Parenting is a tough job. It involves being responsible for a child’s safety and well-being day after day. But for Black parents of Black children, unfortunately, raising children comes with an extra layer of stress due to the toxic nature of racism prevalent in society. This is anything but new. It is a burden that Black parents have had to carry for centuries.
Parents of Black children are “constantly having conversations our white counterparts generally don’t have,” Shaun C., 41, father of two sons, 18 and 10, and one daughter, 15, tells SELF. These conversations include “how to survive and make it back home safely versus how to just be normal,” Shaun explains. The result: There is an ever-present undercurrent of anger, fear, and sadness for many of these parents—and it is exhausting.
“You are constantly trying to protect them, even from people who are supposed to be on their side—teachers, administrators, and so-called friends,” Kimberly L., 42, a mother of two sons, 20 and 5, and one daughter, 10, tells SELF. “You try to put them in a bit of a bubble, even though the bubble doesn’t really exist. It’s more of a fantasy for them, and we have to deal with the reality of what that looks like.”
Despite these hardships, Black children are cherished, and their parents are committed to helping them thrive. Below, SELF spoke to a variety of Black parents raising Black children to learn more about what parenting looks like right now—as well as the microaggressions their children experience, the lessons they are instilling in their children, and how they grapple with their own fears and anxieties during this time.
On parenting through George Floyd’s murder and other acts of violence against Black people
“I was heartbroken when my daughter’s friend told her about George Floyd. If I had it my way, I would have waited as long as possible to expose my child to this world. The one thing you want to protect most, at least for me, is their innocence. I would like the world to still be a place filled with fun, excitement, and curiosity. Every time one of those conversations happens, a little more of her innocence goes away, and that’s sad. But it is required, right? If you are going to prepare your child for this world, then you have to have conversations about George Floyd, the police, racism—all of these things.” —Jason P., 42, father of two daughters, 10 and 5
“My youngest son is very cognizant of what is happening. He has asked questions regarding the police. When we have been driving, he has seen police cars going by (or behind) us, and he has asked if they are going to stop us. I say, ‘If we do get stopped, this is what you do: Keep your hands where they can be seen, be calm, and let me talk.’ At 13, kids his age are like, ‘If he does this, I am going to do this.’ I say: ‘This is not television. This is not an anime movie. They will kill you.’ It is hard to tell my son that. You never want to tell your child that someone will harm them, but he needs to be aware that the police don’t think like he does. And, unfortunately, we as Black males grow up with a target on our backs.” —Ronald F., 51, father of two sons, 26 and 13
“Our oldest is in a mixed-age classroom—her peers are between nine to 12—and they were talking about it a lot. It started with one of her classmates saying, over Zoom, that something happened on the news, but ‘Ask your mom if I can tell you.’ And that was George Floyd’s death. I said she could talk about it. I don’t want it to be a secret. It is time for her to know these things. And, because some of her friends are going to protests and talking to their parents as well, we haven’t shielded her from any of the conversations that she has been having with her friends. But we have stepped up, letting her know that this isn’t new, and we didn’t come to this problem in 2020. Recent events have also made me focus a little more—especially because we are home-schooling due to the quarantine—we are going to incorporate more Black history, from a struggle standpoint and a celebratory standpoint.” —April P., 42, mother of two daughters, 10 and 5
On teaching Black children to navigate the world
“At 16, it was hard because he hadn’t had any experiences with the police yet. He consumes his information on the internet, and there is a lot of misinformation. So he’s looking at YouTube, and it says things like if you are pulled over, you don’t even have to roll your windows down. We had to train him—not if but when he gets pulled over—to make sure his hands are at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock. And not to put his registration and insurance in the glove box because they will shoot him in the back of the head and say he was reaching for a weapon. We’ve told him to put his cell phone on the dash before the cop even walks up to the car.
He didn’t believe us until he got pulled over the first time. Unfortunately, you have to experience it to really understand, but we know that the first time is often a violent or deadly situation for a lot of these kids. They don’t get to learn from it.” —Ernesto L., 47, father of two sons, 20 and 5, and one daughter, 10
“We have a wall in our house that has civil rights photos on it. When we have slow moments in our day, we talk about the pictures. I have shown my daughter pictures of some of the peaceful protests. We read books about diversity. We try to find Sesame Street programming, so she sees people being different but still treating each other well. She talks a lot and, at 2-years-old, she knows phrases like Black Lives Matter; No Justice, No Peace; Say it Loud! I am Black, and I’m Proud. She knows Breonna Taylor’s name. We try to instill pride in who she is. We teach her to celebrate those things.” —Lauren W., 43, mother of a 2-year-old daughter.
