I am a white mom of a black son. There was no way to avoid talking about Ahmaud Arbery this week. But it occurred to me that other white moms might not be feeling the same pressure to have this conversation.
Maybe the topic seems too heavy to address with your kids. Maybe you aren’t sure what to say. Maybe it doesn’t seem like it concerns you. Maybe you don’t live in a part of the country with an overtly racist past or where your kids regularly encounter people of other races or where racism still feels like a reality today. Maybe this doesn’t seem like your problem.
But until it becomes your problem and my problem and everybody’s problem, it will continue to be a problem.
It will continue to be a problem that could mean death for kids like mine. Ignoring it because you think it doesn’t concern you will not actually make it go away. It will eat at the soul of our country, our communities, and our families whether we think it impacts us directly or not.
So please talk to your white kids about Ahmaud Arbery. Talk to them in age-appropriate ways. Tell your little kids you’re sad because a man died and he didn’t do anything to deserve death. Tell them about how people in our country once thought black people and white people weren’t worth the same value. They weren’t allowed to love each other, to be family to each other. Black people were considered less than human. Tell them how wrong that is in the eyes of God. Tell them so they will hear it from your mouth and they will never doubt where you stand on this issue.
Talk to your older white sons and daughters about what it would be like to go for a run and have people make assumptions about why you might be running. Or to go shopping in a store and have people make assumptions. Or be driving in your car and have people make assumptions. What if those assumptions could get you harassed, arrested, or even killed? Ask your kids questions and let them talk about their own feelings and thoughts on the issue. The honesty of your children is a gift in this moment. You’ll hear what they’re struggling with and you can affirm the good and weed out the bad.
Talk about white privilege—what it means and what it doesn’t. It doesn’t mean your white kids were born with a silver spoon in their mouth. It does mean that the world works a certain way for them, but not for everybody else. Talk about the privilege of being able to go for a jog without being worried for your safety.
Discuss systemic racism that is bigger than just the problem of one man’s heart. Let them think about the injustice of a system that allows two men to literally get away with murder for months because they had the right connections, the right standing in their community, the right credentials. Let your kids imagine the grief of all those who know they may never receive justice or even just the benefit of being considered human enough to have a life worth protecting or defending. Imagine being accountable to act with complete submission to not only the police, but also to anyone who wanted to question you about anything they think you might have done. And if you defend yourself against a man with a gun, maybe people will assume your murder was justifiable.
Ask your kids the hard questions. The specific questions. The practical questions.
What would they do if they saw a friend being harassed? How will they respond when a white friend says something offensive and ends it with, “It’s just a joke!” What will they do if they see a stranger who appears to be in danger? What can they do to deal with the assumptions they may already be struggling with in their own hearts? Can your home be a safe place for them to work through those thoughts and questions? What can they do to use their whiteness and their privilege for good—to protect and advocate and stand in solidarity with others?
Racism is not a problem for just racist families to deal with. Racist families are actively perpetuating the problem by what they say and what they do. We have to be families who work at fixing the problem by what we say and what we do. Ignoring it or assuming it is a problem someone else needs to address is not going to help. White families need to get past our level of discomfort about this issue, about the fact that we look like the enemy. We can’t just tell them all the reasons we aren’t like “those people.” We have to go beyond that and teach our kids empathy for those who are hurting. We have to help them be solutions focused.
We need to let their hearts break for what breaks the heart of God.
If we don’t want to pass this problem down to our children, we have to actively work to break the cycle. Our silence isn’t going to do it.