My daughter asked me what Black Lives Matter meant. Here’s what I said…
I am a White woman married to a Black woman raising a mixed race girl. We adopted her through the foster care system as a six-year-old. Conversations about race are something I am learning to do. My fierce and curious girl gives me lots of chances to practice.
Before she came into my life, I worked for a decade as a theater teaching artist. Children ages two to twenty-two of every race, gender, ability and learning style taught me to be a compassionate human. I got used to thinking on my feet, tuning into their particular needs, and speaking from my heart. All of this prepared me for parenting.
“That sign says Black Lives Matter, Mommy. What about me? Does my life matter, too?”
I remember the day my little girl asked me this question. She was almost seven and was learning to read more every day. She was in that exciting threshold between reading nothing and reading everything. Spacing out as we moved through the world and noticing every billboard, menu, and sign. This was a big opportunity for me, too. She was asking me, her White Mama, to unpack the Black Lives Matter movement while we waited in line at our favorite mac n cheese spot.
A big part of why my wife and I choose to stay in Oakland, CA after adopting our little girl was to make sure conversations like these were part of our everyday experience. We’re commitment to living on a street with folks of all races, sending her to a diverse school, and making sure she has teachers who look like her. My wife grew up as one of few Black people in an all-White suburb. This was hard on her. She wanted something different for her daughter.
So when my little one asked me about the sign she read in the store window, I took a breath and told her the truth. Hopefully, the right amount of truth for almost seven-year-old ears.
“Black lives matter are some powerful words, aren’t they? Black people started saying those words as a way to stand up for themselves. In our world, White people have made most of the rules. Sometimes they treat Black people unfairly. Black Lives Matter is a movement to remind everyone that Black people matter, too. They are worth just as much as White people, don’t you think? Black Lives Matter means it’s not okay to be mean to Black people or hurt them just because of the color of their skin. We believe this in our family. We believe in the Black Lives Matter movement.”
I chose my words carefully because my daughter has special needs. She can’t always process what she hears and she’s emotionally much younger than her chronological age. I decide to switch focus on what she knows well and get back to the literal.
“What is your skin color?“ I ask.
“Light brown,” she said in a baby voice. The conversation was making her feel a little worried.
“Right! Because you get to be two things at once. Which two parts make up your skin color?” I asked with an upbeat, matter of fact voice and a big smile.
“Black and White.”
“Yup! You belong to both groups. Black and White at the same time. Me and Mommy will protect the Black part of you and do everything we can to make sure you are treated fairly because your life matters A LOT! You are so loveable. We’ll teach the White part of you to be kind and treat others with respect and help anyone you see who is hurt. You are an awesome kid. Your skin color is just right. I’m so glad I get to be one of your Mamas.”
I gave her a squeeze and a kiss. We ate our mac n cheese.
One day we might end up moving to a place that’s less diverse than Oakland. Sometimes we even crave the country with slower days and fewer people in general. I’m glad we’re planting these seeds now and that conversations about race really are a regular thing in our family. Now, whenever we walk past the familiar sign, my daughter will point, “Look, Mommy! Black Lives Matter!”
“That’s right, baby. They sure do.”
Allison Kenny blogs about her modern family at raisingagogirl.com. She writes heartfelt stories of raising a daughter with special needs and taking radically good care of herself along the way. Allison founded Spotlight: Girls with her wife, produces Go Girls! Camp where girls take center stage and writes books starring girls and gender creative Squirrels. Find Allison on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.