How to understand and support the Black Lives Matter movement as a family
Updated: Aug 29, 2020
It has been an emotive time since George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man from Minneapolis, died after white police officer, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee into George's neck for almost nine minutes. Tragedies like these need to STOP, and we are the generation that can absolutely turn the tide of racism and prejudice, starting with teaching our own children how abhorrent judging people by the tone of their skin is.
As a white woman married to an Anglo Indian man, I know how difficult my hardworking, amazing husband has had it in the past because of his darker skin tone, but can I really understand? No, I can't. Not truly. My whiteness offers a shroud of protectiveness from prejudice that is not afforded to people of colour. It's not fair, it sucks, and it makes me sad.
So how can we combat racism, and how can we, as a family, fight our own fights against racial injustice? It's important for all parents to speak to their kids about racism, but more than ever it's essential that white parents speak out. The time to step up and make a concerted effort to understand is right now, so here are some ways we can help our children - and ourselves - understand and support the Black Lives Matter movement...
SPEAK UP AND CHALLENGE RACIST BEHAVIOUR
Whether it is in a conversation, or in response to something you've seen online, challenge friends, family and colleagues if they are being racist. Yes, it can be uncomfortable, and you may just want to let a comment on a Facebook post slide in order to avoid the confrontation, but that makes you complicit to racism and part of the problem. White people, especially, need to speak up. The person you are calling out might not agree with you, and certainly may not thank you, but try anyway. Ignorance is a hard fix, but give it your best, polite, shot.
EDUCATE YOURSELF AND YOUR CHILDREN ON RACISM
Racism is a complex subject, but there are tons of fantastic resources available if you are willing to educate yourself. Get off of social media and instead fall down a huge rabbit hole of info on racism that is available with a simple Google search. But before you share all your newfound knowledge in a well-meaning Facebook post, make sure that you are reading the right materials: do a quick background check on what you're putting into the public arena as there are several prominent figures who appear to be doing a whole lotta good at the mo, but who, amongst the black community, are not well regarded or trusted.
Have a look at the Black Lives Matter website for a whole heap of resource suggestions, petitions to sign, and charities you can donate to to help this cause. Once you're done, add some of these books to yours and the kids' reading lists:
Freedom Is A Constant Struggle by Angela Y. Davis: Renowned activist Angela Y. Davis illuminates the connections between state violence and oppression throughout history.
Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge: Exploring everything from eradicated black history to the inextricable link between class and race, this is an essential read for anyone who wants to understand race relations in Britain today.
Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward: Jesmyn Ward's memoir documenting the lives and early deaths of five young black men in her community.
Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet Washington: From the times of slavery through to present day, educate yourself on about the history relating to the shocking mistreatment and experimentations on unwilling and unwitting black people in America.
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin: James Baldwin's impassioned plea to 'end the racial nightmare' in America was a bestseller when it appeared in 1963, galvanising a nation and giving voice to the emerging civil rights movement. Still very much relevant today.
The House That Race Built edited by Wahneema Lubiano: In these essays, brought together by Wahneema Lubiano, some of today's most respected intellectuals share their opinions on race, power, gender, and society, and argue that we have reached a crisis of democracy with an ominous shift toward a renewed white nationalism.
White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son by Tim Wise: A deeply personal polemic reveals how racial privilege shapes the daily lives of white Americans in every realm: employment, education, housing, criminal justice, and elsewhere.
The Grace of Silence: A Family Memoir by Michele Norris: Revelations from Michele Norris' past, including her father’s shooting by a Birmingham police officer, inspire a personal journey into her family’s history, from her childhood home in Minneapolis to her ancestral roots in the Deep South.
Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates: A bold and beautifully written exploration of America's fraught racial history in the form of a letter to the author's 14-year-old son.
There are lots of great books out there covering racism in a way children can understand, but it's also important to read and look at books that have nothing to do with racism, but feature black characters and role models. Here are some suggestions for both kinds of books to kickstart their home library:
Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness by Anastasia Higginbotham: This picture book focuses on racism and racial justice, inviting white children (age eight to 12 years) and their parents to accept that racism is real and deals with how to cultivate justice.
