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Talking to Your Kids About Charlottesville

Many parents are grappling with ways to explain to their children the deadly, racist violence that erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend. Rebecca, a mother of three living in Brooklyn, described the strength of love to her son.

Rebecca from Brooklyn Aug 16

I spent a lot of the weekend debating how and if to talk to my six-year-old child about Charlottesville. I realized that since I get most of my news on my phone now, he really doesn’t hear about something unless I bring it up. Here’s a conversation we had that I want to share, especially with those of you raising white children, in case you need ideas.

Me: Gio, have you heard me and your dad talking the last few days about something happening in Virginia?

Gio: Yeah.

Me: Do you want to know what we were talking about?

Gio: Yeah, I want to know.

Me: You know how we talked before about how some white people don’t treat black people and other people of color equal or fairly?

Gio: Yeah.

Me: This weekend a group of white people called white supremacists gathered in Virginia to try to scare people and hurt people. And then a lot of other people who don’t agree with them gathered to protest against their hate and there were a lot of fights. The police let the white supremacists do whatever they wanted because cops usually protect white people.

You have to be brave and strong to keep loving.

So, we’re upset. When black people are just trying to walk down the street the police sometimes hurt or kill them. But these white people walked around with fire and guns and the cops didn’t stop them.

Gio: I don’t understand.

Me: Is there something that you’re wondering more about?

Gio: Why would they do that?

Me: You mean the white supremacists?

Gio: Why would someone act that way?

Me: No one really knows. Some people think it’s cause they’re scared that they might not be able to have all the power one day. Some people think they’re just bad people. Others think they have bad information that makes them hate. What do you think?

Gio: I have no idea.

Me: Do you have an idea what we can do about it, what we’d do if they came here?

Gio: Maybe we could get shields and fight them like Captain America and Spider Man.

Me: That would be great. Also, you know, they’re really weak so we can definitely beat them. The people in Virginia really stood up to them and didn’t let them take over their city.

Gio: Why are they weak?

Me: Because all they do is hate. Hate is weak and love is strong. You have to be really strong to love.

Gio: Why?

Me: Because hate is just something people do without thinking hard. Like when you walk in the room and tell me how much you hate the vegetables I’ve cooked. You’re not thinking deep about it, you’re just saying the first thing in your mind. But to love people you need to accept them. Even if they aren’t exactly perfect and you can’t control them, you still choose to love them even with their mistakes or flaws. You have to be brave and strong to keep loving.

Gio looked scared when we discussed the white supremacists but he’s old enough to face that fear and to know that it’s our responsibility to face it as white people. Talking with your kids will be messy. They won’t stay “innocent.” But they’re not that fragile. And this is the only way to create the change we want to see in this world.

Rebecca declined to provide her last name out of privacy concerns. 

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Photo: A father and son in Minneapolis, Minnesota attend a vigil for victims of the racist violence Charlottesville, August, 13. Credit: Fibonacci Blue.