“I speak to my son about his interactions with white people, mainly the police. I speak to my daughter more about being aware of her surroundings. I remind my children that many white people have feared Black people most of their lives. Most don’t even know why, but they’ll do whatever they feel they must do to protect themselves and their families from us: kill us, put us in jail, fail us in school. I know it sounds extreme, but this is how I talk to them. I don’t want them to be surprised later and learn the hard way. I am thankful that they see me and their dad have healthy relationships with white friends and colleagues. It helps them see that we are not talking about all white people.” —Daria V., 42, mother of a 12-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter
“We live in a predominantly white community, and our kids are typically the minority. A hard lesson is teaching a young child that, ‘Yes, your classmate may do X (which can range from talking in class or playing on the playground), but the reaction may be different if you do it.’ The playing field is not a level one. So as a parent, especially in the school environment, I am always making sure that we are on a level playing field. I’m not necessarily always having a conversation about that, but that is what I am always looking to ensure—that my children are getting a fair shake.” —Lynn J., 47, mother of a 15-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter
“It must have been about age 4 when he began to understand and perceive things like police interactions with Black people and general racial injustice. He’s been seeing more during the last three years because he’s older and understands more, but also because overt racism has increased. He was initially upset, but we’ve explained that he’s worthy of dignity and respect—he shouldn’t let anyone run afoul of that. He’s absolutely terrified of the police pulling people over and interacting with police if we’re out and walking.” —Ronald F., 42, father of a 6-year-old son
On handling microaggressions and racism at school
“Our oldest son played goalie in water polo. He missed a shot one day and slapped the water because he was upset. The referee didn’t just give him a warning. He threw him out of the game. Then told him to leave the stadium, publicly shaming him in front of everyone. My wife and I had to get the superintendent of Broward public schools involved and go ballistic. My daughter tested into one of the best private schools in the state of Florida. She also tested into the advanced math class, and the administrators tried to tell her she wasn’t ready for it even though she tested into it. We’ve had to push back.” —Ernesto
“Our son played a monkey character in a school play. He has been in a number of plays at school, and in this particular one, the character he was playing happened to be a monkey. I had issues with it. I opposed him dressing up as a monkey, and I voiced that. Ultimately it was resolved with him not wearing a monkey costume. But it wasn’t a problem for my son initially. As a parent, I was in a position to voice a concern, and I did. I didn’t want my son, who is the minority in a predominately white school, dressing up like a monkey. I think it sends a wrong message.” —Richard J., 49, father of a 15-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter
“Colorism is very real. Both of my sons attended the same magnet program for elementary school. My oldest, who has fairer skin, was invited to participate in more programs, such as NASA’s Science, Engineering, Mathematics, and Aerospace Academy (SEEMA). There were also numerous occasions where my eldest son would be asked to be present for school board or political photo-op events. I hate to say it, but he was the “Black face” of the school, even though his school is diverse.
It wasn’t the same for my youngest. He had less access. It is very disheartening. With certain teachers—because of their tone and other microaggressions—he has been reticent about speaking up for himself and addressing issues. There have been times when we’ve discovered a teacher has given him a wrong grade or no grade at all. It’s not until we become involved that he feels empowered to communicate with that teacher.” —Diana F., 50, mother of two sons, 26 and 13
On how it feels to be a Black parent right now
“At times, it’s frightening. My son has a vibrant personality. He is extroverted and inquisitive. I’m afraid of his transition from cute little toddler to little Black boy—and the shift in the social narrative that will be placed on him. The state of concern is constant. There’s a harsh realization in that we can’t always protect him from seeing and experiencing racism. We are trying to equip him to be safe and to protect his own personal space and peace. The emotional and physical threats to his person are very real and tangible. I’m concerned about teaching him to navigate it all successfully.” —Ronald F., 42
“My kids are held to a different standard, a harsher standard, and sometimes even a deadly standard. So it is always in the back of my mind that one of my kids is going to get into an altercation with someone, and in particular, law enforcement. And if that happens, they are going to come home in a box. And we all know that because of centuries of law, legal precedence, and government policies, that isn’t going to result in punishment. Government policies don’t value Back lives.” —Ernesto
“Regardless of whether I was parenting at this time or any other, I don’t know that I would be unafraid. I was born in Prichard, Alabama, and my father was the first Black official of a deep Southern town since reconstruction. Growing up, my mother often told me that, because the Klan had burned a cross in our yard, my father’s bodyguard taught her how to shoot a double-barrel shotgun with one hand so that she could shoot and hold me at the same time. So I always have this undercurrent of fear of the possibility of things reverting back—as they are now. I live in a constant state of fear and anxiety, but because my daughter is so small and close to me, it is easier for me to manage my anxieties. To raise a free Black child is an act of resistance. Despite how many murals they paint in the street and how many ad campaigns are out there talking about how they stand with Black people, the legislation doesn’t line up, so to have a Black child with a Black husband who loves her ferociously is defying all the things they say about Black people.” —Lauren
Quotes have been edited for clarity.