Last week the Black Lives Matter sign in front of our house disappeared. I mentioned it to my 4 and 7 year old kids without thinking. They immediately asked, “Why?” I froze. How should I respond? Luckily they were distracted by something and I got a chance to figure out what I want to say.
A few days later I said, “So I was thinking maybe we could make a sign and put it out by our mailbox inviting the person who took the sign to come over for cookies. And we could talk with them about why we have the Black Lives Matter sign in our yard and find out why they took it. Do you think that’s a good idea?”
“Do you know why we have the sign up?”
“Well, we support ‘Black Lives Matter’ because it is a movement led by black people for their rights as human beings. Black people are more likely than white people to be killed by police and to go to prison. Black folks have a harder time getting good housing and food, and jobs that pay well.”
“In our world some people think that white people are better than black people. We believe that people with white and black skin are equal – we are all human beings and we are all valuable. The color of our skin has nothing to do with our value. So it’s really important that we support this movement for change, for basic human rights and dignity. Does that make sense?”
We teach our kids to stand up for the underdog. How am I modeling that for my kids? For me it is supporting Black Lives Matter, the civil rights racial justice movement of our time. Last week I heard someone say, “Black people should just get over it.” And I’ve heard this from many others. People even say it directly to my black friends. Really? Get over it? This breaks my heart in so many ways. Here’s my response to that statement. If you ever find yourself thinking that someone, anyone, should “just get over it”, it is a sign to learn more about what’s going on.
If you want to better understand the reason for the Black Lives Matter movement I want to offer Alicia Garza’s Herstory. It’s a powerful statement about why Black folks shouldn’t just get over it, and why people of all colors should stand in solidarity with the movement. It is a movement of love and truth, a beautiful response to so many centuries of violence.
Since the conversation with my kids we found the perfect book to further our learning – Rad American Women A-Z. It is supporting me in sharing some of the history of the Black struggle for liberation from slavery and Jim Crow. It has also helped me to talk about the struggle for liberation from mass incarceration today. Angela Davis, Ella Baker and Lucy Parsons are now household names. We are learning about the struggle for Native American, Latin American, and Asian-American rights. We are also learning the history of white folks, like the Grimke sisters, who have stood up in solidarity with black struggle (and a whole bunch of other social justice issues).
It’s the first time I’ve seen my older son show a real interest in the conversation. It’s amazing. All the groundwork I’ve done over the past 5 years (I think when he was 2 I started talking with him about race and racism and social justice issues) is coming to fruit. He’s paying attention. He cares. Kids have so much room in their hearts to care. And this world desperately needs kids who care, because that is what motivates them to stand up for justice.
Here’s what I learned from Anti-Bias Education: For Young Children and Ourselves, by Louise Derman Sparks & Julie Olsen Edwards, and it has been confirmed through my experience:
Children pick up on differences as early as 2. By 4 they have already internalized their own social identity.
Anti-bias teaching is important in providing children positive and appropriate responses to difference, whereas colorblindness is harmful because it doesn’t recognize each child’s lived experience and value.
When you begin to do use anti-bias teaching there will be an increase in talking about difference – this is how kids learn rules/limits about behavior.
Integrating anti-bias thinking and language into parenting will take work at first. But after a year (more or less) you will find that it has become part of how you do things.
Continuing our own learning about race and racism is key to be able to provide this for our kids. (check out our resources page)
Learning influences our action. How are we going to show up for change? As folks born with white privilege, it is important for my kids and I to find ways to talk with those folks who are neutral in the face of oppression, even those folks who are stealing Black Lives Matter signs. We must talk with our families, with our relatives, with our friends and community leaders. We are the change. Our kids are the change. Someday they will be reading in history books about Black Lives Matter as the movement that brought about the end of slavery of mass incarceration in the early 21st century. How will our families be a part of that history?
I’ll let you know what we do about the sign. Maybe our neighbor won’t come over for cookies, but at least they will know that we care enough to ask.