From Christian Cooper to George Floyd: A Letter To White Parents
As a Black parent, I find myself enraged and exhausted this week yet again, and also scared for my children. In the wake of two viral videos — one shows Amy Cooper, a white woman, calling the police on a Black man, Christian Cooper, after he asked her to put her dog on a leash; another captured distressing footage of George Floyd, a Black man, being restrained by white police officers in Minneapolis, an incident which ended in his death — it is glaringly obvious that as Black parents, we need to continue to teach our kids the realities of racism, that the police are not safe and can be life-threatening. For white parents, I want to challenge you: How are you teaching your kids about racism in this moment? What are you doing to ensure your kids don’t grow up to be like Amy Cooper, a white woman who donated to liberal candidates, per The Independent? How are you educating your child so that they don’t end up with their knee on the neck of a Black man begging for his life?
I’ve had to speak to my kids about race from the age of 2, keeping the risks facing my family at front of mind, but even so this week has been particularly painful. These videos forced white Americans to grapple (once again) with the systemic racism that undergirds their lives. But this racism is nothing new and these incidents are connected in the way they raise awareness about how harmful all acts of racism are against Black people.
This isn’t the first week that Black people have been accosted by white people for living while Black. This isn’t the first week that Black people have been killed by police officers. These acts come on top of the disproportionate toll that the coronavirus has taken on people of color in America, in stark contrast with its effects on white America. What happened this week connected the dots of racism that many white people have difficulty joining on their own. Amy Cooper’s actions could have led to the murder of Christian Cooper because weaponized whiteness kills.
Apologies don’t help. We live in a system that is set up to value white lives above others, so unless you’re working at dismantling this system that you actively benefit from, you’re complicit in it. The wringing of hands in shock and horror won’t save our Black lives. Asking Black people who are currently experiencing trauma to show you ways to be an ally isn’t helpful — it centers you and further traumatizes us. What we really want you to do, what we’d really like to know is: Are you ready to give up your comfort and privilege for the safety of Black people?
White parents need to teach their kids to be actively anti-racist and they need to do it early and often. Racism doesn’t start with a knee on a Black man’s neck, as was the case with George Floyd. It starts in homes, schools, and workplaces across this country. Workplace culture and systemic racism leads directly to the high number of Black people being killed by police across the country and is specifically relevant in regards to Minneapolis’ failed attempts to reform a department they know has systemic flaws, as many police departments across the country do. It is evident in Amy Cooper callously calling the cops on a Black man, when she should know that her call could lead to him being arrested and harmed, thanks to the power she held as a white woman exhibiting performed hysteria about being threatened by an African American man. It is seen in the response to the coronavirus and the push to reopen the country, putting folks in danger, despite evidence of its devastating impact on African American communities. The value of our lives to this administration is blatantly clear as they try to strong-arm states into reopening.
This education needs to start in your homes, not because your kids’ lives depend on it, but because mine do.
If you aren’t teaching your kid to be anti-racist, you are teaching them to be racist. Anti-bias education is a key part of the “‘bricks and mortar’ of emotional well-being and social competence,” write Louise Derman-Sparks and Julie Olsen Edwards in a resource on the website Teachers For Change. It’s been necessary to talk to my kids about the dangers of police, about whom to go to when they’re in danger, about colorism, and about white supremacy. It is possible to find age-appropriate resources for these conversations (see the bottom of this article for a few of them). “We can’t hide our children from the world. Your child is probably already more aware of race, class, and gender differences than you realize,” Howard Stevenson, a clinical psychologist from The University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, told an interviewer from the university.
All white parents need to commit to raising anti-racist kids so that your kids can use their privilege to interrupt and dismantle racism when they see it. And that’s not just applicable when they grow up. We need white parents to teach kids to actively dismantle systems of racism in the here and now. This education needs to start in your homes, not because your kids’ lives depend on it, but because mine do.
Here are just a few ways that kids receive messages about anti-racism in their homes and some questions you need to be asking of yourself and your parenting partner, if you have one. This isn’t a checklist or scorecard. This is the beginning of a guide that you can start to use as you examine and dismantle racism in your home. If your answers to these questions are not where you want them to be, allow yourself a moment to feel conflicted. Then, move into action:
- Do you actively talk about white privilege with your children? Black mothers are 243 percent more likely to die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related causes so, even before birth, your child benefits from white privilege. It’s never too early to start age-appropriate conversations about this.
- Do Black people exist in the life of your family, and if so, what roles do they play? Are these roles only in service to you as a white family or are they genuine friendships and is this the perception of the Black person, as well?
- How many Black people do your kids see and live with on an everyday basis? How comfortable are Black people to live freely in your neighborhood? This is reflective of the type of neighborhood you move your kids into and the schools you have chosen for them to attend. Examining your choices and the implicit bias that may be evident in your choice of “good schools” is key to learning how you are passing on these messages to your kids.
- Do your kids have Black peers? How are these Black peers treated in your home in ways that aren’t patronizing? How are Black kids treated by your kids when adults are not around?
- How are your children’s Black peers treated by the administration at their school? A study by the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality found that Black girls are two times more likely to be disciplined at school for dress code violations or other minor infractions than white girls; two-and-a-half times more likely to be punished for “disobedience”; and three times more likely to be cited as disruptive by their teachers. How are you and your kids disrupting this system of racism in the educational spaces you occupy and benefit from?
- How many Black teachers and other people in authority do your kids have? This is also a reflection of the type of school you have chosen for them to attend and types of relationships they build with Black people in authority that they can learn from, be challenged by and grow with.
- How do you talk about racism at home with other members of your family including your children? Do you attempt to shield them from instances of weaponized whiteness and violence perpetrated by police on black bodies? Researchers concluded that Black boys are perceived as older than they actually are and more likely to be viewed as guilty when they are suspected of a crime. This means that Black parents need to have these conversations with their kids from a super young age. So should you.
If you’re a liberal, white parent and you are horrified about the death of George Floyd, your next step should be seeking education on how to raise anti-racist children and how to be an anti-racist family. Now is the time to ask yourself how your choices as a parent in this moment are teaching your kids about implicit bias and racism. Racism and white supremacy run through the very fiber of our country, a country in which a video surfaced in which a white police officer had the power to end up with his knee on a Black man’s neck.
If education about racism does not exist in your home, you are, by your actions, letting your kids know that fighting racism is not a priority for your family. You are letting your kids know that racism is a problem for other people to solve, even as you and your family actively benefit from white privilege. You’re teaching them about the type of role they should play in the world when injustice is right in front of them.
And if this is your choice, it doesn’t matter how many times you feel that twist in your gut at weaponized whiteness. It doesn’t matter how many times you cringe at another video of a Black person being killed. If this is the case, please, when Black folks are killed by police, when white people weaponize their whiteness, spare us the public shock and horror. It has never been enough and it certainly won’t save Black lives.
For tips on how to talk to kids about race, see this guide from EmbraceRace and MomsRising. To learn about how to raise anti-racist white children, attend this workshop beginning June 10 from the Center for the Study of White American Culture.