When we think of experiences of racism, oppression, and discrimination, most likely we may think of the experience of adults. Yes, on the surface we may think of children and teens in the sense of being discriminated against in the classroom, or in playgroups, but do we stop to THINK ABOUT THEIR actual experience? From their perspective? I can almost say that many of us do not, unless however we are in the skin that often experiences racism, oppression, and discrimination. Today, I want to encourage us all to really take a moment to think about how racial traumas and injustices start young.
A few months ago, my niece was chattering away as we cooked in the kitchen. I’m not sure how the conversation changed, but she began to share an experience she had in the store. She talked about how a white woman clutched her purse as she stood in line watching my niece and her mother. My niece continued to share how annoyed she was with this woman’s behavior, and I could tell that she was confused as well. She continued to share OTHER experiences she has had with people stereotyping and judging her, naming the frustrations she feels when these experiences take place.
As I listened to her nearly 13 year old brain recap her experience with racism, I found myself remembering how young our experiences with racism begin to take place. I reflected on my own experiences, the experiences of my clients, and now the experiences of my niece. I found myself internally enraged at the fact that Black children have to endure these experiences so early on. I found myself annoyed that we as Black parents, teachers, aunts, uncles, and friends have to make sure we prepare our children for a racial war that they will be deployed to regardless of how hard we try and protect them. But then I remembered something very powerful. . .
The power of space. As adults, it is our job and duty to make sure we allow space for the children in our lives to be able to talk about these experiences. We also need to allow space for even our preverbal children to learn about these experiences, which we can do through reading books and showing appropriate media. We need to allow space to process and understand a reality that many of us wrongfully try and shield our children from. When we don’t allow space for children to talk about, process, or be curious about racism, discrimination, and oppression, it is equivalent to throwing a child who cannot swim into a 20 foot pool without a life jacket. Harsh visual yes, but the reality of not preparing our children for racism and discrimination is worse.
Racism, oppression, and discrimination was real in 1721 and it is still real today in 2021. But if we all do our part as adults, remembering that our children also have an experience with racism things may improve. If we remember that our children need to process and talked about THEIR experiences, things may get better. And most importantly, if we as adults remember that OUR behaviors and responses around racism, oppression, and discrimination may need to be corrected, so that we don’t have to correct our children from acting out learned behaviors, then MAYBE by 2121 or 2321 these experiences will finally be a thing of the past. Until April. . .