” … to be a Black mother is to learn how to constantly hold space for both fear and joy.”
While I worked as a cashier at a bookstore, a customer walked up to my till to purchase a book about the prison industrial complex. This book was “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson. I had read the book twice, and she, a non-Black person, had also already read the book. So we talked about how the book had spoken to us. Near the close of our conversation, I mentioned that I had seen a children’s version of the book, and that it made me deeply sad to see it.
“Why? It’s great that kids are able to read it without having all the heavy stuff.”
I reminded the woman that “Just Mercy” is filled with stories about children who had been unfairly incarcerated. These were children who didn’t have the privilege of maturing to an age that’s “appropriate” to learn about racism.
I learned about racism when I was very young, but I hadn’t been aware of actually experiencing it till I was 7. This experience happened at an indoor children’s play gym. While I was happily eating a slice of cheese pizza, my brother ran up to me and said that someone had called him the n-word. Similarly, at a later date, a young white boy spat at me and called me a “hockey puck.” That time, we were at a playground just trying to play a game of “Hot Lava.” And sadly, my own mother experienced police brutality when she was 13 years old.
Now that I am a mother, I’ve been teaching my daughter about racism since she was in kindergarten. On the other hand, I have talked to other mothers about racism and they’ve casually told me that they’d talk to their daughters when they are “old enough.”
Like myself, my sister has been teaching her children about racism since her boys were very young. She once pointed out, “People think they are cute now, but when they grow up, they will grow up to look like Trayvon [Martin], Tamir [Rice] etc.” These are the names of boys whose lives were taken due to racism.
These boys didn’t get to pick when they were affected by racism. Black mothers love their children, but to be a Black mother is to learn how to constantly hold space for both fear and joy.
I’m sharing these stories to inspire empathy and to create a sense of urgency. If you are a non-Black parent, please educate both yourselves and your children about racism. We can no longer wait for children to reach a certain age to learn how to be anti-racist. We must create little leaders who will grow up understanding that not everyone has the same experiences as they do —little leaders who will fight to protect those who are hurting.
You see, this anti-racist work begins in our homes. It begins in our play gyms. It begins on our playgrounds.
Briauna McKizzie is a writer based in the Pacific NW and Calendar Editor at PDX Parent. She’s written for GoLocal PDX and Source Oregon, and she’s performed for The Whitenoise Project and The Lunchbox Variety Show. In 2018, she founded StayLitt PDX, an organization that strives to cultivate literacy and creativity in communities of color. Her dream is to write till the end of her days and to encourage others to do the same.