British Columbia·First Person

My little boy will grow up to be a Black man — and I'm afraid

Raising a racialized child in Canada means teaching them about their complex place in the world, says Audrey McKinnon, but that burden needs to be taken on by parents of non-racialized children as well.

All Canadians need to teach their kids about the destructive force of racism

Audrey McKinnon is mixed race, but presents white. She thought she understood racism — until she saw what her Black son experiences in school. (Audrey McKinnon)

This First Person article is written by Audrey McKinnon, who lives in Prince George, B.C. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQThis column was originally published in June 2020 after the death of George Floyd.

Moments before he died, George Floyd called out for his "mama," as an officer pressed his knee into his neck. It was the visceral cry of a man who was once a little boy, a little boy like my son is right now. 

When your son will one day grow up to be a Black man and carry all the weight associated with that, racism becomes an important topic of conversation at the dinner table and on the car ride home from school.

I'm embarrassed to say that despite being mixed-race, as someone who presents white, racism was not an important enough conversation to me before my son started facing it. I did not care enough to educate myself on what racism is, how it is built into our systems and how to help dismantle those systems.

But I'm here now, learning and talking about it with my son — a little boy who I love more than anything — who has already faced more racism than I knew existed and who will one day face a society that was built to oppress Black people. 

If you are white like me, you have not experienced racism first-hand. You will likely struggle to identify it in others. You will likely struggle to identify it in yourself. Conversations about it might bring up uncomfortable emotions like shame and defensiveness. 

I come from a diverse family with many skin colours, backgrounds and stories of facing racism. I thought I understood it before I had my son, but I was wrong. Now I know I will never understand racism as well as someone who is racialized. 

My son goes to school in Prince George, B.C., where the students are predominantly white. He's also gone to school in Kelowna, B.C., in a much more racially diverse school. Racism reared its ugly head in both environments.

Piece by piece, children with no understanding of racism taught my son falsely that he is not good enough, writes Audrey McKinnon. (Audrey McKinnon)

River learned to hate his skin colour in kindergarten. 

He learned to hate his skin colour because the other kids told him it was dirty and bad.

River learned to hate his hair in Grade 2. 

Piece by piece, children with no understanding of racism taught my son falsely that he is not good enough. 

It is not enough that I talked to him about racism, its history and how he could respond before and after. Parents with white children need to put in that work, too. You cannot take back what has already been said and done to Black people, but you can prevent it by working as if you could see your own child in George Floyd's cry for his "mama."

Right now, I'm scared for my son. One day he will become a Black man. I don't know when that happens, but I know I will not be able to protect him. 

I know that his Blackness means he is more likely to be the victim of a hate crime, more likely to face unemployment and less likely to make as much money as his non-racialized peers

I know that because of his Blackness, he is more likely to be killed during police intervention

If that sentence feels strictly statistical to you, take a moment and realize that I am talking about my son, the little boy who still howls "mama" when he's feeling vulnerable.

So I'm here to say one thing: teach your kids about racism. Whatever they look like, learn about it and teach it. Teach it over and over again, because my son's life could depend on it.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Research, learn, listen.
  2. Talk about it with your kids.
  3. Repeat.

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Audrey McKinnon

Freelance contributor

Audrey McKinnon is a former host and reporter at CBC Radio. She lives in Prince George, B.C. where she works as a writer and artist.