Morristown Mama Drama is two Morris County moms–Mardi (raised in New Orleans) and WaWa ( from Bucks County, PA)–who explore the lighter side of parenting. This week, they are get serious.
In his final minutes, with his final breaths, George Floyd cried out for his mother. Though she had passed away years before, such was the bond between mother and son that in his most desperate moment, she was still who he sought. We saw a protest sign that read: “When George Floyd called for his mama, it spoke to all mamas.”
And so these mamas feel compelled to speak up.
We are privileged white women raising privileged white children in a community where privilege and need live side by side. As parents bringing up the next generation of white people, we have the opportunity and the obligation to do better.
We’ve all seen the image of the stark banner bearing the simple words “White people. Do something.” So what do we do? Where do we start? It’s our responsibility to educate ourselves, and more importantly, our children.
Luckily, there are a lot of people who are much smarter than us who have been sharing resources. Books, lists, talking points, shows and personal interviews. We also reached out to our friends of color and role models in the community and asked to hear about their experiences and insights. Though it’s not their job to educate us, they were gracious enough to share some thoughts.
Talk to Your Kids
We know we need to talk to our children about race, about the privilege they were born into due to their skin color, about the injustices their friends will face due to their skin color. These conversations probably will feel much more uncomfortable for the parents than they will for the children, but here are some excellent examples of how to approach those topics and have age-appropriate race-conscious conversations with children:
WaWa: When I’ve looked for opportunities to weave the topic into conversation in a way that didn’t feel forced or like I was lecturing a 6 year old and 4 year old, it’s gone pretty smoothly. Sometimes I think we as adults forget how open-minded children are.
This week, my daughter asked why my younger sister is taller than me. The explanation of how everyone grows to be different sizes made for an easy transition to how people can look all different ways and, since it was breakfast time, even a demonstration by Dad as he took a brown egg and a white egg out of the fridge and cracked each into a bowl. The kids peered in and we all confirmed that the inside was the same. Some comments from the kids that stood out were:
“God is like a chicken for humans — he makes people that look different but are the same inside” and “noses are just for smelling so it doesn’t matter what they look like.”
Of course, not all their responses were so innocently poignant. When that conversation led to the topic of their privilege, I said that they will be treated more fairly because of their white skin and that’s wrong, and that they have to fight against that for their friends.
Trying to elaborate with an age-appropriate example, I asked, “What would you do if someone said they wouldn’t play with _____ (the name of one of my son’s favorite boys to play with) because he has brown skin?”
He answered, “I would get a hammer and go smash their house down.” He eventually dialed it down to “If you won’t play with ____, then I won’t play with you,” as a more appropriate response, so I think his heart is in the right place.
Mardi: Inspired by a conversation a friend had with her children about race, I asked my children if they noticed that some friends have darker skin than theirs. My 3 year old was oblivious.
Six-year old response: “Yeah.”
Me: “Do you treat them differently?”
Six-year old response: “No, why would I?” Confused face and slightly annoyed by the ridiculous question.
That’s when it got tough. It would be easy to let the conversation drop there and not disturb the innocence. But that is the luxury of being white and of course, part of the problem, which I really, I’m ashamed to say, didn’t consider with the proper gravitas until the events of the last week. Change happens by shifting the perspective caused by changing the narrative. Changing the narrative happens moment by moment.
“Kids need hard conversations too,” my friend, Dr. Barrington Edwards, said. “Can you imagine reading Toni Morrison to your kids?”
Right now they might not be quite ready for Toni Morrison, but we can definitely choose age-appropriate literature. It’s awareness of every word that we say as parents, every decision we make and how we frame the world for these little people.
We can talk about injustice, and we can take steps. We can attend peaceful protests. We can make signs and show up with them even before they really understand what we are showing up for. The same way we talked to them as babies and named the world around them when they were pre-verbal.
We can name tolerance, acceptance, and appreciation for people who might not look like us but who we appreciate for, as Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “the content of their character.”
