We have been stunned yet again by the death of another African American man, and we struggle with how to explain a state of affairs to our kids that seems so senseless. How do we bring this event home to our children? How do we make meaningful such a confusing and uncomfortable situation?
When we were working on our project of interviews with African American fathers a while back, we were surprised to hear the same story told over and over by each of the dads – I tell my son be watchful, don’t be idle, if you’re driving, have your ID out, put your hands on the steering wheel, don’t reach for anything unless you let the officer know, and be respectful. Each of these fathers had conversations with their sons we never had to have. And, it turns out, these fathers had much the same conversations with their fathers. Their worry was palpable. It got us to thinking.
We live in a society that is quite polarized today and includes two separate perspectives. When we speak to white friends, many are surprised and outraged by the recent events that have taken the lives of black Americans. However, when we talk to African American dads they express no surprise. They have lived a different experience as they have negotiated their daily lives. It is an experience we, as white fathers, do not face and can find hard to understand.
Our kids have witnessed too many losses of black Americans in our society. They may know some of the names, like Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Philando Castille, Tamir Rice, and now, George Floyd. How do we explain the deaths of these men at the hands of those who are commissioned to serve and protect? It is a long and difficult process.
But we need to learn and talk about these two perspectives. We need to face the discrimination that people still experience because of the color of their skin. We need to listen to the frustration and worry of our children and the concern they may have for black friends. This is a crisis in our country, and we need to help our children understand that we are all one human family. It does no good to think of some as “other.” We are not two ball teams, we are all on the same team.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
It is time to face the problems that pull us apart. We are the solution, and it is up to us to help our children by listening, modelling, and having the conversations we need to heal our division.