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The Rules My Black Children Live By That White Children Don’t Need To

My husband wasn’t even a mile from our home when he was pulled over by a police officer. Our two oldest kids were in the car with him. My husband was speeding while trying to get my girls to school on time before he had to commute to work. Our girls erupted into giggles; Daddy was in trouble.

Thankfully, my husband used the situation as an opportunity to model for our girls what it would mean for them if (when) they got pulled over once they were old enough to drive. My husband and I are both white — and we’ve had zero negative police encounters. But our four children are Black, and we are well aware that we have white privilege, while our children do not. 

My husband showed the kids how to interact with the officer. He also modeled how he kept his hands in sight at all times. When he had to pull out his driver’s license and insurance card, he asked permission to reach into the glove compartment — first. He answered the officer’s questions, and he remained calm and compliant. 

This is exactly what we need our children to do when they come into contact with the police. As white people, we can get away with being more aggressive — perhaps even annoyed and argumentative. Our lives are very likely not going to be in danger if we choose to do so. 

We have learned a lot from our friends of color, and we apply the rules to our kids, because it’s a matter of their safety. Our children can’t live as if they are white, because they aren’t. The things that my husband and I can get away with, simply because of the color of our skin, don’t give our kids a pass. 

As a white woman, I’ve never been followed by security in a store. I freely place my to-be-purchased items into the tote bag I bring in, as I’m shopping. If the cashier can’t find a price on an item, I have always been believed when I inform the cashier of the price I saw listed on the store shelf. Nobody gives me a suspicious second glance, or has asked to see my receipt. There has almost never been a situation where I’ve been followed or questioned about my intent, because as a white woman who drives a mini-van, I’m presumed to be trustworthy.

Our kids — who are now 14, 12, 10, and 6 — know that whenever we enter a public space, particularly a store, there are several rules they need to follow. First, they can’t have their hoods up or their hands in their pockets. They aren’t allowed to yell or chase each other. They shouldn’t touch every single item on the store shelves. If they plan to purchase something, they can place it in their cart or carry it in their arms — otherwise, hands off. 

Our children can use their allowance for any wanted items. However, they should always make sure to get a receipt and a store-issued bag. Where we live, people are encouraged to bring their own bag or be charged for plastic bag. A store-issued bag is more official. The kids should place their receipt in their bag, and be ready to show their receipt if questioned by a store associate or security.

We are fortunate to have a very large yard, perfect for the kids to play soccer, baseball, basketball, and tag. My kids have received toy guns with foam bullets — which we do not allow them to take outside. Though we have a lovely yard, we live on a busy enough road where many cars — including many police officers — go by. For this reason, we won’t allow our kids to have toy guns, no matter how “toy” they appear to be, outside of our home. 

We are well aware that there are Karens everywhere who have no issue summoning the police when they see Black children having a good time — even in their own yard. Look what happened to Tamir Rice who was just 12 years old when he was killed by a white police officer in a park when a caller reported that Tamir had a gun. It was later revealed that the gun could fire plastic pellets, not bullets.

When we’ve traveled for sports events, particularly when there’s a hotel stay, our kids aren’t allowed to run around the hotel unsupervised, even though most of their white friends are allowed to. Unfortunately, if a Black child or children is among a group of kids, and the group is acting like typical middle schoolers do, an adult is likely to blame any issues on the kids of color. 

Raising children of color in a world that discriminates, stereotypes, and targets them is a challenging task— but one we signed up for. We have consulted our friends of color, watched documentaries, read books and articles, and then constantly adapt our parenting with the ultimate goal of keeping our children safe. 

I certainly want my kids to enjoy themselves and have the same freedoms to make mistakes and be silly as their white peers. Unfortunately, that’s not how the world works. It’s easy for our white friends to “let kids be kids,” when their white children are trusted and safe — by default. My children are not given the benefit of the doubt, and because of this, we have rules in place that will hopefully help ensure their well-being and safety … now, and in the future.

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