'For black kids, the reality is racism happens': How one couple is talking to their kids right now
Serge and Nicole Kaniki are raising two boys in London
In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, tens of thousands of protestors continue to march in cities across the United States, calling for an end to anti-black racism and police brutality. Some parents may be wondering how to talk about racism with their children.
It's a tough conversation, but more important, it's one many families don't have the luxury to ignore.
London Morning's Rebecca Zandbergen was joined by London parents Serge and Nicole Kaniki. They are raising two sons, 9-year-old Micha and 14-year-old Noah. Here's that conversation.
What has been your reaction to what's happening in Minneapolis?
Serge: I can't believe this is happening again. And not only is it happening again, but it's happening in the state that has had a history of police violence against people. The same thing basically repeating itself.
Your sons are 9 and 14. What are your children saying about this?
Nicole: They're very aware of what's going on. My 9-year-old not so much, because he's not so much on social media. But he does walk by the TV and sees the news and has asked what's going on.
We've always had an open conversation in our home about racism. Racism is not something new to either of them. They've had incidents in school. For black kids, the reality is racism happens to you at an elementary level. We've had to have those conversations with them already. This has been disturbing.
With the 14-year-old, it's a big struggle because he is on social media with his friends and everybody is sharing so much right now. So, we've had to have in-depth conversations with him about his mental health and how much of this he takes in. There's been some very deep conversations in our home, for sure.
There are families, such as yours, who you have long dealt with these of questions of anti-black racism. Tell me a little bit about what your sons are subject to and have experienced?
Serge: Where can I start? With my oldest son, when he was in Grade 2 or 3, he had an incident. One of his friends took his toque and threw it in the mud and compared him to the mud and insulted him and the colour of his skin, and that was traumatizing. Luckily, the principal dealt with it well. But that was, I think, his first incident of racism, borne out of ignorance, because that was his close friend.
People who are watching what's happening in the U.S., there's a lot of anger, particularly for people who are black, watching the police brutality and feel anger. How do you not transfer that anger, or maybe you do — maybe you have to show them this is something to be angry about — when you speak to your children?
Nicole: That's what was exactly part of the conversation with my 14-year-old, because I started realizing how it is emotionally really affecting him. So, what I basically said to him was, our house is a safe zone. You're allowed to feel anger. You're allowed to feel those frustrations and disappointments with what is going on in the world. Because life is unfair for people like us. You can mourn it.
There is such a thing as righteous anger as well. Our home is a safe zone to do that in. Talk to us. Anytime you want to discuss and dissect it, do it. That's how we help him channel that anger. Even for us as adults, it retraumatizes you, every time you see these things happen. We've had personal incidents ourselves. We know that certain levels of anger are not going to be helpful either, so making sure we're just channeling it in the right way and supporting our community and the people around us too.
Do you fear for your son's safety?
Serge: To be honest, having lived in Canada, I felt largely safe because we live in a beautiful, safe country. However, lately... On Friday night, he stayed out as his friend's who lives just three blocks down the road, and he had his bike with him. Normally I would have let him bike home, I think he came home around 11 pm.m.
But I didn't want him to bike home, just because for the first time, I had fear that something would happen to him. I went and picked him up, put the bike in the van and said 'No, I'm not taking those chances.' That was really the first time. I fear for him. He was born in America, he's an American citizen. His life is probably going to take him there. I fear for him, more than I do for myself, just because I don't know how people are going to treat him down the road.
Compared to down the road in Toronto, London is not a very diverse community. Have you felt that here in London?
Nicole: Yeah, for sure. We've been here for ten years. I think that was one of the shocking things when we first moved to London, how low the diversity levels are. It's definitely something that we've been aware of.
We've had incidents, but as a black person you kind of expect low levels and that's okay and acceptable. You kind of live with it. Actually, when we moved to Canada, our goal was to get to Toronto. We didn't think that we'd settle in London, but after being in London for about a year, we were like, 'Wow, this is the best place to raise our kids.'
You live with the understanding that there's not that many people who look like you and you will be treated differently and we've kind of accepted that, but we have some wonderful friends, even white friends. Obviously mostly white friends, friends who have become family and family to our boys, and I think that helps even for our kids as well to have white friends who are very aware of the fact that racism exists. They talk to their kids and it sets the tone for us to have a better environment.
Serge: We're proud of some of our friends who are stepping up and letting their voices be heard. Talking to their kids about it, they've reached out to us to just make sure we're okay, to just have a conversation and I commend them for that. I encourage anybody as well to be open, that's the biggest thing you can do: to be open to have these conversations.
This story is part of a CBC project entitled Being Black in Canada, which highlights the stories and experiences of Black Canadians, from anti-Black racism to success stories Black communities can be proud of. You can read more stories here.