Nearly fifteen years ago, I started my teaching career: I walked into my classroom at Anacostia High School in Washington, DC and met the students and staff that would forever change my life. The year was 2006 and all students in my class and nearly all through the school were Black. During my time there, I heard students lament about police brutality; I listened as students compared stories of when they first saw a dead body spread across the street; I saw the plight on my students’ faces each and every day as they faced oppression at the hand of the white man.
I spent my first two years taking all I could in from students — listening and learning and then processing with older, more experienced teachers who also were POC. Prior to my time there, I’d formulated my own opinions on topics based on life experiences, but once I started to gain exposure to others’ experiences, my views and understandings began to change.
Fast forward to today. I have spent the last three days trying to figure out how to have conversations about race and responsibility with my son. He’s four and attends a private Catholic school where most of his classmates are children of color. My heart breaks for the parents of those children — parents who will have to have even more difficult conversations about how to survive simple tasks like trips to the store or walks to the park.
So, what do we do about these tough conversations?
We have them.
We talk to our children and family and friends and anyone else who may need to hear about those who are oppressed. We use our voices to try and help other white people understand how profoundly white this problem is. If they listen, that’s great — we keep talking to them and try to help them understand and if they don’t listen, we try a different strategy or conversation.
In the meantime, we listen.
We listen to POC who struggle and air their feelings of experiences of oppression. We do not respond with ‘not all’ or stories of our own experiences. We listen. We support. We sit with the stories and information they impart on us and process and then use it to be better people — better parents — better advocates.
The news is filled with images of brutality and it’s our responsibility to have those tough conversations to ensure our children know how to navigate their feelings and their exposure.
It’s time to have a tough conversation. With ourselves. With each other.