Today’s Mom Talk is both a confession and a rallying cry. Temi Adamolekun has long understood the reality and repercussions of a racist police force (she wrote her thesis on the topic in college), but now, as the mother of a 6-year-old Black son who is as tall as he is sweet (he’s closing in on 5 feet), she is here to tell her fellow mothers what they can and must do to change the world he is growing up in. Part of the solution, she says, is an unwavering commitment to anti-racist parenting.
I was born in Nigeria, raised in London, and moved to San Francisco in my twenties. I stand on the shoulders of giants—my parents—and lived a life relatively sheltered from vicissitude. My first personal experience with racism happened when I was 13 and my brother was 16. My brother and I had stepped out the front door of our home in London, and we saw two police officers who immediately questioned what we were doing in that neighborhood. It took me a minute to understand what was happening…then I felt the rage, the all consuming rage, for this thing I knew existed but had never myself experienced. My brother, by contrast, was shockingly calm, which confused me. After the police left I asked why he was so calm, he looked at me and said, “I think you need to have ‘the talk’ with Mum and Dad.” My parents had thought that because I was younger and female, we had more time. This left such a strong and lasting impression on me that for my undergraduate law degree, my thesis was on ‘Racism In The Police Force, With The Stop And Search Policy.’ What I discovered was that racism in the police force is as old as the force itself and inherent across the globe. It was only after coming to America that I truly understood the distinct difference. America is the only country in the world where a woefully undertrained force is routinely armed to the teeth.
My Black son was born and raised in America. He is 6 years old, and he’s tall. He is already shoulder height on me—and I’m 5-feet 6-inches—which makes me think he has two, maybe three more years before he stops being perceived as a child and starts being perceived as a man.
On May 25th, videos of the brutal murder of George Floyd, and the absolute blistering privilege of Amy Cooper’s actions, gripped the nation’s attention. Rallying cries of Black Lives Matter consumed this country, louder than ever before. As Ijeoma Oluo noted, in the midst of a global pandemic, a time when so many of us were more reliant on technology for communication, it was the “perfect storm.” America finally had to pay attention to racism and White fragility (Amy Cooper), police brutality, and its devastating impact on the Black community. Racism isn’t new. Police brutality isn’t new. But videos on phones are relatively new. So now, we live in a world where there is a video, 8 minutes and 46 seconds long, of George Floyd being slowly, brutally, casually, suffocated to death by a complacent police man.
The George Floyd video was extreme. It was long. It was slow. It was bursting with the confidence of qualified immunity. It was the carefree attitude of a White police officer, murdering a Black man, watched by a crowd, supported by his team, recorded on video. That is what it took for a video of police brutality to capture the nation’s attention. You would think that in the midst of a global pandemic, with more eyes on the police than ever, they might just slow their roll. But for the police, after the photo ops were over, it was back to business as usual. It was Justin Howell, Sean Monterrosa, Jamel Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, and dozens of others.
Now that we have your attention, what the Black community needs from you is action. Mothers are powerful. Women are powerful. Speak to your partners, speak to your children, speak to your workspace, speak to your schools. Focus on your sphere of influence and say something. Focus on sustainable, sustained action to weed out the seeds of racism where they start in society. In our children. They are learning, every second, from what we say, what we do, and how we as parents behave. Children notice race, they just don’t attach judgement to it. The judgment creeps in from learned behaviors, the subtle and overt actions of the adults around them, and the things they hear. When parents don’t address race directly with children, they start to think it must be something bad if nobody wants to talk about it. Then they start to fill in the gaps themselves with their young, impressionable, developing minds.
Racism is a bad word that’s often perceived as overt and violent, but racism is more often implicit, insidious, pervasive, and systemic. It often starts earlier than we like to believe. Earlier this year, at my local gym, I went to the changing room to grab my stuff and leave. There were about five women in the changing room, including one woman with her 5-year-old daughter. As I was emptying my locker, the little girl pointed at me and said, “Is she staff, Mummy?” I paused. I had been in a rush, but my world ground to a halt as I looked at the girl’s mother to listen to her response. “Oh, is that because she’s wearing a badge?” she responded. I waited for further clarification of this fictitious badge I very clearly was not wearing. None came. They carried on getting ready. This. The casual, unwelcome intrusion of someone else’s privilege into my life and the rage, the blistering, searing rage I felt in response to that mother. In a steady voice, I said to the child, “As we can both very clearly see, I’m not wearing a badge. If there is anything that created any confusion, maybe it was my membership card on the seat next to me, and if you take a quick look, it’s exactly the same as your mum’s.” Another woman in the changing room, piped up and said, “The thing I love the most about this place is the sense of community, everybody is welcome.” I left.
If that was your child, what would you do? It is not my job or the job of any other Black person or person of color to teach your child about race. But I will always hold up the mirror to any lies you might tell to avoid the conversation. With children, you have to catch any inaccurate thoughts and correct them immediately. If you don’t, you are allowing it to take root.
You believe in equality? Then you have to work to abolish the hierarchy. I must inform my child, and protect my child, as much as I can from racism. I am potentially protecting him from your child. Any child who has embodied the idea that one race is better, in any way, over the Black race, is a potential threat to my child.
The question to ask of yourself, of your partner, of your friends and family, is how can you raise your child to be an ally to Black kids starting today and to raise your child to be an actively upstanding (not passively bystanding) ally to Black people in the future. What are the actions you can take to stop your child inflicting their White privilege on another Black child? And how about you? Your partner? Your friends? Your family? What actions are you taking to effect true sustained change? From the implicit bias to the explicit racism, you have the power as a parent, aunt, uncle, godparent, and friend, to stop that from happening.
Talking about race is an essential, not an optional extra, part of parenting that parents of color, Black parents in particular, have shouldered alone for too long. It is time for White parents to pick up their share of the load. You must raise anti-racist children to be allies of Black children. Learn what it means to be anti-racist and then be useful and teach children, your families, and your networks, what it means to be anti-racist. Your inaction is violent and harmful. Your silence is shaping the world my son will inhabit.
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