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Black Shootings and Rainbows and Butterflies

Last night, Kam and I did something we have never done before: watched the news together. In shielding her from the harsh realities of the world via news broadcasts, I aim to allow her bubble of innocence to stay afloat for a bit longer. I don’t want her idea of the great possibilities of the world to come crashing down just yet. I want her to believe that the world is full of greatness and magic and she can be and do whatever she wants, period. No disclaimers. No if only you weren’t a Black woman… I do not wish for her to be aware of all of the obstacles that await her or the ugliness of mankind. She has her entire life to get thoroughly acquainted with real world issues and only a few to indulge in being a kid. For now especially, I want her to see the brighter side of life.

I find myself doing circus tricks just to keep her unaware of the way things are.

There is a part in The School of Rock (a movie that has recently been on repeat ever since I cut off cable…see My Consistent Inconsistencies) where Summer, the pretentious over-achiever, informs Mr. S that although he tried to glamorize the role in the band he has assigned her to: groupie, she has in fact discovered that they are “Sluts…they sleep with the band!” I promise you, whenever that part is about to come on, I direct Kam’s attention elsewhere. I ask her to shift a little to the right on the sofa so I can get some more covers; I point off to the corner, shriek, and ask her if that is indeed a spider on the windowsill; I tell her it’s supposed to be a mild day tomorrow and maybe we’ll make it to the beach, take her cousins with us for an all-out girls-weekend; or I ask her what was it grandma said was the best way to get rid of the tomato sauce stain on her white dress (a dress she hasn’t worn in months, due to said tomato stain, and is by now too short for her)? I am not exaggerating with these examples. She wears a look of puzzlement at these random inquiries and statements as I monitor the exchange between Mr.S and Summer out of the corner of my eye and wait until the coast is clear! Success! Until next time…

Then there are the train ads. I’m telling you, you aren’t safe anywhere! It’s as if the entire universe is conspiring against me and my plan to preserve her innocence. There are ads for this show on VH1 called Dating Naked in a train station we frequent. It is a dating show, which–you guessed it!–is about potential love interests…wait for it, wait for it…dating naked! This particular ad, which is right around the corner from the turnstile we enter through, shows a man and a woman from behind, naked. We are saved from a complete mooning by wording on their derrieres. Is it crazy for me to feel that subway and bus ads, well public ads in general, should be rated G for the general public? If an advertisement is going to be placed in a public place, is it too much to expect it to be family friendly? Obviously, if I don’t want my kid to be exposed to raunchy dancing and full-frontal T&A, I will not take her into a strip club or watch certain television programs with her. But now I have to take a different route in the mornings or have her face forward while we’re passing by the ad just to avoid crap that should not even be displayed for the public in the first place? I don’t mean to sound extra prudish…but I have to protect what my kid sees! I refuse to allow the media to expose my child to certain things before the time.

Last fall, I got extremely infuriated at a homework assignment she was given. I contemplated calling her teachers, the principal, Channel 12 news!

I was outraged! It was a writing assignment that asked her to “Describe a family member that you look up to. Why do you look up to them? Who is it? How would your life be different without them?” Well, when I tell you after Kam wrote a response to the prompt, she came crying to me…! I didn’t know what the heck to think. I had no clue what upset her. She told me she didn’t want me to die and then showed me her writing response. I took a picture of what she wrote and have been trying for a while now to post it but of course my phone has diva tendencies and chooses now to express them! In any event, towards the ending of her page-and-a-half long response she wrote, “My mom means everything to me. Let’s say I don’t have a shoulder to lean on or someone to talk to everyday, I’ll be lonely.” I grabbed her tightly and let her know I wasn’t going anywhere. I wonder at the way the question was worded… Did other students have a similar interpretation? I decided against making it an issue because I thought I would just appear to be blowing things out of proportion and that maybe we were both just reading into it: Kam with her interpretation, and me with my accusation that her school was forcing a topic on my daughter that I wasn’t ready for her to explore.

She knows death happens. A few years ago we came home after a long weekend to find our gold fish floating at the top of its bowl, lifeless. So she knows animals, things, people, don’t last forever…at least in the worldly realm. But I don’t want her to think about her own mortality or me not being there. Just the other day she discovered a gray hair in the front of my hairline…because of course when they pop up, the intention is to be put on display for all to see! I had seen it there for a while, after my hysteria that followed the initial sighting, I had been too nervous to pluck it out. They say you pluck out one and 10 more grow back in it’s place. So I saw it but chose to ignore it and style my hair in ways that concealed it. She grabbed me and said, “No, momma! Don’t get old! You’re too young to get old!”She then yanked it out and handed it to me.

Last night, though, I felt it was appropriate for her to watch the 20/20 special on the recent Dallas sniper attacks against police officers by 25 year-old Micah Johnson. The attacks were in response to the horrific killings of two Black men, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling by police . She was intrigued by the footage and reporting. She kept saying it was all so sad. I didn’t get a chance to ask her her thoughts about what she just saw. I admit that I attempted to hide the image of Philando Castile, covered in blood after being shot be police, seemingly dead, as it came across the screen. I didn’t want her to see all of the graphic images. I didn’t want an image of a dead man covered in blood to be imprinted on her eyelids. I didn’t want to start a series of never-ending night terrors.

I’m happy I allowed her to see the special. She needs to be aware of some aspects of how Blacks are regarded in society. I don’t want her to be afraid to seek out a police officer when she is in trouble but I need her to also know the history of relations between Blacks and law enforcement. It’s a slippery slope: making her aware that hate is not the answer, but to “love” with one eye-open. These issues are part of American history, current events. I fully intend on raising a well-informed child, so I understand she needs to be appropriately enlightened. I do not want her to be afraid, but she needs to be aware.

I do not foresee us watching the news together every night. I won’t tell her of the latest homicide statistics in New York, or of the mugger who beat the old man over the side of his head for the $37 in his back pocket. She will not know of the rapist who is on the lose or of relatives who kill for inheritances. No. She does not need to know these specific details. What I do tell her is to always be aware of her surroundings. I tell her to look around her while we’re walking. Observe the people on the bus and train. I tell her to speak up when she knows things are not right and to trust that voice inside of her…because it will never fail her. She must trust the Holy Spirit who lives inside of her! I especially tell her that just because someone is an adult, it doesn’t mean she has to feel compelled to do what they say. If something seems off, she is to react immediately. I tell her if she is walking and someone tries to grab her, to yell like crazy and kick and scream. I have given her what I think are subtle glimpses into the negative side of things, without getting too graphic. I’m making her aware without doing away with her rainbows and butterflies.

I do understand that in a few short weeks she will be entering 5th grade (what her charter school considers the beginning of 6th grade…something I still wander about…)and topics will come up. I will be ready for her when she has questions, but the thing with childhood is to know when to introduce info and when to hold back… You have to know your kid and what they are ready for…

What are some things you shield your children away from? Have you had the discussion about the recent or past police-involved shootings of Blacks? If so, how did they go?


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