This past week, I had to tell my African-American twins about the murder of George Floyd. I always want them to hear about these things from their parents—not from a classmate or accidentally through the news. I have some experience with this kind of conversation; I decided years ago that I wanted them to hear about slavery from me instead of at school. As a white woman, these conversations that I initiate are imperfect, but necessary. Usually, I have a shaky voice and the twins have hard questions.
Every time I talk to them about the murder of a person of color, I see something in their eyes change. I see fear and hurt; I see worry and grief. It hadn’t been long since I told them about Ahmaud Arbery and I knew that they would take George Floyd’s death hard. One of my twins, Katie, always takes these brutal acts personally. And why wouldn’t she?
My goal is to empower my twins, but I worry about traumatizing them. I know for sure that they need to be able to talk about the state of our nation, but they don’t need to actually see live coverage. I know that they need people out marching for racial justice, but I don’t think it needs to be their twelve year old selves. Maybe I’m being overprotective, but I know that as a grown woman, I don’t need to see these videos with my own eyes to believe them. Even reading that George Floyd cried out for his Mama broke something inside of me. My twins are almost teenagers, but they are still children.
More and more, I’m trying to follow the emotional lead of whichever one of my children is hurting. I’ve been paying close attention to what my twins need this week and they need very different things. Elizabeth has been quieter, except when she took my hand leaving the store and said, “I don’t like the world right now. Mom, can we go home?” I took her home. In an unexpected twist, Katie decided a few days ago that she wanted to learn to make jam. She picked blueberries from our yard and looked up recipes online. As we stirred and canned and talked, I did my best to let her guide the conversation. I treated her like someone who is grieving, because she is indeed mourning a loss of trust and of innocence. Both of my twins are grieving.
One thing I know about grief is that you don’t ask those who are hurting the most to carry you. So, while many of us want to learn more about racial injustice and do better, this is not the week to ask African-Americans to help educate us or show us the way.
For the past few years, I’ve learned so much from following activists and writers, such as Luvvie Ajavi Jones and Austin Channing Brown on Facebook and Instagram. (The Instagram handles “blackcoffeewithwhitefriends” and “theconsciouskid” are also great.) I appreciate that they let us listen in as they support one another and share their experiences. It is not their job to educate or even fix us—it’s an act of pure generosity that they share anything with the world. I think it’s important that we, as white people, watch and learn, but that we don’t interrupt or challenge their experiences. It reminds me of being in the beauty shop with the twins—as the only white woman there, I don’t stop the conversation and ask for clarification. I listen. I want to be able to stay in the room; I have so much to learn.
I don’t go to these women’s online posts or books when I need hand-holding or for praise of my “wokeness.” I go with an open heart and a determination to learn and grow. Sometimes, I read something that pierces my heart and I make myself sit with it for a while. I distinctly remember a critique of white women who only get involved in race relations once they adopt children of color. This was a hard truth that I needed to hear; it humbled me and made me a better mom.
I saw a sign from a Black Lives Matter rally that said, “All mothers were summoned when George Floyd called out for his Mama.” I feel summoned, but also keenly aware that I should have come running way before this latest senseless act of violence. I’m here now, though and not just for my own children. With a shaky voice and grief of my own, I’m here.