How to talk to your kids about Racism

EDUCATION STARTS AT HOME

By Munazza Khan

It is safe to say, this year has been a roller coaster for all with every individual across the globe experiencing a kaleidoscope of emotions through quarantine, homeschooling, working from home, making sure there is food on the table 3 times a day; and everything else in between.

But the recent news of the merciless killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police has been thrown at us like a fireball! Sadly, Covid 19 wasn’t going to be the only thing claiming innocent lives this year. Overnight, #thankyouheroes and #weareinthistogether hashtags are replaced with #wecantbreathe and #blacklivesmatter.

On the evening of May 25th 2020 while the night was still bright, 46 year old Minneapolis resident George Floyd took his final breaths on the road while he screamed “I can’t breathe” to a police officer who had his knee dug into his neck for a whole 8 minutes and more. His crime was hardly that he had counterfeited a $20 bill, but more that he was a black man. He was unresponsive when the paramedics arrived and was pronounced dead as he reached hospital.

The morning after the news exploded all across our TV screens and mobile devices, a family member messaged to ask how we’re coping and if we’ve spoken to the kids about the George Floyd incident. Interesting time to be in the US, he added.

Protests have since erupted all across America demanding justice for Floyd and other black lives. Headlines such as ‘police fire tear gas to clear peaceful protests’ and ‘truck ploughs into protestors seeking justice for Floyd’ with disturbing images have been popping up as notifications on our phones and TV.

Ultimately, my kids (age 5 and 8) who display a keen interest in current affairs (thanks to their media background parents), would be witnessing these horrors as they grab the remote to turn the TV on or as they reach out my phone to FaceTime their cousins across the Atlantic.

A controversial question that arises for parents is what age do you stop protecting them and let them experience the realities of the world?

So to answer the question I’d say they definitely need to be exposed so they can learn to stand up for what’s right and not be submissive to the pressures of unjust superior forces. But at the same time you don’t want to scar them and frighten them at tender years of their life where having fun and feeling safe should be the priority. Feeling hurt, sad or anxious are part of life. Letting kids experience these feelings gives them a chance to practice tolerating discomfort. At the same time, however, we must provide them with the guidance and support they need to deal with the pain and frustration.

As with many families around us, recent issues have sparked many uncomfortable discussions within our home too, but we try to relate to the children as it is, exercising age appropriate honesty. Simultaneously though we relate to them the important lessons we have learnt growing up ourselves taught by our own parents and members of the community. The most significant one is that we must exhibit patience in the face of adversity. God is watching and the ultimate judgment lies with Him.

As practicing Muslims, religion plays a huge part of our lives, so everything we explain is backed up by what Allah has commanded in the Holy Qur’an and examples from the life of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (may peace and blessings be on him).

I cannot stress the importance of talking to your children about such sensitive topics. One day they will become the decision makers and shielding them from the real world will do more harm to them than good.

Some may believe that speaking openly about racism might incite racism in their kids. The opposite is in fact true. Silence equals submission and we do not want to reinforce racism by staying silent. No matter how independent a child might seem, they still need plenty of guidance and a sense of direction. So instead of staying quiet and letting them draw their own conclusions, it is our job as their parents or guardians to direct their thoughts. That does not in any way mean we are disrespecting their freedom to make their own decisions.

When I spoke to my 5 year old daughter about this, I asked her what do you think we can do to help? I gave her the freedom to express her own thought as well which is vital in a two way conversation. She impressed me with her response: “Maybe we can teach people!” and this is basically what we can and need to do at this moment in time.

In order to do this we must first educate ourselves. An incident arose recently where a white mum requested a black lady on facebook if she could help her out and educate her children on ‘whatever is happening.’ This request sounded so wrong on many levels… ‘whatever is happening’ displays such ignorance on the topic of injustice taking place around us; and to reach out to a random person on social media for this role displays not only laziness on the part of the white mother, but also could be taken as offensive in the eyes of the black lady. This here is white privilege.

You may have also heard of the case of Amy Cooper, who made a dramatic call to the cops after a black man, who was peacefully bird watching at a park in the early hours of the morning, reminded her to put her dog on a leash, as required by law.

In both instances, the white ladies apologised afterwards for their ignorance, but the reality is their white privilege has not exposed them to tolerance of people of other colours and therefore they were ignorant on how to approach the situation.Let this be a wake up call for all the Amy Coopers out there.

What other methods can we adopt to make sure we are raising compassionate human beings and not the next Derek Chauvin or Amy Cooper?

RECOMMENDATION #1

Explain the root of problems – Racism has always existed. It isn’t getting worse, we are only more exposed to it now through the media. Talk to your children about Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Ruby Bridges (see link below) and the challenges they had faced. My children were especially immersed in the story of Ruby Bridges, a small 6 year old girl who was the first African American student to integrate an elementary school in the South. Her determination to persevere in her studies at such a young age, despite the torment she endured by white upper class families and their children at the school, is monumental.

(https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/ruby bridges)

RECOMMENDATION #2

Speak about emotions – Why are people feeling so angry about what’s happening? It is the inaction on part of world leaders, despite years of frustration nothing has changed.

RECOMMENDATION #3

Encourage your kids to play with children of all colours – befriend their parents yourself and display to them equality through your own actions. We must first be what we want them to be!

RECOMMENDATION #4

Read books together that feature characters from all backgrounds – Same applies for TV programmes. Keep an eye on what your children are watching and direct them towards programmes that display a sense of diversity.

RECOMMENDATION #5

Teach them about the different religious and cultural traditions – through videos/books or via craft projects for a more hands-on learning approach.

RECOMMENDATION #6

Try to speak to them in a conversational way – Sensitive topics don’t need to be explained using an academic method at home.

Whatever you do, just don’t stay silent. At least for the families who can’t speak up. Start educating today, but don’t end your conversation today too.

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