Now or Never

'Would I be taken away from you?' Answering my 7-year-old's questions about slavery

Samantha Kemp-Jackson has four kids. And with her kids growing up in a biracial household, diversity and race have always been a natural part of their lives. They didn't spend too much time talking about it, but when her son came home from school having learned about slavery during Black History Month, the questions started.
Samantha Kemp-Jackson with her son Erik, is having difficult conversations with her kids about race. (Submitted by Samantha Kemp-Jackson)

By Samantha Kemp-Jackson as told to Now or Never

My son Erik is seven-years-old. During Black History Month he was quite intrigued and obviously really disturbed to hear about slavery, to hear that children were taken from their parents and never saw them again.

Since he learned about this in February he has asked me repeatedly, "Would I be taken away from you? Would I be taken away from my parents? What would I be?" For a spate of about a week he asked this over and over every night as we put him to bed.

When he's asking me, "What would I be?", I think he's trying to find his position in society based on him being biracial. He's extrapolating slavery to 2017 and saying, "Where would I fit? Would I be taken away from you, mommy?" And that's a difficult conversation to have. I mean, what do you say? Because the reality is that did happen and he very well could have been separated from me. It's a very ugly conversation to have and it's not one that I want to have. I avoid it. I admit, I avoid it. I don't want to have these conversations but I realize I have to.

Samantha Kemp-Jackson's daughter Miranda, her twin boys Erik and Aubrey, and her husband Rick. (Samantha Kemp-Jackson)
And I don't know that I gave the right answer to him. I feel like my role as a parent is to assure him so I said, "I'm not sure where you would be but just remember that I'm your mom and I'd always do my best to protect you. I'm always here to protect you and I will keep you with me no matter what."

Now maybe that's not true because, unfortunately, that was not the reality for a lot of the parents who were enslaved. But did I have the heart to tell him that he'd be separated from me and never see me again? I just couldn't do it. But I did say to him that this happened all the time, that parents were separated from their children and that was the horrible reality of it.

I think the hardest part about talking to my kids about race and racism is that that it ages them. It takes away their innocence. I felt that way as a child when somebody called me a racial epithet. It makes you grow up really quickly and it makes you realize that there are very ugly things about the world. The world isn't a bad place and I'm not trying to be negative, but it's not something that you want to deal with. Still, you have to deal with it.

Samantha Kemp-Jackson with her sons Erik and Aubrey. The twin seven-year-old's learned about slavery during Black History Month at school, and came home with a lot of questions. (Submitted by Samantha Kemp-Jackson)
It makes me sad and it also makes me angry that I have to have these discussions with my kids. However, I would be remiss as a parent and my husband would be remiss as a parent if we didn't have these conversations with our children. My children are biracial but they're perceived as people of colour depending on who's perceiving them.

If I don't arm them with the tools they need to deal with what are sometimes going to be negative experiences based on their race, then I have not done my job as a parent. These experiences are going to come up — they can't avoid them.

There will come a time, perhaps not in my lifetime but maybe in my kids' lifetimes, that people will not have to have as fraught conversations with their children as I'm having with mine.

That's my hope.

To listen to Samantha's full story, including her husband's thoughts about his role as a white man talking to his biracial children about race, and her advice for talking about race with your own kids click Listen