Our son will be 12 next month and for the most part, except for his premature beginnings, his life has been relatively stress free. As parents, we try to keep it that way, but we also feel it is our job to tell him about the world. We’ve always shared news at age appropriate levels. He’s known about September 11 since very early on, especially since his birthday is close to that date, but in general terms. His school has been great; talking about tragedy with increasing detail as his maturity grew.
However, we have been at a loss how to explain the happenings in Ferguson, Missouri, this week. Yes, we told him what happened to Trayvon Martin. Yes, the legal system failed Trayvon as much as the vindictive racism of George Zimmerman. But in Ferguson, there are so many things I can’t even believe, how do I explain it to my kid?
Here in Denver, other than spreading the word on social media and contributing to protestors’ funds, this is possibly the only thing I can do.
And possibly the most important thing I can do. Making sure he understands.
What my young white son needs to know is that the world is different for him. It shouldn’t be, I don’t want it to be, but it is. He really has no experience with white privilege himself because his school is diverse and balanced. When we talked, he couldn’t fathom that some people of color, particularly young black men, get treated differently than he would in the same situation. He was shocked and saddened to hear of Michael Brown’s story and the resulting chaos. When we showed him the #IfTheyGunnedMeDown photos and talked about media bias, his jaw dropped.
He asked why the police were not honest about what happened. He asked why a cop would shoot an unarmed kid. He asked why they would tear-gas a crowd. He couldn’t believe the whole world has been watching on Twitter and they just kept keeping on. A million questions.
All the same things we all have been asking all week.
Except he is eleven. I am 44 and this is the first time in my whole life, even through all the crazy things our government has done in my lifetime, that I have been in absolute disbelief. The whole world is watching this situation and wondering what is wrong with us.
What makes me the saddest is my son agrees with them.