Letter to White Parents: 8 Actions You Can Do to Make America Safe for Black Children

Dr. Charmain Jackman

June 1, 2020 | 6 minute read

Photo by Ana Danilina | Unsplash
This piece is based on a letter I sent to the parents of my children's friends. My goal was to enlist them in the fight against racial violence and ultimately, white supremacy.

The emotional toll of a Black parent

I am reaching out to you with a heavy heart as I watched the events unfold about the murders of Black men and women over the past few months and over this weekend. Some of you have reached out to check-in on my family and to ask what you can do. I am glad for that question and I am taking this opportunity to share our thoughts with you. As the parent of [my children's names], I urge you to stand up, speak up, and engage in actions that will end racial injustice, racial violence, and the unprovoked murders of Black people. Black people cannot do this alone. We need you to stand up-- now more than ever. We need you to fight for the lives of [my children names] and children like [my children's names] as if they were your own children or family members.

The painful conversation with my son about George Floyd's murder

For the first time, I felt the urgency to talk to my 9-year old about the murder of a Black man at the hands of 4 police officers. I have delayed having these conversations because I wanted to protect his innocence. I wanted him to keep his child’s view of the world for as long as possible. But, I broke. I could no longer collude with America. I needed him to know that America is not all it seems. So I told him about what happened to George Floyd. That he was killed by the police because of the color of his skin. I had to tell him that people still treat Black people the way they did in the 60s-- in those stories he reads about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the fight for civil rights. I had to tell him that not much has changed.

I told him that a Black man was killed by a police officer and that Black people were very upset.

My son asked, “What did he [George] do?”

“Nothing.” I responded.

“How did he die?” He inquired.

“Well, the police officer had him on the ground and he put his knee in his [George's] neck. George was saying that he could not breathe, but the police officer did not do anything, and he died.” I told him this much. More than I ever wanted to say. Knowing that there was so much I was leaving out of this story. That three other police officers looked on while George died. That people begged the officer to listen to George, but the officer did not nothing. Nothing for over 8 minutes...even after George’s life had left him. That a few years ago, another Black man, Eric Garner, begged for breath, but he too died. I didn’t tell him that. I couldn’t. I want him to be aware, but I don’t want to traumatize him. I feel compelled to protect him from the idea that this could happen to him because of his skin color AND knowing that it could happen to him simply because of the color of his skin.

“Did he get fired?” My son had more questions. My son always has questions. “Did he go to jail?” At 9 years old, my son understands what justice should look like.

This is undoubtedly one of the most painful conversations I have had with my son. I talked about discrimination against Black people despite the work of Martin Luther King, Jr., and other civil rights activists. I know that it will not be our last conversation. What I didn’t tell him was that every day I worry that this will happen to him someday or to one of his cousins or to his dad or his mom (me), or his uncles or his aunts. I could not put that on him.

Have you talked to your children about George Floyd? What did you say? Do you even know who George Floyd is? These questions are not meant to judge. Rather, they are an indication of the turmoil I feel, and I am not even related to George. I need you to feel George’s death as if it were your brother or uncle or cousin. I don’t wish that pain on anyone, but maybe it will help you to see what you can do to stop these murders.

Some of the books that we read with our childrenPhoto by Jeff Lahens

Prepare your children to thrive in multicultural society

As parents, we have a responsibility to prepare our children to live in a diverse society. We teach our children to be kind to others, and yet when they grow up, these messages get lost along the way. Margaret Hagerman, author of White Kids: Growing Up with Privilege in a Racially Divided America does a great job explaining why this happens. My children cherish the friendships they have with your children, and it will comfort me to know that these topics matter to you too! As a family, we read about books that affirm their identity as Black children of Barbadian and Haitian descent AND we read books about other cultures too. I want them to kind children and even kinder adults. Plus, all the research shows that heterogenous teams perform better than homogenous team. I want that for my children. Don't you?

Advocate for Black teachers in your children's school

We also have an obligation to ensure that our children’s schools offer curricula that honestly describe historical events and that reflect our multicultural society. Our children also need to have teachers who represent the multicultural society that we live in. Without diverse teachers, it can be easy for children to believe stereotypes about certain groups and we risk replicating institutional racism, implicit bias, and discrimination. It’s like the mirrors and windows analogy that we use in literature. Books should be mirrors where children see themselves and windows to see other’s experiences. Children need to see themselves in their teachers (mirrors) and they need to hear the experiences of teachers who come from different backgrounds (windows). Since coming to[school name] 3 years ago, I have advocated for more teachers of color, particularly in the lower school. However, I have taken on this task alone and did not engage you. Truthfully, I did not know how to ask. Now, I do. Through my children, I have come to know you and your children. Plus, I feel an urgency. So here I am asking for your help. This is not only for my kids, it is also for your kids. All children need to have Black teachers. Children of all ages need to see diversity reflected in their curriculum and in the people who teach them. If you think that increasing Black teachers will lower the standards, that's called implicit bias and based on a belief that Black educators are not as "qualified" as White educators.

Photo by Obi Onyeador | Unsplash

Call to action

There is more that we want to say, but we will leave it here-- for now. There is a lot of work to be done and it can be easy to throw up our hands or bury our heads in the sand. But we cannot. Please do not. Instead, we are asking you to lean in, to speak up, and to act! Do something that will make a difference...small or large!

8 Actions You Can Do Now to Make America Safe for Black Children

If you are unsure what you can do, here are 8 actions that we are encouraging White parents to take to change the discourse on racial violence:

  1. Read this article: 75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice

  2. Read White Kids: Growing Up with Privilege in a Racially Divided America by Margaret A. Hagerman and How to be an Anti-Racist by Ibram Xendi.

  3. Talk to your children about racism, white supremacy, and racial injustice. Use books, videos, movies, whatever you need to start the conversation. It's a hard topic to discuss, but so is sex, death, and drugs. These are difficult conversations, and we need to have them anyway.

  4. Organize a discussion group with friends, family, and colleagues to discuss racial violence and generate action steps.

  5. Contact your local police station and inquire about their efforts to address racial bias in their practices and policies to ensure that these acts of racial violence do not occur in your town.

  6. Advocate for more Black teachers in your children’s schools.

  7. Lean in to difficult conversations about racial injustice. Do not worry about making mistakes. If your heart is in the right place, people will understand.

  8. Use your voice to speak up when you see injustice (e.g., racial jokes, bias in media, etc).

This is a starting point, so don't stop here. This will be a a lifelong task. It will feel comfortable, and when that happens, you will know that you are learning and growing. If you feel safe, then you are not doing enough. You need to push yourself.

There is no need for tears or apologies. Just ACTION!

Charmain F. Jackman, PhD, is a licensed psychologist in Massachusetts with over 23 years in the mental health field. She also the mother of two wonderfully creative, curious Black children. Dr. Jackman is the founder of InnoPsych, Inc. an award-winning organization on a mission to disrupt racial disparities in mental health. Dr. Jackman is passionate about the intersection of psychology, mental health, and diversity, equity, and inclusion and has created social impact initiatives that support community members and mental health professionals. She is the recipient of the 2020 American Psychological Association’s PLC Diversity Award. Dr. Jackman LOVES talking about mental health and can be booked for keynotes, conferences, and workshops. She has been featured in both print and TV media outlets locally and nationally. www.InnoPsych.com | www.DrCharmainJackman.com | @InnoPsych | @AskDrCharmain