The Youngest Marcher by Cynthia Levinson: A moving picture book (for kids age five to eight years) that proves you’re never too little to make a difference. Nine-year-old Audrey Faye Hendricks had only intended to go places and do things like anybody else, but ended up being the youngest civil rights protester to ever be arrested...
Resist: 25 Profiles of Ordinary People Who Rose Up Against Tyranny and Injustice by Veronica Chambers: A perfect tool for young readers (age nine to 12 years) as they grow into the leaders of tomorrow, Veronica Chambers’s inspiring collection of profiles—along with Senator Cory Booker’s stirring foreword—will inspire readers of all ages to stand up for what’s right.
Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters by Andrea Davis Pinkney: Suitable for kids age six to nine years, this tells the stories of 10 black women activists and their tales of courage in the face of oppression, and about speaking out for their beliefs— even when it felt like no one was listening.
My Hair Is A Garden by Cozbi A. Cabrera: After a day of being taunted by classmates about her unruly hair, Mackenzie cant take any more and she seeks guidance from her wise and comforting neighbour, Miss Tillie, and soon learns that her hair is beautiful. Suitable for kids age five to eight years.
The New Small Person by Lauren Childs: We're big fans of the Charlie and Lola series, but Lauren Childs has plenty of other cool reads including this one, aimed at kids age three to six years, to get busy with. An endearing tale featuring Elmore Green, an only child who suddenly has to share his life with a new sibling...
Look Up! by Nathan Byron and Dapo Adeola: Perfect for small, wannabe astronauts, this lovely picture books for kids age three to seven years, tells the story of Rocket: a little girl who wants to be an astronaut when she grows up, just like her hero, Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman who went to space.
Blackberry Blue by Jamila Gavin: Written for older kids age nine to 12 years, this collection of beautifully written stories leads readers into a magical world of talking animals, wicked witches, enchanted forests and plenty of magic, following Blackberry Blue as she stumbles through a whole heap amazing adventures.
Fly Me Home by Polly Ho-Yen: Leelu dreams of flying back to her father and a life she left behind to move to a new country. She hates London and is sad of feeling lonely... until that is she realises someone is leaving her wondrous gifts that bring her magical powers. An unforgettable tale of one family's battle to belong, this is written with nine to 11 year olds in mind.
Last Stop On Market Street by Matt de la Pena: This award-winning picture book is about CJ, who doesn't want to ride the bus across town with his grandma, and wonders why he doesn't have a car like his friend. But CJ's dissatisfaction with aspects of his life soon get put into perspective by his encouraging, supportive grandma, who helps him see the beauty and fun in their world. Little ones age three to six years will love this.
TALK ABOUT RACISM AS A FAMILY
There's certainly no 'one way suits all' way to deal with the subject, but be open and honest with your children about it. For some families talking about racism is an open and regular conversation that's already happening, but for others it can be a subject that feels difficult to approach and discuss. But either way, and for everyone else in the middle, it's a conversation that absolutely needs to be had.
The conversations about race need to start early and continue happening. Keep a casual, open dialogue going about racism, and make sure that plenty of the books and films you have at home have black and ethnically diverse people at the centre of the stories. Discuss racial differences in a positive way, explain what melanin is and why we all have different skin tones, and talk about how cool it is that the world is made up of so many different kinds of people.
If you have older kids who are aware of the protests and what caused them, have a conversation about how upsetting these events are, talk a little about the history of violence against black people (there's no need to be too heavy or explicit), and how, in the case of George Floyd, there were police officers who made terrible choices based on the tone of a person's skin. Talk about how unfair these kinds of situations are: kids have a much more in depth grasp on fairness than you probably realise.
BE A GOOD ROLE MODEL TO YOUR CHILDREN
Words, books and good intentions go a long way in helping children understand racism, but leading by example with our own attitude, behaviour and values is what your children will see and pick up on for themselves.
Black Lives Matter, so let's all make sure that this strange world we live in is at least easier to live in regardless of colour.
Other reads you might find useful:
Top image: Ed Robertson via Unsplash