As a parent I told myself I would never lie to my son, I mean about my emotions. Every parent has to tell one little fib here and there! In any case, I didn’t expect this proclamation to be the deciding factor around explaining what Racism was to Elin.
The first time I heard George Floyd say, “I can’t breathe…” was enough for me to go numb. Another Eric Gardner, and so many other names and bodies, and yet Eric Gardner is the Black body that resonates the most with me to this day! He was a big guy like me, he had asthma like me, and he was trying to survive in the streets of NYC like me. So, with all these similarities rushing back into my mind, body, and heart it shouldn’t have been a surprise to me that I couldn’t concentrate or focus for the rest of the day.
I watched George Floyd die at 11:00 am on 5/27/20, this was two days after his real death. It had already been two days of outrage for another one of Us being killed for no reason. “Great, another Black person, another one of Us they just scraped off the bottom of their shoes…”, this is the thought that went through my head because I remember taking my slippers off reflexively. I guess my body was telling me I needed to fill my floor; I needed to ground myself. My own body knew, but it just didn’t catch up to my mind or heart yet.
Great, another Black person, another one of Us they just scraped off the bottom of their shoes…
After two meetings and a half of an email my numbness broke and it poured out of me.
When my body did catch up to my mind, heart, and spirit. I cried so hard I started coughing…
“Daddy, daddy...you okay, are you almost done with work? Can we play yet?” Elin’s voice came into more focus as he opened the door to my “office/bedroom”. I wiped away my tears slowly and he asked again, “What’s wrong Daddy?” I kissed his forehead and I said, “Daddy heart hurts, it hurts so much right now but let’s go play Buggie…”
By the time Elin and I started playing together, I had relived that horrific moment in my mind and heart enough times to give me a headache! On top of this and the mini puddle that I left on my fake wooden work desk. I still felt the need to show up fully for every aspect in my life, especially in this moment. Work, parenting, activism, and being present for friends and family who were going through all the same bullshit in our society right now. And as I pop the dice for the game Elin and I was playing, my mind continued to float in a cloud of the anxiety of how his little Black body could be broken so easily. And as I pulled the string on the toy for the game Elin and I was playing my heart was crushed under the pain of despair as I picture him calling for his mother like George Floyd did.
The tears started flowing from my face quicker than I noticed them and, at that moment, I told Buggie, “Hey, Daddy needs to talk to you about something…” In that same moment, the phone started to ring, I wasn’t even aware that it was time for Elin’s Mother to call. Time slowed as Elin was on the Google Duo call with his Mother. When the time finally caught back up to itself, I did too and in that instant, I decided. “Hey Buggie, can I talk to Mommy?” I told her I am going to talk to Elin about racism! I must do it tonight because I can’t even function without bursting into tears right now and I am not going to lie to our son about why I can’t play with him without crying. Elin’s mother supported my choice that night and as a family who may not live together anymore, in that moment we were parents to a Black child.
5 years old, how can I break down racism to you? How do I do this?! And then, the idea slaps me in the face like a cold chill because no one should know how to best have this Fucked Up conversation with their child. “Hey Buggie, can you go get Jordan, please?” and Elin responds, “Why, are we reading books, is it bedtime, I want to finish playing our game, Daddy…” “Just please go get Jordan Bugaloo, please.” They plead and emotion from my voice is something that even Elin can recognize, he is such a compassionate little person.
As Elin gets up to go bring Jordan over, I rack my brain, how am I using Jordan? Am I using him through the medium of play therapy, I know Buggie responds well to this? I want to protect him as much as I can and at the same time, I can’t stop thinking, I and My people shouldn’t have to have this Fucking conversation with our kids. I instinctively shouldn’t know that this conversation was bound to happen. No one should have to have this conversation with their young child or children, but we must!
When Elin comes back with Jordan, I tell him, “Hey Buggie, come over here, come sit next to Daddy. Daddy and Jordan want to talk to you about something very important. Put your listening ears on for me.” I put Jordan on my right hand, Jordan is a little Black boy puppet I purchased for Elin to read books to him. I purchased Jordan to make reading fun and to promote positive self-representation for Elin. Between the lack of self-representation at his school, the community we live in, and the lack of effort overall in general in our society to empower and uplift Black and Brown little people. I wasn’t going to just leave his self-identity development up to chance.
I just never thought I would be using Jordan like this in a million years! As I start to talk through Jordan, I explain what racism is and how George Floyd was hurt and killed by a bad cop. The weight of the conversation and this moment hit me like the first time I realized I was Black. And although I honestly couldn’t picture it at the moment, I could feel it in my whole body.
Then Buggie’s first question came, “Will the bad cops hurt my friends, like…” He named three of his friends and I had to tell him “No, maybe not him...” to one of them. And he asked, “Why?” And I answered because they are White. Then, Buggie asked his second question, “Will you protect me Daddy from the badness?” And I answered through Jordan, “Your Daddy and I will do everything in our power to protect you from the badness Bugaloo and we love you so much”. Throughout this heavy exchange, I asked my son how he felt, in between me explaining things via Jordan, I answered his different and difficult questions. Helping him with understanding the weight of some words and through it all, I leaned on Jordan the whole time; he helped me so much. It was a heavy but a necessary conversation for all three of us!
After Jordan and I said, “We love you so much” to Elin. Elin responded with, “I love you so much too Daddy, and grabbed Jordan and hugged him so hard and said I love you too Jordan!”. This simple yet innocent reaction grounded me. Elin’s response and desire to go back to wanting to play helped me process this heavy life reality. He reminded me that I am his Daddy, I love him, and I am trying to do my best in this world every day. “Hey Buggie, can you go put Jordan back in the book box now, let’s play one more game before bedtime…” Elin says, “Okay Daddy…” with a big smile on his face.