When Eli was about four years old, we took him to the barber to get a haircut. He was brave about it, not overly excited, but he just went along with the idea. When his dad used to cut his hair, he would give the most opposition. I am sure many dads can relate to this. Anyway, we decided to make it a family outing since Brent needed a cut himself.
So, all 4 of us were in the barbershop waiting our turn. The barber had never seen my daughter before, and I guess he was trying to make small talk, but he asked my 4-year-old the most unnecessary, damaging question that dripped in years of colourism and ignorance. He asked Eli if Anayah was his sister, to which he answered yes, and then he went on to ask if she is your sister, how is she so light and you are so dark. I was not prepared for that because it is no issue in our home; why would that be an issue for him, a stranger. That barber lost two customers that day.
The Difficult Conversations We Have to Have With Our Children
The barber’s question disturbed Eli because he started to notice differences in complexion, which is expected, but he began to put light above dark. It took a lot of work to explain to him how damaging colourism is and regardless of the shade of someone’s skin, what matters is their character, and most importantly, shade does not determine character.
So, we made it over that hurdle, and he was comfortable with himself, with his skin, and all was well in our bubble for a few more years until he was called the N-word at school. Here we go again. I was trying to delay the slavery talk, the horrors and ills our ancestors suffered, and the history and origin of the N-word. This is not a word in our vocabulary under any circumstance. So, we get over that hurdle and are back to our bubble. I guess I was just trying to get him to be a child for a bit longer and not have to be burdened with adult conversations, but the cruel people in this world were not on the same page with us.
To Serve and To Protect
So here we go again, back in the bubble, and all is well. Then the police killings continue, and Eli’s getting little snippets of our conversation, and we try to usher him away. However, he’s now seven years old, and he has completed the first cycle of his life, about to enter the second, and we have to be honest with him. So, we discussed the role of police officers who are there to serve and protect, but some of them abuse their power. However, we still have to be on our best behaviour when we encounter them because we have no idea how they would behave on any given day. He internalized it and bombarded us with a million questions until he was satisfied. Once again, we are back in our safe space – our bubble.
The Effect Of the George Floyd Killing
We’re in 2020, and there’s a pandemic, and we’re trying to maintain some level of normalcy when three more unarmed people are killed while jogging, killed in bed, and or killed because someone kneeled on his neck until he couldn’t breathe. He saw the video of the latter, and the fear I saw in his face made me feel so weak and helpless. It is so unfair that as a mom, in addition to everything else, I also have to worry about my son’s safety based on the colour of his skin.
So, we had a broader conversation on that injustice. That night he did not sleep at all. He was pacing the corridors, and I could not understand why. I know scary movies disturb him, so I make sure we never look at those in his presence, so I was confused. I decided to check on him, and he said George Floyd could be me, that could happen to me. Why do they hate us? Why is my skin colour an issue?
How Can We Protect Our Children?
I had no answer for him. I felt like I failed him. What could I tell my son to give him some assurance that such an encounter could never happen to him? He could be having ice cream in his home, playing with a toy gun on his lawn, returning from the store with a bag of skittles, complying with the police orders, calling the police for help, and still be profiled as the assailant and the long list continues. I hugged him tightly, ushered him back to bed, and assured him that his dad and I would do everything humanly possible to protect him. We are believers in a Higher Power, and we will pray for him. We can control our actions where an encounter with law enforcement is concerned, but we cannot control theirs, which is our fear.
“I have decided to stick to love”
I am a black woman raised by black parents. I was never taught to hate any race, and I do not hate anyone to this day. I have never taught my children to hate, and I never will hate since “hate is too great a burden to bear” (Martin Luther King Jr). We were raised with respect, and to this day, I am respectful, and I am raising my children in the same way. Every human being wants safety for themselves and their families. We want shelter, and we want food – the basic necessities. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs addresses basic human needs. We are human; are we not entitled? There is a lot of work to be done. Our children should feel safe; our children should be free.