Wednesday, November 26, 2014

I lied to my child tonight

I just tucked my sweet youngest child into bed. We rehashed the day and he, with his wonderful four year-old sense of self-confidence, informed me that he is fast and smart. Smarter than me. Smarter than his teachers.  So smart, in fact, that he's going to become a policeman one day.  A policeman that helps people get into bed if they are having trouble getting into bed (no clue where that part came from!)

Then he paused to clarify... "do policemen spray out fires?" he asked. I told him that was firefighters.  "Then what do policemen do?"

And I lied.

I said policemen catch the bad guys. They protect you and keep you safe.  "That's okay" he said, "I'll still be one anyway. And help people."

And thank goodness it was dark because I couldn't stop the tears.

I am not trying to offend any policemen. I know some absolutely amazingly wonderful police families.  I know there are good guys out there. I truly believe it's the system that is broken.  I am heartbroken because this was never the way I imagined I would feel about our police system.

But I also know that in a few short years, I will have to have a different conversation with my black child and his white siblings.  I will have to explain to them why he has to be extra careful and polite around police and white grown-ups in general.  I will have to explain why it is not safe for him to do things or be in places after dark when it would be okay for his siblings.  Or even on the playground with a toy gun during the day.  A day will probably come when something goes missing from a place where he's been and he's the first one folks assume has taken it. I will have to explain to my children exactly why this is and how we will handle it together as a family.  I will have to tell him that not all police officers are going to be on his side.

If you are a (not black) mom, can you imagine for a minute what this must be like? How terrifying this is? And how heartbreaking?  I'm not alone. I am one of millions of mamas who will have to have this conversation with our precious children.

I didn't even know about this kind of conversation before we adopted. That's part of my white-privilege, I guess. I learned about it from black friends when they mentioned having it with their kids.  I am going to need help when the time comes because I honestly don't even know how to have the conversation. I grew up knowing the police would help me; that I would be given the benefit of the doubt and second chances.

Now is the time to speak, friends.  If you are an ally, please speak up. When you see racist comments on Facebook or when you hear them in your circles of friends or at work, please speak up.  Consider finding out what kind of training your local police force receives. Find out about body cameras.  Please don't be people who go silent when the news breaks about the next young black male killed. Please, for the sake of mama-solidarity. Stand with us.

When we speak up, racism diminishes.
When we speak up, we fight ignorance.
When we speak up, hope grows.
And maybe, just maybe, my children won't have to have that conversation with their kids.


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