We remain hopeful that change can happen. Of course it’s often two steps forward and many steps back. But when we look at the broader picture of how the Me Too movement has already changed the world and actions that would have been “that’s the way it is” are brought into the light and no longer tolerated, we remain hopeful. Illumination, discussion, action.
Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
A lot of people are experiencing tough times right now, but we also know there is still a lot of money in this community. Here are a few of the places we have donated to this week:
You can also make a point of supporting black-owned businesses.
This list is specific to New Jersey and our area in particular. Everyone’s always on the local Facebook groups looking for recommendations of service providers and retailers — why not use this list as a reference instead?
Wawa: One important action that’s been recommended to me (and that I acknowledge shouldn’t have been something I needed to be told) is to seek diversity, not just in our own and our children’s social circles, but in role models, authority figures and the people children can view as heroes, like coaches and doctors.
My husband and I have discussed how moving forward we should seek out doctors of color when we need to find care providers for ourselves and our children. In the meantime, Mardi and I both thought of someone our kids see as a role model and he was kind enough to speak with us for this article.
Master Akil Acevedo is the owner and lead instructor of Cho’s Legacy Martial Arts Studio on Lafayette Avenue in Morristown and he has taught our oldest kids Tae Kwon Do since late last year. Master Acevedo describes himself as a black Latino American who was born in New Jersey and grew up Madison. Master Acevedo said he always felt a part of the community, but was also aware there was a way in which he was different.
That awareness was highlighted when, just a few years ago, while walking home from Dunkin’ Donuts — coffee cup in hand, a block from his house, in the town where he’d lived since kindergarten — he was stopped by Madison police officers because he “fit the description” of someone they were looking for.
He also recalls, while he was still in junior high school, a gathering where two police officers, one black and one white, addressed a group of both male and female teenagers like himself, advising how they should behave when interacting with police, given the fact that they were likely to be pulled over driving their parents’ nice cars.
“Just because of the color of our skin, there were certain guidelines we had to follow,” he said. The group that held the gathering, Jack and Jill of America, is a membership organization led by mothers with children ages 2 – 19, “dedicated to nurturing future African American leaders,” and it has a Morris County chapter.
His position as a role model for so many children in the community is one Acevedo takes seriously. One of the reasons he took martial arts from a hobby to a career and took over the Cho’s Legacy studio was to fill that role in his own community — to help reinforce the lessons that no one should be judged based on skin color.
“That is something I always stress in the studio — that everyone has something to offer and it doesn’t matter what they look like or what their abilities are,” he said. “I want them to know you shouldn’t be afraid of someone because of the color of their skin, and you should appreciate what each person has inside them that makes them unique.”
Mardi: As Master Acevedo said: “Children aren’t prejudiced. They are taught by what they hear, what they see, and where they live.” Where they live indeed. When we are able to move freely again, we need to gather in places where their skin color is not the majority. Awareness of our actions, of our words, and of what world we show these children will create the world as they will know it.
We need to have “age appropriate conversations,” said Master Acevedo. That’s where we, as writers, look to literature to help us engage in that conversation.
Read With Your Kids
Here is a list of black-owned bookstoresfrom Literary Hub. And here are some titles:
Mixed; A Colorful Story by Arree Chung
We’re Different, We’re the Same. We’re All Wonderful Sesame Street
All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold
Little Women, Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison
This Book is Anti Racist by Tiffany Jewell
Read on Your Own
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass
White Fragility by Robin Diangelo
Caught by Marie Gottschalk
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn
The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Native Son, by Richard Wright
If Beale Street Could Talk, by James Baldwin
Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Give A Listen to These Podcasts:
Must-See Adult Movies
The Hate You Give
I am not Your Negro
West Side Story
An Article Without Conclusion
We have no way to wrap up this article. We have no conclusion because the conversation, the deeper, marrow-changing discussion, is just getting started all these hours and hours and hours too late. George Floyd, we hope you are safe back in your mama’s arms. These mamas hope we can do our part to help, just a little bit, so that pebble-by-pebble, we can erect a new world.