How do you explain to a six-year-old that someone doesn't like you because of the color of your skin? How do you tell a child, no they can’t go play with their neighbor’s children anymore because the grandparents discovered that their white granddaughters were playing with a black boy? How do you explain to a child what the N-word is, and why they're being called that at school? How do you explain to a child that he will be hated for something he cannot control?
These are questions my parents were left to answer, as they raised their black son in the south. I experienced racism before I learned how to ride a bike without training wheels. Race permeated every aspect of my childhood, from being called slurs at summer camps, to punches and shoves at recess, to stares at grocery stores. I wasn’t able to grasp the concept of racism at a young age. Children should be allowed to focus on learning addition and going on playdates, not grappling with the consequences of centuries of bigotry and oppression.
I grew up in a mixed-race family. I am the middle child of multiracial siblings, with two white parents. Having a black child, my parents quickly realized the reality of racism, and that it does not simply hide behind computer screens and outdated laws. As a child, I was in many situations where I was the only black person in the room, from the Boy Scouts, to Christian schools, to churches, and playdates, I was quite literally the black sheep. I could write for hours about all the microaggressions I withstood, or all of the times someone would use an insensitive phrase around me, not realizing I was the butt of their race-based joke, or the times I was christened with a racial slur. But as all of America wakes up to the deep roots of racism, it is no longer hard for you to imagine what I faced as a child.
As an adult, I look back at the dozens of bouts with racism I went through in my childhood and it fuels me with motivation to ensure that my future children will not have my same experience. I am hopeful as I attend protests; I see white people in the crowd too, who will not raise children with hatred, but with love. Ruby Bridges once said, “Racism is a disease, and we must stop using our children to spread it.”
Amid the Black Lives Matter movement, many people are left wondering what they can do after the petitions have been signed, and I have a challenge for you: Work to educate the hateful. Ignorant people raise ignorant children, and the cycle then continues for another generation. Attack the issue at the root, so no bad apples are produced. When your friend posts “All Lives Matter” to combat the BLM movement, take time to reach out to them, and educate them. When a family member uses a slur, or makes a racially motivated comment, use it as a moment to teach them about race and equality.
Racism and white supremacy are not issues that will be fixed overnight, they must be dismantled by everyone. It is so much easier to block out and move on, but it is your duty as an ally, and our duty as humankind to educate each other, and work together to fight for a better future.