Today, I spoke to my 4 year old about white supremacy. We’ve talked many times before about how some white people think that they are better than people of color. We have talked about how some people even have hate for people of color. But today, as she scrolled through my facebook feed like a normal day, she stopped and asked me “What is this picture about?” It was the scene of chaos after an alt-right, racist man rammed a car into a crowd of anti-racist counter protesters. I told her that yesterday and today many white men and white women came together in protest because they believe that white people are the best and that many others don’t deserve to be here; that they believe that people of color are taking something from them. I told her that they even hurt people who were counter-protesting because they believed they are wrong in disagreeing with them.
I showed her the faces of the many white men at the University of Virginia with their tiki torches. She has heard me speak about white men before. Just earlier today, before the protest, she turned on the television and watched a few minutes of an infomercial. An older white man was talking about healing and health and how his product had all the answers. I told her that she shouldn’t believe everything white men say. She asked what I meant. And I told her that in this country white men are told that they know all of the answers and they in turn then tell the rest of us how to live. I told her that she should always question what white men have to say and to listen to her own heart instead.
She remembered this as she scrolled through the pictures in Charlottesville. Many parents may disagree with me, but I do not shield her from this violence. My white, blue-eyed, privileged, cisgender baby girl knows that she has it better than others and that the world is not so kind to people of color. I need her to know this. She asks to see the pictures; she takes me for my word, but she needs to understand this in her own way. When she asked why these white men were flooding the streets in Charlottesville and at UVA, I told her that this world sends messages every day that white men are superior. I then told her that she has to listen for these messages and then turn against them.
She watched the car hit the counter-protestors and wanted to see what then happened to the people who were hurt. I told her we can’t watch that and that maybe we should stop watching things that are so terrible for a bit. She said, “No, I want to see more things that are terrible.” So I let her keep scrolling.
She always asks me “Who’s this?” when she sees someone she doesn’t know on the feed. Her first ask was a picture of Michael Brown. I told her it was Mike Brown – he had died three years ago. She asked me how he died and I told her that a police officer killed him. “How?” she asked. “With a gun,” I told her.
Here is where I did my best, I’m not sure I gave all good answers, but I kept answering. She wanted to see what a gun looked like, then a bullet, then how a gun works. How can the bullet kill you, what does it do to your insides? She asked why police have guns? Why do they shoot people? Trying to explain the state of our police system to a 4 year old is a challenge.
I felt her get frustrated with me. I did share that many people believe that police are here to help us and that sometimes they do. For example, if someone was trying to hurt us, they may help.
She asked me again why they killed Mike Brown. “Was he a bad guy?” she asked. “No,” I said, “he was a kid, and a police officer thought he was scary and so he shot him.” I told that some white people see black and brown people and automatically think they’re scary because they are black and brown. I told her that she needs to work really hard, with everything in her little body, to not believe this – that we have to break this cycle, that I need her to know that black and brown people are not scary no matter what the world tells her. “Oh, I know Mama,” she said.
She looked at me and asked, “If I make a scary face at a police officer, will they shoot me?” I told her that no, she’s white so they’re not likely to shoot her at all. I also told her that if it was a friend who was black or brown and they did that, then yes they may get shot.
When she was asking about guns, I made sure to explain that if she ever saw one that she should never touch it and she should tell an adult. And if someone around her touches it, she should run and tell an adult immediately. So this became, “If I see a police officer with a gun, I should run and tell someone right?” I told her that police are allowed to have guns and to not run from the police. I have mixed feelings about this. I wanted to go into this more, to say she definitely shouldn’t run if she’s with a friend of color, that she should make sure they’re safe. But we didn’t get to this.
I have had many tough conversations with this kid; she is so incredibly curious and earnest. She wants to know how this world works and she’s finding her place in it. She is starting to understand her own whiteness and how it sits differently in the world.
Today was a tough day in parenting, but also so incredibly important. I am so proud of my kid, her curiosity, her desire to still know the terrible things, to understand them. Talking to kids is so important, it’s essential. If we are going to evolve this world into one that does not look like Charlottesville, then we need to talk to them.
Those alt-right members in Charlottesville are a reflection of me. They are my age, grew up in the same world as me, stared at the same history textbooks that talked about Hitler and the horror he brought to the world. These are the same people that watched Sesame Street, listened to 80’s pop music, lived through the awkwardness of the 90’s in our teenage years. These people are me. They likely go home to a family or even partners that still welcome them, break bread with them, laugh with them. I need her to know that life can look normal but still be so incredibly hateful and that it is our responsibility to bring forth change, to break this system, to evolve our future because she is our future.