Our 8-year-old son surprised me recently with a question I wasn’t prepared to answer.
I’m normally comfortable talking to our three children about any subject. Who is God? Where do babies come from? Is Iron Man real? Who made all the buildings and the roads? Why do parents have to work? What would happen if …?
These are the mysteries that fill the minds of young children. My wife and I do our best to answer with truth shared in ways they can understand. It’s not always easy, and this was the hardest one yet.
“Daddy, why don’t some people like brown people?” he asked.
It crushed me that he didn’t make it through a decade of life without realizing racism exists, and more importantly, that he could be a victim of it. I am white; their black mother gave them gorgeous, rich brown skin, especially when the sweet summer sun kisses them.
Maybe it was naive to hope for a decade or more of innocence for him and his siblings considering the world in which we live. It’s much more than a lot of children get. It is at least partially my fault. I’m sure he has seen and heard some of the news reports I’ve watched or listened to about Black Lives Matter protests and the alleged crimes that led to them. Of course, he’s going to have questions.
Then again, maybe it’s good for him to learn early in life there are people, fellow Americans, some right here in our community, who see him as “less than” simply because of his skin color. My children should know they’re in a fight and I’m standing right beside them each step of the way.
Black is beautiful.
Our kids are kind, curious, talented, smart, determined, and so much more. Our oldest child, the 8-year-old, loves baseball and singing. His little brother likes to dance and wants to start his own YouTube channel. Our daughter, the youngest, loves to paint. She likes all things that sparkle and is fiercely determined to prove she can do anything her brothers can do.
Knowing some will just dismiss all of that with one look at them overwhelms me. I rage inside. I can’t even imagine what it is like for parents who experience the indignities and injustices too many people of color experience on a daily basis.
How do they not burst open? I am in awe.
We talk to our children all the time about how they can be whatever they want to be in life if they work hard, make smart choices, and never give up. The whole American Dream thing.
I really want to believe what we tell them is true for everyone. I know it can be. I also know in the United States in 2020 there are people in positions of power in our government, our business community, our education system, our military, and our justice system who will stand in their way for no good reason.
Still this in 2020? Yes, still this.
I remember seeing hundreds of white nationalists marching with torches in 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia, and thinking to myself, “How many of these men would hurt me and my family if given the opportunity?” And, “How many of them will be in positions to make hiring decisions, financial decisions, housing decisions, health care decisions, legal decisions, life-and-death decisions that will affect my children when they’re older?”
How many are doing so now?
I grew up in a small town in Colorado. My community consisted mostly of other white people in school, church, the grocery store, and youth league sports. I can’t remember everything I thought about when I was my son’s age, but I do know none of it was about racism.
Four decades later, I’m living in a San Antonio suburb married to an amazing woman who is much smarter than me, and life for our three children isn’t drastically different from my childhood except that we live in a much more diverse community. For that I am thankful.
I wouldn’t want my children to be raised in an environment where nearly everyone looks like them, talks like them, and thinks like them. I know that way of life delayed my understanding of the real America. There was a time for me as a young adult when I felt lied to.
I love walking through the halls of my kids’ Northside ISD school seeing faces of all races. It brings me joy to see them all playing together, laughing together, learning together.
I don’t have that implicit trust in our American experiment that my parents did. I need to see this.
I find myself asking: How do I as a white man who has never experienced racism, oppression, or fear of the police prepare black children to deal with those realities? When they’re older, I know I’m going to have to talk to my children about what to do and what not to do if they encounter law enforcement officials. “The talk” is how my wife refers to it. My parents needed to have no such talk with me.
Our kids are still young, and I’m hopeful we can change the world before they’re grown, but I’d be a fool to think so much change will come so soon when, up to this point, it only comes in drips dragged out through decades, centuries. It weighs on me.
Still, I am hopeful. I see more and more multiracial families all the time. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates the multiracial portion of the country’s population will be more than 20 percent by 2060, which is triple what it is today.
More melting within our pot will be a good thing, but as I told my son when he asked about racism: It came from fathers who taught their children through words or action that what mattered most was the color of a person’s skin. Not who they were, what they knew, what they had to offer, or how they treated others.
And it won’t change until fathers stop teaching their children that nonsense.
Disclosure: Kyle Ringo is the husband of Rivard Report Managing Editor Graham Watson-Ringo.