I've been thinking about how to talk to my boys about the Charleston shooting, or the McKinney pool incident. I'll be honest, I don't want to tell them about it at all. I shout about these things online, yet I hesitate to mention them to my boys because who wants to tell their kids about those atrocities? That this is the world we live in, where a man walks into a church, sits praying with the congregation for an hour, then stands up to shoot at them and kills nine of them, all just because they were black?
I want to keep them in their safe cocoon. And that right there is proof of our white privilege. I COULD keep them naive and innocent if I wanted to. They don't HAVE to face these ugly truths, at least not till they are older and find them for themselves.
And then there's that 5 year old girl who survived the Charleston shooting because she played dead. What five year old should EVER have to do that?
There's Tamir Rice who was shot dead at TWELVE because he was playing with a toy gun and the cops couldn't be bothered to find out if it was real or not before opening fire. Black mothers and fathers have these talks with their kids at such young ages, because it is necessary. Because even as children they are not safe. They don't have the luxury of shielding their children from our racist world.
My oldest son is 7 years old. He is exploring his independence, and I am trying to provide him opportunities for that. Little things like letting him walk over to the bathroom across the park by himself. There is a part of me that loves seeing him become more responsible and capable, and there is also always a small knot in my stomach wondering if anything will happen to him or, more likely and thus more scary, that some other grown-up will see him doing something by himself, freak out, and call the police on us. I see enough stories of that exact scenario playing out that it makes me hesitate, makes me want to hold his hand for many more years, but I know his sense of self is more important.
But I also fully realize that as a blond-haired, pale-skinned kid living in a nice neighborhood, he will be much safer than way too many other kids out there. Kids who have been shot while playing at a park or walking home with a bag of skittles. Or the kids who get slammed to the ground by police officers for being at a pool party. Whatever my small fears about letting my kids out of my immediate sight, the fears of parents of kids of color are much bigger, and all too real and justified. I cannot imagine that daily terror. I cannot imagine what that does to you, to live with it every day.
Today marks one year since my brother's death. One of the many things that has changed for me in the aftermath is that death, which seemed so abstract before, is so much more real and concrete to me now. I know exactly what it feels like to lose someone who matters to you. These shootings-- by police, by white extremists, etc-- feel so much closer. They hit me harder because of having experienced death at a much more intimate level. I can understand the pain and sorrow of the victims' loved ones a little bit more closely. I think of the anger I felt at the illness that claimed his life, and can only imagine the rage that must come from knowing it was another person who stole that life.
No one should have to live with this. No one should have to look their kid in the eye and warn them about how white people may harm them if they don't walk exactly on that fine line of expectations (and even then). No one should have to fear being attacked in their own place of worship. And these things often get painted as an issue of people of color, but it is the rest of us, we white people, who are perpetrating this culture and who need to stand up to it. We can't let racist jokes and comments slide, because that is what fuels the beliefs and actions of people like the Charleston shooter. We need to talk to our kids about white supremacy. We must examine our racist past, our racist policies, our racist justice system, and do the work to fix them. Only then will this cycle of terrorizing (yes, that is the appropriate word) people of color come to an end.
EDIT: Here is the link to the Mother Emmanuel Hope Fund, which will help with funeral and burial costs for the victims of the Charleston massacre. I was astounded last year to find out just how much it can cost to post an obituary, hold a funeral, and bury or cremate a body. And it's the last thing anyone mourning a loved one should have to stress over.