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2 Jul 2020 21:08
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  •   Home > News > Law and Order

    As George Floyd protests continue, parents grapple with raising black children in America

    As Americans take to the streets to protest against the killing of George Floyd, black parents must decide whether to grab their kids and join the rallies, or try to shield them from the potential dangers lying ahead of them.

    Natalia Castro wasn't quite ready to discuss race with her son.

    Sergio is seven years old and black, and she didn't want him to fear what he was powerless to change.

    But then Ahmaud Arbery was killed. And Breonna Taylor was killed. A white woman called the cops on a black birdwatcher and the video sparked angry, ugly rhetoric.

    George Floyd died after a police officer knelt on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, and Natalia realised Sergio had somehow come to hear about what was going on.

    "We've never spoken about race before this," she said.

    "I'm trying to be open with him … I'm trying everything I can to explain this, but it's just hard."

    After consulting some child psychology websites, she decided to buy him a children's book about racism, invite him to watch the news with her and bring him to a peaceful protest in Washington DC.

    She also felt obligated to warn her boy that, even with how powerful this moment feels, the world may not be better for him in the future.

    "I told him that there will be people in life that just won't like you for the colour of your skin," she said.

    "It has nothing to do with your character, nothing to do with who you are. It's just how you look. And this is what we're trying to end now. I'm trying to explain how bad it is for everybody."

    For black children, 'the talk' is a rite of passage

    For America's black families, it is so common for police violence to become a teachable moment that the whole country knows it as "the talk".

    It has nothing to do with the birds and the bees, and everything to do with navigating centuries-old institutions that are prejudiced against them from day one.

    The rite of passage for children proves to be a delicate balancing act for their parents, who must both prepare and protect, warn and assure.

    Research shows racial bias can begin to develop as early as age two, and form entirely without parental input.

    By age 12, a child's concept of race can be set for life.

    It's a short window to shape a worldview, made more complicated by the disturbing images and videos that accompany police violence in the age of social media.

    Police kill more than 1,000 Americans a year, and they're three times more likely to kill black Americans than white Americans.

    As the video age brings to light how and why those killings occur, some black Americans are left feeling like the advice their parents gave no longer fits the bill.

    Writer John Blake said it always used to be: "Don't act out. Stay away from bad places. Avoid confrontations."

    But that advice wouldn't have worked in the case of Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot, unarmed, while jogging through a neighbourhood.

    Nor would it have worked for Breonna Taylor, who was shot eight times after police entered her home for a narcotics investigation while she was sleeping. No drugs were found.

    Would it have helped George Floyd?

    It didn't escape the notice of many black parents that he spent his last breaths calling out for his late "mama", as if she could have saved him.

    One mum teaches her toddler not to fear the police

    It was that video that inspired stay-at-home mum Miesha Busker to take on a new parenting routine.

    At night, she hires a babysitter and drives 20 minutes to Minneapolis to protest against the death of Mr Floyd, hoping her voice might help change things.

    In the morning, when the crowds are cleared and the tear gas is gone, she drives back into the city to try to teach her three-year-old son, Cooper, not to fear the cops.

    "They've been really great to him. They give him stickers, they shake his hand, they smile," she said.

    Miesha posted a few photos of her biracial son posing in protest gear with riot police, wanting to give Cooper clear documentation about the family's beliefs.

    The images quickly spread online as a message about power and vulnerability, but they sparked a few questions about whether Cooper's burgeoning trust of the police might hurt him later on.

    "A lot of people say, 'someday he's not going to be seen as a cute little boy'," she said.

    "But for now, we're trying to teach him that, yes, there are some bad people out there, but not everybody's bad."

    Miesha said she also believed these protests might be the first step towards changing individual minds.

    Experts say all parents need to discuss race

    What would it take to build a future where Miesha would not have to give Cooper some version of "the talk" at all?

    Those who study racism say it would require white parents to start having their own versions of "the talk".

    Reporting supports that for years, even after the civil rights movement, parents have tried to abide by a 'colour-blind framework', thinking that not discussing race was the best way to create unbiased kids.

    Sachi Feris, founder of the blog Raising Race Conscious Children, writes that striving for colour-blindness "ignores the reality of racism".

    "Race-consciousness acknowledges racism," she wrote on her blog.

    "Silence is itself sending a message, and that message is not the one that I want. I don't want my white children to grow up thinking that white is better," she told the Washington Post.

    Aggregated polling data from FiveThirtyEight shows how white Americans overall are shifting more towards recognising racism as a problem.

    They also found the increasing presence of white Americans at these protests was a sign that at least the adults might be starting to get it.

    Paul Siessfert is a white American who brought his son Charlie to a peaceful march in Washington DC.

    They didn't quite finish the route because the two-year-old got distracted by construction equipment.

    But Paul wasn't too worried about it. He said he was committed to continuing the conversation with Charlie as he grew up.

    "I think it's really important to let kids, especially kids of privilege, understand the world they're living in. You can't start that later."

    © 2020 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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