My 7-year-old son, Jay, stared out the window. “Momma, if the Statue of Liberty stands for freedom, why do Black people get treated unfairly?” He craned his neck, searching for the spot where you could see the statue from the boardwalk near our home in Jersey City, New Jersey.
“Why, Momma, why?”
My children have really great hard questions. Jay wonders why we can’t treat others how we want to be treated, like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said. My 5-year-old daughter wonders why some people are mean to black people. “Why, Mommy, why can’t we all just be nice and love each other? We should be kind to all people.”
Even as a diversity and inclusion leader, as a woman of color, and as a mother of two brown children married to a brown man, I am at a loss to answer. Because the questions that they have, we adults continue to struggle with them as well.
Recently, we sat down as a family to watch Coming Together: Standing Up to Racism: A CNN and Sesame Street Town Hall for Kids and Families. Here are seven key things we discussed while watching.
1. What is a protest?
Elmo’s dad explains to Elmo when he asks: Why are these people together on the streets?
Why are these people together? They are gathering together to protest. A protest is when people come together when they are upset and disagree about something. You are protesting to share your feelings and work together to make things better. They make signs to share what they are thinking. They are sad and upset and have every right to be.
2. What is racism?
Racism is a huge problem in our country, Elmo’s father explained. It has been happening in our country for a very long time. Racism is when people treat other people unfairly because of the way they look and the color of their skin. Not all streets are like Sesame Street. We all love and respect one another on Sesame Street. Across the country people of color, especially black people, are being treated unfairly because of who they are. People are saying enough is enough and they want to end racism. We can start by learning and talking about what’s happening and taking action together.
3. How can we help stop racism?
“Keep being who you are, keep loving each other,” Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta reminded us. When you see someone who is doing something wrong or saying something wrong, say that it’s wrong. When friends do something that’s wrong, tell them, and say it with love and support.
When someone is being mean or hurtful, then they are hurting themselves. Some people say hurt people hurt people. People are hurting themselves and may not even know why. If people really love themselves, they would never need to put others down. Sometimes you can say a prayer for them or make a wish that they stop hurting.
4. How do you respond to a classmate who asks why Black Lives Matter is necessary? Especially if you are the only black student in the class?
“There is this history for black people in this country that’s not like any other race in this country. We are the only race of people who came to this country enslaved and we have to continue to call on our history,” Mayor Bottoms explained. We must respect all people of all colors. When black people still are being targeted publicly, we need to speak out loudly.
5. What is empathy?
“Empathy is a big word for showing you know how someone else is feeling in your heart,” CNN commentator Van Jones explained to Abby Cadabby. Abby talked about how one time Big Bird was being bullied because of his yellow feathers and because he was tall. Abby said it wasn’t right and it wasn’t fair; it was unkind and she was very upset about it.
How did Abby show she cared? Abby told Big Bird that the yellow color of his feathers and his big size is what makes him so special. That he should be proud of who he is and that those other birds were wrong. And Abby went and told a grown-up what was happening. Abby understood what was happening and she stood up for Big Bird and took action.
6. What is white privilege?
“Racism impacts black communities and other communities of color. White communities are not impacted by racism. And sometimes white communities get unjust benefits and easier access to things just because we are white, not because we deserve it,” said Jennifer Harvey, a professor of religion at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.
Professor Harvey said the most dangerous part of white privilege is to think “that we can sit this struggle out.” This won’t be over in two weeks, especially as black Americans lead this struggle against racial inequality, white Americans need to get all in with them, interrupting racism in our families even when it’s uncomfortable or causes conflict. And support racial justice organizations in our communities and cities.
7. Should we talk to our black and brown friends about racism or should we wait and let them bring it up?
“Given all that’s happening in the news, it’s OK for a friend to ask and check in on another friend,” recommended Beverly Daniel Tatum, Ph.D., an expert on race and a former psychology professor and president of Historically Black College Spelman College in Atlanta. She suggested starting by saying: “I see what’s going on in the country and it upsets me and it concerns me. I wanted to check in and how see how you are feeling about everything.” The important part is that you want to let your friend know that you are upset, you are concerned, and that you care, and that you are checking in on them and how they are doing.
After our time together watching, Jay made a sign to express how he was feeling: Peace and Justice for All. He wanted to stand on the balcony and hold out his sign for others walking by to see. He waved down and others waved back up at him, giving him a thumbs-up and clapping.
We are never too young to start standing up to racism. Thanks, Big Bird, Elmo and Abby Cadabby.