Black People Have A Complicated Relationship With Police, And I’ve Had To Tell My Kids That
By Ryan Singh, ByBlacks
PHOTOS SUPPLIED BY AUTHOR
Jul 13, 2020
This piece is in partnership with ByBlacks.com
I am Black. And over the last few weeks I've sat helplessly by my computer as race relations protests unfold on television and around the the world.
I am from a multiracial Guyanese parentage and I've never lived with my father. Instead, I took my mother's classically common East Indian last name: Singh. And as a child, my worldview was informed by my mother's family.
This includes what I was taught were the tenants of law and order.
Now, as I watch in real time every stand against policing and anti-Black racism, I'm having a flood of mixed emotions.
The Day It Happened
When George Floyd was killed, I received a text from a friend who was in Minneapolis at the time — they wanted to discuss the tragic ordeal.
But it wasn't new information for me. I was already aware of what had happened, because it had already come across my newsfeed.
Within that first hour, I searched to find a longer clip so I could fully comprehend what had happened. I sat through all eight minutes and 46 seconds of this modern day lynching.
As a Black parent, this mom knows "the talk" is coming — the the inevitable conversation when racism comes knocking at their door. Read here how she introduces the subject to kids.
Stop Painting in Broadstrokes
It seems as if life as a Black person is an endless loop of broken promises of equality. And without change or reform, patterns of abuse will continue.
Over the years, I’ve come across breaking news and have hoped that a Black person was not involved. Historically, when a Black person has done something wrong, they are often cast as a representative of an entire race. This allows for unhelpful racial stereotyping. The same broadstrokes aren't always applied to other races, and even if they were — it would be just as unhelpful.
The Police Issue
Growing up, I always had a healthy respect for police.
I was young and independent, and even at the tender age of seven, I was allowed to run errands around our small town and was known by neighbours. Raised by the community sort of thing.
"It seems as if life as a Black person is an endless loop of broken promises of equality."
One day, during a festive celebration, I followed the masquerade band all the way out of town and returned on the truck as night fell. My family was worried the entire day.
That night, my mother sat me down and gave me a stern warning. It came out of fear. “I love you,” she said, “I will always love you, but if you ever stop listening and get yourself in trouble, I will let the police take you and put you in jail.”
“I will not stop loving you, but you must follow the rules.”
This is how I understood consequences. And my biggest fear growing up as a result of these conversations was getting in trouble.
When my mother and father migrated to Canada (first my father, then my mother), my behaviour was strongly guided by the instilled belief that should I do something wrong, I would face the full extent of law and justice. I believe it's part of what made me a good, law-abiding citizen.
In George Floyd's final moments, he said this mom's favourite word: mama. Read her story here.
My Turn to Parent
Today, I'm the father of seven-year-old twins.
Sebastian and Ava were blessings that came to our family in September, 2012. I first saw their capacity for empathy just five months later, during Black History Month.
" ... all we saw in our son was a little Black boy who could be easily implicated."
I took them to a roundtable discussion about curbing crime within the Black community. At less than six months old, these children, who had been happy-go-lucky while waiting, were now sitting rigidly through this two-hour meeting, observantly taking in the tense atmosphere of the discussions while we tried to find solutions to the chronic problems faced by the Black community.
When our children were five, there was an incident at school where a child had pulled my son’s pants down in the washroom. It was the months following the #MeToo movement, and the situation had flared so much that police were called on these little Black boys.
Needless to say, when we got the call, we were concerned. We couldn’t imagine our mild-mannered, quiet boy being caught up in such a situation. What’s more, we were concerned by how he may be affected. At school, the staff assured us that our boy was the victim, but it was enough of a red flag for us to have the dreaded conversation.
Though the school was well integrated with students from various backgrounds, all we saw in our son was a little Black boy who could be easily implicated.
He was already saddened and embarrassed by the incident, so when we sat and explained to him the importance of being extravigilent about protecting himself, even though he was being victimized, it made him even sadder.
We explained how sometimes the law may not believe him — they may take the side of the victimizer. We also had to have the tough conversation that there could be instances where people may choose to take him away from us.
Did I want to have to tell my child that? No. But a pattern has emerged in the world and it's rooted in anti-Black racism — lives have been ripped from families in great acts of injustice.
These tough conversations made both kids scared, but respectful.
"I’ve had to teach my daughter her history, knowing that it will not be taught in school" — this dad wants his daughter to know that above all, it's OK to be Black. Read his story here.
A Decision to Inform, Not Hide
My mother ran a foster care home for 10 years. I've seen children and families impacted by an unjust system, often affecting homes of Black families more unjustly. And as a producer of social justice and human rights content, I've also chronicled similar unjust experiences.
"So, on a typical day parenting my children, these societal microaggressions creep into my home, naturally."
So, on a typical day parenting my children, these societal microaggressions creep into my home, naturally. While the murder investigation of George Floyd unfolded, I sat paralysed and fearful. I thought of the times I've been pulled over, assaulted and disrespected by police; or when they drew a gun on me for driving and living while Black.
Because of this, I've made a conscious decision to inform my children about what's happening in the world. Why Daddy is fearful and wants to protect them.
To be quite honest, I've feared that my daughter's inspiring independent thinking or my son's sweet sensitivity could be seen as "noncompliant behaviour" by police in their present state, and could lead to the demise of my kids should they encounter law enforcement.
And that's why we teach our children to understand their relationship with the police. Whenever we are out in the community, we encourage our children to interact with them, get to know them and understand that these police are humans, too.
With more guidance and reform, perhaps I won't have to scare my children anymore. Because finally, their lives will matter, too.
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