SACRAMENTO, Calif. - As protests over the death of George Floyd continue around the world, one black couple in Sacramento, California shared an emotional moment when they explained to their 10-year-old daughter why demonstrators had taken to the streets.
In a video posted by her mother, young Azariah breaks down in tears crying, saying, “I could die from the color of my skin,” as her father, Joseph, squats down to comfort her.
Azariah’s mother Jamie told Storyful that their daughter had asked them why people were protesting, saying, “It was time to speak about how she may get treated differently because the color of her skin.”
“It is a sad, harsh reality to have to have this conversation with an innocent child, especially your own child,” added Jamie.
Many parents of all races are struggling with similar conversations after a week of outrage and sadness that spilled into streets worldwide after video of Floyd's death emerged. It came after months of family togetherness in coronavirus lockdown, a time when kids have been cut off from schools and peers.
Floyd, a handcuffed black man, died after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into his neck for more than eight minutes as he pleaded for air.
How conversations with kids about race and racism play out can be intensely personal for parents. Many white parents in particular believe children are too young for such discussions at age 10 or 11, said Andrew Grant-Thomas, co-founder of Embrace Race, a nonprofit that provides resources for parents and educators.
“They think that kids are too naive and fragile and will crumple the moment you even mention the word,” he said. ”By not engaging kids explicitly, essentially you’re leaving them to flounder in this tidal wave of communication about race that they are receiving from a very early age, but without you there to deliberately mediate how they make sense of what they get.”
Howard Stevenson, a clinical psychologist in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania, works with educators and families to understand the trauma and stress of race-based hate. Insights that he offered online in 2016 have been shared by school districts around the country in the past week with parents.
“Both verbal and non-verbal approaches influence what children not only know about race but whether they should speak to it or how they should manage the stress of it,” Stevenson told The Associated Press. “Children watch what their parents don't do during racial moments as much as what they actually purposely teach.”
He said research shows that the more parents talk to children about race, the more those children “tend to be less overwhelmed by the politics.”
The Associated Press and Storyful contributed to this story. This story was reported in Los Angeles.