On Having “The Talk”

Summer 2020, I found myself furiously googling “how to talk to child about racism and police brutality + black parents.” My little brother who is 8 years old and the most sheltered child I’ve ever encountered, was getting curious about why my parents always shut off the news when he was within earshot and why his cousins were talking about George Floyd. My google searches led me to many videos, articles, books, and essays and that was the first time I read Baldwin’s “My Dungeon Shook: Letter to My Nephew.”

I had the opportunity of learning what it means to be black when I came to the United States through many painful experiences. Unlike my brother, I’ve been going to PWI since I began my journey in the American education complex. I also grew up understanding that many of my home country’s issues stemmed from the involvement of the United States. It was hard to not let the bitterness and anger that I felt influence the talk that I needed to have with my brother. I read Baldwin’s essay many times and outlined points to focus on with my brother. In my copy of Baldwin’s essay, I highlighted: “you were born where you were born and faced the future you faced because you were black and for no other reason” and annotated “possible point after talking about history of slavery. make it kid-friendly.”

Though Baldwin’s essay talks a lot about systemic racism and how to approach integration, I focused a lot on “there is no reason for you to try to become like white people” and “these men are your brothers — your lost, younger brothers.” It felt hard saying that to my brother. Especially when I get pangs of worry when my father doesn’t pick up his phone. Especially when I remember family members’ deadly encounters with the police. And especially when I recall the “Black Lives Matter is a terrorist group,” and the “there isn’t any racism in America” from our “innocent and well-meaning” neighbors who would sit and chat in the community park. The same people who came with soup and baked goods after my father had surgery. The same neighbors who took turns babysitting my brother when my grandmother was out of the country.

One thought on “On Having “The Talk””

  1. Hi Emerode! Thanks so much for sharing these thoughts in your post. I agree that racism and injustice are extremely difficult topics to try to talk about with younger people, especially in the case of you and your 8-year-old brother! I have recently been thinking a lot about how to have these conversations with young students in the context of being a middle school teacher next year, and it seems almost impossible to try to make these topics “kid-friendly” – how can you tone down the severity of the great injustice and violence that has been enacted against Black people for centuries in order to make it palatable enough for kids to understand? It is really difficult to strike a balance between being completely honest with them and being sensitive to what they are able to handle emotionally, but obviously these conversations are so important to have and the anticipated difficulty should not deter us from trying.

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