I worry I let my kids see too little.
On the morning of Jan. 6, I emerged from my bedroom elated. I gathered my children and explained that, after the mere relief of the 2020 election results, I was now feeling actual joy about two Democrats being declared the winners of the Georgia Senate races. It was the kind of joy that came in the morning after Black women like Stacey Abrams and LaTosha Brown, voting rights activists in Georgia, led us through a night of a faltering democracy. By 1 p.m., my children had gathered around me again, but this time, I felt their nervous eyes on me as I watched the attack on the U.S. Capitol unfold on the television. In contrast to the high-fives and smiles we had shared that morning, they were now silent, aware from my tense jaw and glistening eyes that they should simply sit quietly next to me on the couch.
I worry I let my kids see too much.
I would not be the first parent to wonder how much I should shelter my children not only from the world’s instability, but also from my own. Before newborn babies even arrive, parents are taught that we can decrease the likelihood of sudden infant death syndrome by sleeping in the same room as our infants; our very presence at night helps ensure that they’ll wake up in the morning. And now, in an era of parenting for resilience, we’re constantly reminded that our responses as parents to adversity will be the model for our kids’ reactions to challenges in their own lives. Mothers, in particular, know that the well-being of our children will often be laid solely at our feet, understood to be a reflection of our own capacity to successfully navigate obstacles.
As a Black parent, however, there is the added burden of having to model responses to the obstacle of white supremacy. Explaining to them the more abstract concepts of structural discrimination and racial capitalism is actually the easy part. But what about the more indelible, psychic harms of racism that I carry around myself, and that seep into my own reactions?
To say that Floyd’s name hasn’t been spoken in my home is not to say that his absence is not felt. My mouth produces a curt “be safe” as my husband leaves for work, but my eyes widen in terror when I let myself remember that upon walking out the door, he is vulnerable to deadly police encounters during traffic stops, on street corners or even in the backyard. The ghosts of other Black people subject to the most violent forms of American racism also haunt our home: My elementary-age son is warned to go no farther than the edge of the driveway while playing outside; my tween daughter is not allowed to walk around the block by herself.
When my children bristle at these restrictions — “Those kids over there can leave the block by themselves!” — I dryly respond that those kids are White, and their parents are not worried that police will mistake their toys for guns, or that their presence on the block is uninvited and unwanted. In these moments, I know I am supposed to model faith and courage in the face of subordination, so I follow up with a bon mot about an internal locus of control, or maybe I invoke the fighting spirit of their ancestors. But other times, I just look at them, tired of modeling “grit” in the face of a system designed to grind us down.
Indeed, tired is the only word I can think to describe my reaction to Chauvin’s murder trial for the death of Floyd. Tired of what is known as the “spark of life” testimony, presented in court by Floyd’s grieving brother, which is offered to humanize a dead Floyd to the jury. For me, it only functioned to remind me that police officers appear to be blind to the spark that animates Black people when alive. Tired of the death of Daunte Wright, who seemed to sense, even as a trial for a police killing of an unarmed Black man proceeded just miles away, that his encounter, too, would be deadly. And tired of teaching my children to still believe in their capacity to love and be loved in a world that would deny them both for daring to live while Black.
Long after the children are asleep, in the darkness of our shared bedroom at night, I speak to my husband in hushed whispers about my fear that state-sanctioned police violence will take away my husband, my son, my daughter — even in our own home. I post on social media about the repeated horror of these killings and suddenly find myself weeping at my desk. I push my fears deep down, so I can walk out of the house in the morning. I haven’t watched the video of Floyd’s death, and I haven’t invoked his name with my children since the trial began. I worry I let myself see too little. I worry I let myself see too much.