The following personal essay is written by Black North Shore resident, mother and children’s author, Janea D. Harris. The essay poignantly describes her personal experience raising a Black family in America. Chicago North Shore Moms is dedicated to continuing anti-racist conversations about race and equality. She writes, “It is my hope that the North Shore community will join us on this journey and be an example through our actions, showing that there is no home for racism on the North Shore.” Thank you for reading and keeping our learning environment strong.
He’s 8 and He’s Black
“I thought they stopped doing this to Black people.” Those were the words my 8 year old uttered when he found his dad and I visually distressed, watching news coverage of the murder of George Floyd. We did not allow him to watch the video recording (as an adult it left me sleepless for many nights).
I don’t think any of us expected that on May 26, 2020 we would turn on the television and witness the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police. Not just one officer, but four who had all taken an oath to serve and protect. Yet, in that moment they all failed to see the value in George Floyd’s life. His murder was intentional and vicious and was recorded for all of us to see. Frustration mounted even further at the days long delay in arresting the officers involved, all of the officers. The reality is mistreatment, abuse and racism remains a part of everyday life for Black Americans. Over the next few days my son’s statement reverberated in my mind, pushing me to address racism in my writings and set me forth on a mission to work even more actively toward efforts to end racism.
My son’s comment comes from being too young to have known about Trayvon Martin in 2012, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tanisha Anderson in 2014 or the countless Black men and women who have lost their lives to police violence. He does know about slavery and the struggles we faced to obtain our freedom as Black Americans.
What we as parents didn’t expect was that our eight year old would sum up what all Black people know to be true, that this is indeed still happening in 2020. In that moment, we didn’t send him away or shelter him from the reality that Black men and women face on a daily basis. Instead with a sense of urgency, we began having a very ‘real conversation’ about being Black in America with him and his sister. We have had many talks with our kids about racism, but this conversation was much deeper and one that I didn’t expect to have in 2020. Can you imagine sitting down with your son, fresh out of 2nd grade and having to explain that not only will people hate you because of the color of your skin, but also that some people will not value your life?
I make it a point to introduce my little guy to every policeman we encounter when we are out and about. As a mom, no one recommended that I do this; instead it was a natural behavior that I suspect was just embedded in my subconscious. I feel this is necessary because I want them to know him and also because I don’t want him to fear them. It should be unconscionable that my preparation for my son growing into an adult is teaching him how to survive being born with brown skin.
As one of the few Black families on the North Shore, we are well aware that we are definitely in the minority. We were drawn here like most other families for the proximity to the city, the amazing access to the arts and wonderful amenities. Our desires and dreams for our children are no different than those of most other people. It is my responsibility to do my part to bring about an end to systemic racism for him and his sister and all children of color, even if that activism leaves others a little uncomfortable. The truth is the responsibility lies with all of us. To enact lasting change this is a conversation that needs to be had with children not just in the homes of Black Americans, but in all homes with all children.
It is my hope that the North Shore community will join us on this journey and be an example through our actions, showing that there is no home for racism on the North Shore.
Resources for additional information on combating racism:
- Educate yourself – Bookshop.org (Anti-racist Reading Recommendations)
- Educate your children – Embracerace.org (Children’s books, Webinars, Action Guides, Articles)
- Quick read: “What do terms like systemic racism, microaggression and white fragility mean?”
- Keep the conversation going, talk to each other.