When we make the choice to become parents, we also make the choice to try (as best we can) to mold these little humans into the best people they can be. This sentiment does not change, even though our skin color and our place in the world may vary — we all want the best for our kids.
For Black moms (and Black kids), we have the added burden of educating our kids about racism, hatred, and living in the confines of what that means. We are constantly revisiting these conversations in hopes of simply keeping our Black kids alive long enough to have a full life, not to become victims at the hands of police or racist white people who fear their dark skin color. So, let’s talk about how white parents are handling explaining this movement to their kids, and molding them into active allies, in the fight to get us all a little closer to our dream of American equality and equity.
Photographers Jordan and Anna Rathkopf, of Rathkopf Photography, are in the trenches as photojournalists and white allies covering the Black Lives Matter movement in New York City, where they live and work — armed with their cameras and a need to tell the truth about a movement that has turned our social and political landscape upside down. As Black people and their allies fight for change and against injustice, Jordan and Anna are on the frontlines of it all. In addition to running around New York City to tell the story of the Black Lives Matter movement, they are also navigating the same things we all are: work, homeschooling their six-year-old son Jesse, and explaining to him what this movement is all about.
As a white mom and immigrant, Anna shares how she explains racism to her son — first familiarizing him with protests in a context that would make the most sense to him. “In January we took him to [a protest] in our neighborhood which was in support of immigrants. That was much easier as I am an immigrant,” she told Scary Mommy.
She explained to Jesse that there are folks who don’t like people from other countries, like his mom. Once he understood that concept, it was more simple to introduce the concept of racism, and Anna says they bought a lot of books on the subject: “I recommend the series ‘Ordinary People Change the World’ where they introduce people like Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and Jackie Robinson and they do it in a great way so that the kids can immediately learn what is good and what is bad.”
My five-year-old twin daughters, who are a little younger than Jesse, are too young to truly understand why we are protesting or what subtle racism is, but they aren’t too young to join the movement in their own age-appropriate ways. For Anna and Jordan, they support Jesse’s need to “say to every Black person that they are Black and that he likes Black people,” while my daughters can be heard on any given car ride, windows down in our minivan, screaming, “Black lives matter…Black lives matter,” on loop. Kids are activists in their own right, even when they don’t truly understand all of the nuance and layers of racism, or what it means to live in fear or to constantly need to fight to be seen, heard, or believed.
As parents living through these times, and raising children, we can never truly rest soundly in our beds at night because of how Breonna Taylor died, or Atatiana Jefferson, or how Sandra Bland and Philando Castile’s car rides turned into a death sentence. For our allies and parents of color, we are always aware of the tools we must instill into our kids for their own protection — but also so they can feel better equipped to handle the questions that will come about their skin color. For my daughters, who are half Sri Lankan, they’ll probably get questions about their school lunch choices like why they are eating Sri Lankan fish cutlets for lunch or why their chicken curry smells of spices that little white noses have likely never smelled before. For my son, who is thirteen, we must remind him to not wear hoodies, or to go brush his hair better because how he looks when he steps outside of his home matters.
These are all tools we saddle our kids with — but what do white parents do? Laurie, a white, 37-year-old mom of four, feels the profound importance of supporting her kids’ desire to do more for the movement and become activists in their own right. She tells Scary Mommy, “My daughter learned about Mr. Floyd’s murder before we had a chance to speak to her. She was (and still is) very upset. She continues to be an advocate for BLM, outwardly voicing her support, educating herself, and becoming involved however she can. For her, this was her first glimpse of how terrible the world can be, and she struggled with that the most.” Parents of any race have the obligation to our kids, to the communities in which we live, and to our greater society, to show up no matter how difficult it is.
Our job descriptions as parents working to actively educate our kids about this movement do not change because of our skin color. For Black parents, some of us also take on the task of educating white parents about ways they can be allies, which can be exhausting. Black Lives Matter has forced white parents to sit with their own shit, to sweep it out from underneath the rug, and clean it up. Part of “cleaning it up” rests in educating (and continuing to do so even when it’s hard) their white kids, not only about what the Black Lives Matter movement is, but how we must work together to make a more just society for all.
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