“Ollie, I want to talk to you about something important.” I said, and his eyes got wide as he shoveled a huge spoonful of macaroni and cheese into his mouth. “Did you hear what Marrett and I were talking about this morning at breakfast? About people getting killed?”
He nodded, and I took a deep breath. “Well, those people that got killed had dark skin, they were black. We have light skin, and we call that white. Now a lot of people with dark skin have been getting killed in this country lately, and I want to talk to you about something called racism.”
“I’ve heard that word before, Mom. Racist. What does it mean?” he asked.
“It means basically when people with light skin treat people with dark skin badly just because their skin is dark…” I trailed off. “No, that’s not quite right. It’s about a system where people with light skin have an easier life than people with dark skin. Like, it’s harder for people with dark skin to go to good schools. If they get in trouble with police, they’re more likely to get in big trouble and go to jail for a longer time. The whole system makes life harder for people with dark skin.”
Tears welling up in his giant brown eyes, Ollie looked at me and said, “But we would never do that to people with dark skin, right, Mom?”
It broke my heart to tell him that though we might not do it on purpose, because we are white, we are part of the problem of racism. “That’s why it’s so important that we work hard to change the way things work, and when we see someone being treated unfairly, we step in and say something.”
The tears spilled over his lashes now. “Mom, I don’t know if I can do that.” And I thought, me too, buddy, I’m scared too.
“It’s okay, buddy. I know you can do it, because you are brave and you want to do the right thing. And I will help you, and so will other grown-ups (as I prayed silently that this would be true).”
He blinked back the rest of his tears as he nodded vigorously. “Okay, Mom, I will try. Will it help Maddie and Ava?” I hadn’t even thought to connect it to his beloved cousins whose Native American heritage shows in their brown skin.
“Yes, baby. It will help Maddie and Ava, and all the kids at your school who are black and brown. That’s why it’s so important.”
And the conversation was over. Or more properly, the conversation has begun. I don’t know if I did it right or well, but I knew I had to say something. There is too much at stake, there are too many people dying to stay silent. And I realize as I write this that I missed one major thing at least: we fight against racism because Jesus loves all people and came to bring both justice and peace. As his followers, our love must mirror his, which means justice- and peace-making. I guess I know what I need to say next.