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The Mom Stop column: Let’s stand up for what’s right

Lydia Seabol Avant
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My 11-year-old daughter and I sat in our living room last week, nervously watching the news as peaceful protests in Washington D.C., Atlanta, even Birmingham, Alabama, turned into riots over the death of a black man, George Floyd, by a Minneapolis police officer.

“What is going on, Mommy?” my daughter asked. She was calm, but I could hear the anxiety creeping in from the tone of her voice.

Despite increasing tensions across the U.S. over Floyd’s death, I hadn’t yet talked to my three kids about what happened.

I try to be honest and transparent about current events with my children, so they are aware about the world they are growing up in. But with the ever-looming threat of the pandemic, which has already made them fearful, I wasn’t sure that telling them about protests and riots over Floyd’s death was the best idea. While my 11-year-old could probably process the information, I’m not sure that my 8-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter could do the same.

While watching my oldest daughter react to the scenes on TV, however, I knew the time had come. While I was wondering the same thing as she was - what is going on with our country, that peaceful protests have turned to looting, broken windows and burned out buildings - I needed to be more fair to the issue. I needed to be more honest, with myself and my children.

I needed to be upfront about white privilege, about bias, about racism and about how the world has unfortunately worked for way too long. Our society has overcome so much since the civil rights movement, and yet, the senseless deaths of too many people of color in recent years is evidence that we haven’t yet overcome enough. We’ve made progress, but more must be made.

As a white woman who was raised in the ’80s and ’90s not to “see color,” it pains me a little, to teach my children that racial discrimination is a reality. But it’s vital that they know it’s there, so they can recognize it and know it’s wrong, so that they can stand up for what is right.

It’s vital too, so they can recognize their own bias and their own privilege, to better empathize with others who have a different path or experience.

Soon after Floyd’s death, a friend of mine posted on Facebook about it. While we have both worked in the media, we are both mothers involved in our kids’ schools, we are both married and educated at the same university - she is black. I’m white. Reading her words made my mouth dry and gave me a sinking pit in the bottom of my stomach, because it brought the fact of white privilege home to me. While Floyd’s death - before the protests - was on my radar, it was on the periphery. While it was on my mind - it did not impact my day to day life.

But then I read my friend’s words: “This week has been hard, y’all. I can’t lie about that. The death of George Floyd and the others before him have caused me to lay awake at night. The callousness with which Christian Cooper was treated was unbelievable in every sense of the word. Like many of you, I watched evil before my very eyes. It has shaken me to my core and will have changed me in unimaginable ways. I can’t help to worry about my husband and my son through it all. If you don’t have that worry, that’s a privilege whether or not you realize it. I grieve with George Floyd’s family.”

It hit me. I’ve never had to worry about my husband taking a run through the neighborhood or fretting over my son playing in the front yard as police drive down the street. On the few times I’ve been pulled over for a traffic violation, I’ve never had to worry about where to keep my hands or what words I should say. I’ve never worried for my life.

But for others, it’s a reality because of the color of their skin.

Things must change. George Floyd’s death - and too many others - have made that apparent. We must progress. Part of that is recognizing our own privilege and working to ensure equality for all. For parents, the easiest way to start the discussion with our children, stressing empathy - so that they too can recognize the wrongs in this world and stand up for what is right.
Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Reach her at lydia.seabolavant@tuscaloosanews.com.