Having Race Conversations with Children
As a woman, educator, and counselor I am upset by the situations our nation continues to experience; situations which divide us by race. However, as a first generation Latina mother, I am scared for my son. While light skin, my son is still a Dominican American boy, a Latino who is huge in stature for his age. A little boy who will one day become a big brown man.
I had to have a discussion with my little brown boy. Being he is only 6.5 years old I left the concept of race out of the conversation. Although the beautiful shades of our skin tones are different and real, developmentally he would not understand that matter. Instead, I shared that the police are here to help people and we have to trust they will help us.
But when police talk to him, he has to listen. He cannot talk back. He cannot try to explain anything even when he thinks he is in the right. He should not make sudden movements. His hands should stay visible at all times. He should not reach into his pockets. He should not reach for anything. His eyes should always be on the police. He should just listen.
It’s heartbreaking to have this conversation with a kindergartener, but it is necessary. Necessary for him to know there are people he can call on for help. Necessary for him to know there are good people in the world. People who care. People who will help in the time of need. People who will stand up for what is right.
So how do we continue this conversation? At the age of 6... we continue conversations of kindness. We continue to think of ways we can help the world. We talk about things we are grateful for every night. Ways we can share what we have and what we can do to bring smiles to those in need.
My smile begins to fade, however, as I know there are tougher conversations to be had. In a few years actual reasons will need to be given to why he must remember the “shoulds and should nots” when speaking to officers or authority figures. We will have to discuss why he will always need to work twice as hard. We will have to discuss how to monitor aspects of himself pending on where he is and who is around. We will have to discuss the privileges he has as an educated, [assumed] heterosexual, light skin, bilingual, able bodied man... and those privileges he does not have as a Latino. We will have to discuss aspects of race in our country that are hard, sad, scary and ugly. And one of the hardest questions may be... why? Why the hate? Why the divisions? Why still the microaggressions? Why still the misunderstandings? Why does this still happen in this day in age? All questions for which I must prepare myself.
For now, this conversation was enough. But I know that it is necessary for it to continue - not only for his safety and well-being, but for the necessity of bringing good to the world and to speak up for those who may not have a voice.
As I finished this first conversation with my son, he stared at me. I could see his brown eyes twinkle as his wheels in his mind turned. Then without prompting, he went to the other side of the room and prayed. I heard him give thanks for all he has, in addition to asking God to take care of everyone in the world.
I too pray everyone in this world is cared for - physically, mentally, and emotionally - so that there can be understanding, healing, and peace in our world’s minds and hearts.
Vanessa De Jesus Guzman is an Educator and Licensed Professional Counselor with nearly two decades of experience in working with children and families. She is the CEO of Free to Be Mindful - located in Ridgefield, NJ - which provides counseling and mindfulness education for kids, parents and educators.
Vanessa has been featured on the Today Show and is passionate about helping others Learn, Grow & Inspire… all with mindfulness in mind.