As she was obviously carefully thinking it through as she went.)
“Well,” she said “I’m thinking that kid who did that was probably White.”
I nodded, “I think you’re probably right.”
“So, if I was there and I’m White, or if someone else was there and they were White, they should have told that kid to stop, and that he was wrong and mean.”
Tell them to stop!
Basic logic: The people who are part of the group doing the wrong need to be the first to step up and make clear they want the wrong to stop. Then they take steps to stop it.
Guess what? Five-year old White kids can learn this.
Those charged with serving and protecting, and who the state had authorized to carry guns could learn this too.
Dear police officers, it’s past time for police officers to step up, step in, and step out. Tell all of us, but especially start telling other officers, that you too want this to stop.
How many times have those of us who’ve been part of various conversations about this epidemic of violence against Black people heard (or even said) this mantra: “Not all police officers are bad.”? More times than I can count.
We invoke that mantra simply to try to get a public hearing. It’s essentially a ritual of submission. And, I’ll admit, I’ve been willing to say it sometimes too just to try to get folks to have the conversation. Like we hope that if we say “not all cops are bad” three times for every one time we say “Black Lives Matter” maybe folks will hear it when we say there’s an epidemic.
But, guess what else? You don’t get credit for being good unless you act good.
When Black people—adults, children, men, women—are being gunned down in the streets by the folks whose identity, badge, affiliation you share . . .
Well, it’s like this:
My White daughter doesn’t get to be counted as one of the “good White ones” because she didn’t snap the Doritos bag shut herself. Her “goodness” stands or falls on whether or not she refuses to be a quiet bystander when someone else who is White snaps the bag shut (whether the kid he did it to is her cousin or not).
Until or unless she stands against racism when she encounters it, my daughter is just another White kid and that other kid’s racist behavior reflects on her as deeply as it does on the kid who did it.
Happily, my five-year old totally gets this. (I’m really proud of her for that.)
Dear police officers, if my five-year old doesn’t get a pass, you surely don’t get a pass either.
We’re waiting to hear from you. Public and visible condemnation of the murder of Terence Crutcher, of the almost-certainly-shot-in-the-
As White parents, we can raise children who understand this and lead the way.
This article was originally published on Jennifer’s blog, formations.
Jennifer Harvey is a yoga-obsessed writer, educator and parent interested in how social structures shape us and how we can transform ourselves into people who create more just, compassionate social structures. She is passionate about racial justice, the problem of Whiteness, queer life, community and spirituality.
Her newest book Dear White Christians: For Those Still Longing for Racial Reconciliation was just released through Eerdmans Press. She’s also the author of Whiteness and Morality: Pursuing Racial Justice through Reparations and Sovereignty and co-editor or Disrupting White Supremacy: White People on What We Need To Do.
Jennifer has lots of other articles and chapters you can find elsewhere too. She occasionally blogs at Huffington Post and various and other sundry places. She is also an ordained minister in the American Baptist Churches.
formations. is a place where she posts her written attempts to make living connections among all of these passions and interests.