Lynn VanderWielen, PhD, MPH
Make it Home
Our hearts and minds have no time to heal as we learn about the murder after murder of Black men at the hands of police. If you are not in a mental space to think about these brutal deaths and injustices, please stop reading now and come back later.
As a White woman raising multiracial kids, it wasn’t until having my kids that these murders felt truly close to home. Of course, I have always been scared of having my husband engage with police in any way, making sure his tags were current and brake lights were working. But it wasn’t until having our children that I have felt the deep vulnerability and helplessness of considering that I could lose them to a power-hungry murderer parading as a protector behind a badge. My tears are flowing thinking about the pain, grief, and anger that the mothers and families must feel, and pleading that I never experience what they are going through.
For our multiracial families, many of us are White parents raising Black and Brown children. If you are like me, I was taught as a kid that police are always safe and I could always go to them for help. But I have come to understand that this is not true and is actually an intentional message to embed bias into who the national conscious judges as guilty and innocent upon first glance. I have learned that I have to be more intentional and thoughtful about talking about police and policing with my multiracial kids.
This blog space is intended to examine research related to our multiracial families and to support healthy racial identity development for our kids. The two overarching elements of racial identity development include supporting pride and connection to our kids’ heritages, and to prepare them for bias they will encounter in the world. This post is about the later.
Today we are turning to an article that shares how 30 Black mothers address the ‘police talk’ with their kids as a place for White parents and others who didn’t hear these talks growing up to better support our multiracial kids. It is not the responsibility of Parents of Color to educate White parents like me, but when Parents of Color are willing to share their insights in this way, we better damn well listen.
As parents who want to protect our children from police violence, we must understand how our kids are vulnerable to the stereotypes of criminality that police, and society, hold of Black people, especially Black men. This perceived threat has been used as a justification for the murder of Black men across the country, often allowing the murderers to freely continue to work as police officers, earning their salaries and pensions from the hard-working tax payors they continue to terrorize. So when it comes to talking about police interactions with our kids, we must first acknowledge and discuss how others may perceive them, and what this means to their safety. (This is called double consciousness - the ability to view oneself through the eyes of dominate, white society.*)
The Mothers in the study describe the central message of ‘making it home’. At the end of the day, our kids need to do what they need to do to make it home. This means being aware of their surroundings and compliance with authority figures (even when, especially when, they have done nothing wrong). One mother shared:
“[Parents] have to talk with your kids and make them aware of what’s going on when they encounter situations like that. They [need to] know how to stay calm. They [need to] know how to interact. They [need to] know how to survive the situation. It’s about staying alive and survival. You have to have those conversations.”
When it comes to surviving interactions with police, one Chicago police officer shared this recommendation in a 2019 NPR article:
“Remain compliant and calm. This is especially true even when you know you have done nothing wrong….If your child feels that their rights were violated, have them take down the officers information that they will need to file a report later. This includes badge numbers, car numbers, or license plates numbers.”
As we teach our children about injustices, discrimination, and racism, they are going to have the language and awareness to see it, feel it, and disrupt it. When it happens to our kids, it will elicit a range of emotions including anger, frustration, and defiance. But, BUT, when our kids are in a situation where these acts are coming from police officers, it is not the time to speak up or push back. Their mere survival is at stake. They need to make it home, and we will tackle the situation together. We will make calls and seek accountability together. But in the moment, they must do what it takes to simply SURVIVE.
This is not to say that those who have been murdered and brutalized by the police share any responsibility for the actions of police. They don’t. In fact, there are countless instances of police brutality where Black men and women were murdered in their sleep, or watching tv eating ice cream in their own homes, for example. They literally did nothing to engage and were executed. If this doesn’t boil your blood, then nothing will.
Back to the article.
These conversations with our kids are heavy. They will exhaust your emotional capacity. One mom shared:
“I just think as a mother of black boys in particular, it’s so hard because you really have to have conversations with your children that you don’t necessarily want to have. You know they are children and they have this innocent view of the world. And for me, I’ve had to question myself a number of times, like is this too deep for him? Is it too much? But, I always felt and tell my white friends that you couldn’t possibly understand what it’s like to be the parent of a black boy and have the conversations that I have to have with my son.”
As parents of Black and Brown kids, we need to not only create intentional spaces for these conversations, but start these conversations. We need to prepare our kids for experiencing injustice, including preparation to interact with those in authority such as police officers. While we need to emphasize the beauty and joy of their multiracial identities, we also must discuss how they may be viewed by others, including the police. We must talk with our kids to do all they can to make it home.
A profound thank you to the author and study participants that share insight into the intimate conversations that Black mothers have with their children around police interactions. It is humbling to learn from you and I deeply appreciate the ability to apply your experience to the safety of my family.
Citation: Malone Gonzalez, Shannon. "Making it home: An intersectional analysis of the police talk." Gender & Society 33.3 (2019): 363-386.
*Du Bois, W. E. B. ( 1990). The souls of black folks. Introduction by John Edgar Wideman. New York: First Vintage Books/The Library of America Edition.
Photo by Scott Rodgerson on Unsplash