“I [STILL] can’t breathe”: Supporting kids of color amid racialized violence
Black, Brown, Native peoples, poor people – we talk with our children about how to interact with police. We file formal complaints against abusive officers. (Derek Chauvin had at least SEVENTEEN complaints on his record before his encounter with George Floyd.) We take cell phone videos that go viral. We share our stories with media outlets. We file lawsuits. We protest, allies at our side. If it were altogether up to us to stop the racialized violence directed against us, we’d be having a completely different conversation.
With COVID-19 as backdrop, some predict a “long, hot summer.” Others see a promising new determination by many Whites to become a vigorous part of the solution. In this complicated context, what conversations about policing, violence, safety, justice, and race should we be having with our children of color? We talk with child psychologist Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith.
EmbraceRace: So tonight the topic is, "I [STILL] can't breathe": Supporting kids of color amid racialized violence. We're talking with Allison, who will be introduced, about the conversations about policing, violence, race, safety, justice, we should be having with our kids now. A lot of them, we should be having before now but in this context as well, which is pretty fraught for many reasons, that you're all very familiar with.
This webinar is a companion piece to the one we did on Tuesday, earlier this week, which used the Central Park case of Amy Cooper and Christian Cooper as a point of departure for talking about how we can raise white children to be anti-racist. Now, this one is focused on children of color, using the George Floyd policing protests as a point of departure. We've got tons of questions, amazing, wonderful questions and we will be prioritizing those that focus on children of color.
Allison Briscoe-Smith has been a guest more frequently across our 40 odd webinars than anyone else which gives you some idea of the love and respect and the esteem in which we hold our colleague. It's great to have you back, Allison. Let me give just a quick rundown of some of her credentials but when she speaks, no pressure, you'll hear how fabulous she is.
Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith is a clinical child psychologist who specializes in trauma and issues of race. She earned her undergrad degree from Harvard. Her clinical psych PhD from the University California Berkeley. She combines her love of teaching and advocacy by serving as a professor and directing mental health programs for children experiencing trauma, homelessness or foster care. She's an adjunct professor at the Wright Institute. Much of her work is with the Bay Area schools and non-profits as a clinician, a consultant, a trainer. Welcome back Allison. Great to have you here.
Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
EmbraceRace: In the work you do, you're getting a lot of exposure in the Bay Area to what's going on right now. We'd love to hear first, what are you seeing in your work?
Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith: Yeah. Well first, I want to begin by thanking you all for providing this as a forum and an opportunity for me to speak in this way. It's very much related to what I am seeing, which is that, I serve as a clinical psychologist, so I see and treat families and children. So that's one piece. But I've also been really, called upon this week and honestly called upon in part because people had reached out and already seen your resources.
So I'm interacting a lot with parents and parents who are holding a lot of concern about how their kids are fairing. And also, in the midst of a pandemic, I've been getting a lot of opportunity to work with parents and think about how parents are managing lots of stress, in general. So with that view, I'm seeing a whole bunch of different things.
I actually want to begin the conversation by saying the things that I think we need to keep our eyes on. I had the opportunity to be in service with some youth and youth of color and the radical advocacy that they are doing. They're literally, putting their lives on the line by marching in the context of a pandemic. They are organizing. They're using Zoom and social media to get out there and I have been just moved and ultimately feel hopeful when I get to see youth activate in that way. So that's a place I want us to pay attention to and to look for the resilience and the radical nature of this generation, in particular. This generation has had it rough, it's been a challenge for them and their means of mobilizing, I'm awestruck by.
On the other space, I want us to think about the places where I'm seeing other kids, which is that they're struggling. Right? So places that we're worried, and this is a combination, as the title is framed, this is nothing new. It's this magnitude in the context of being separated from friends, being separated from family, not having your milestones. Doing those kinds of things is an added stressor for many kids. So, I want us to listen in to see how those kids are really doing.
The last thing that I'm seeing, parents, we're having it tough. Parents are both manifesting amazing resilience and strength in terms of how we're managing all the different layers that are coming out at us in the midst of a pandemic. Now I can homeschool my kids, now I've been making bread from scratch, whatever it is, we're doing those kinds of pieces, but this is extraordinarily challenging.
We as humans, we as people of color are suffering in this pandemic, in particular ways and when I say, this pandemic, I also mean this racial pandemic. American Psychological Association identified this as a pandemic of racism. So I'm really worried about how we're doing as parents and also, really just grateful to have an opportunity to speak to parents and try to provide some level of support.
EmbraceRace: So what are you telling those parents? What are you telling those kids? And basically, when we talk about kids, when should we start to worry about them? What are the behaviors that are troubling?
And Allison, just to make sure I'm tracking. You named at least three groups, right? Parents and stress, worried about their kids. Kids who are, sounds like, if not thriving, but certainly activated and active. Then, also some children who are in distress, who have worries and so on. Yeah?
Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith: So to answer that question about, when should we be worried? The real piece that I want us to focus on and what I'd like to tell folks is that, two parts. Number one, we have to put our own oxygen mask on first, we as parents, and I know that gets trite and said all the time but I really, honestly mean it.
We, in this particular moment, have to spend 10 minutes a day by yourself, checking in. Am I doing okay? What do I need to sustain me? If I'm not doing okay in this moment, what can I get? So I'm not talking about month long retreats of silence. I'm talking about, I need to check in with myself to see how I'm doing so I can see how I can be available for my kids.
So I really want to encourage us to do that part and if we can do that, we can do the next part which is really hard. Which is, we really have to listen to our children. And when I say listen, I mean, we have to listen to the behavior of our toddlers. We have to listen the play of our 4, 5, 6 year old's. We have to listen to what our adolescents are telling us. We really have to listen and we're going to have to do an extra bit of work of separating out our worry from what they're telling us. Because we have all these people here because they're worried. Right?
And we have a justifiable reason for being worried. Many of us are parents of kids of color and so there's a reason why we're worried. And we've got to put down our worry enough to listen to how they're doing and to listen, how are they making sense of this? So that part, I think is really important but our capacity to listen is directly related to our capacity, in general. How are we feeling? How are we doing?
EmbraceRace: That is so true. I am not listening, Allison. Today was a day of not listening very much.
Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith: It's hard. The other piece that I've been preaching on, more in the context of COVID, has been that of grace, and to have levels of grace. Number one, we have to have grace with our children. They've never been through a pandemic before, so their behavior should look a little nuts. It should look a little funky at times. They're not used to spending this time with us, so we have to have the grace to understand that their behavior is going to move. We have to have grace in some ways for our institutions or schools, as they are trying to figure out how to make this transition. That's a place that I hold tremendous frustration and we know where inequity is really ripe, is right there.
But we also have some grace with ourselves as parents because again, we're contextualizing this. Right? This wave of racialized violence that is not new to anybody and it's in the context of shelter in place. It's in the context of being physically concerned about our health in yet another global way. So this is a moment for us to have some grace with ourselves. Our capacity to listen is already pretty narrowed. Then you add on our own racialized stress, it's narrowed even more. That's also, what I think is called upon when people are asking, "What can they do to help?" Well, help us expand our bandwidth a bit, for being able to listen.
EmbraceRace: Allison, you mentioned a lot of the folks that are watching right now are worried and they have a range of worries. To the extent, that we can separate our worry from what our children's experience is, emotional and otherwise. That's actually a place to start. I love you talking about taking care of ourselves as adults in light of children. And you started to tease apart the various ways in which different children might be feeling, anxious, worried, distressed. It's a mix of things going on there and we'll get into some more particulars.
Do you have any more general guidance for the literally thousands of folks who are watching this right now about if you sense some distress in child and you want to preserve or help restore some sense of joy to your child. Even though there's a reason why that child may be under some stress. Any general advice about how to do that?
Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith: Yeah. I think the general rule of thumb that I've heard, invoked by a number of psychologists that are doing this work right now, is we should anticipate in this particular time, in the context of shelter in place and the distress and also, in the context of this extraordinary wave of racialized violence. We should anticipate that some of our children are going to have behavioral and psychological changes. The place for our concern is twofold.
As much as I'm saying, we've got to think about our worry, I do want us to trust our guts. We know our children. Right? That voice in your heart and your stomach, that says, "I don't think he's okay." I want us to be able to listen to that and not rationalize out of that. And what I look for as a psychologist is I look for persistent change. I'm not looking for the one day or the two day of moodiness. I'm looking for persistence in a change that is going on over the long time and seems immovable.
I also think about that notion of persistence because I just got off the phone with a student who can't get out bed. She's not supposed to. She's grieving. She's having a really, really, hard time. So I'm going to leave her alone for a bit. I'll be more worried if I call her next week and she's still not out of bed. It's the persistence. What we're really talking about is extraordinary highs and lows of behavioral dysregulation or mood, of affect, of sleep. That's also happening in the context, all our boundaries fell out the window in terms of, they're not going to school anymore. You're not going to work anymore, or if you are going to work, how maybe you're stepping into work with more fear than before.
So the typical boundaries of how kids are held have fallen apart. So why wouldn't we expect some sort of range in change with that? So those are the things I look for as a clinical psychologist. I'm not worried if a parent calls me and says, "My 14 year old's having a hard time sleeping." But I am worried if they're having a hard time sleeping for the past three, four weeks and nothing I can do can really shift that.
We should anticipate that some of our children are going to have behavioral and psychological changes... The typical boundaries of how kids are held have fallen apart. So why wouldn't we expect some sort of range in change with that?
Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith
EmbraceRace: I just want to highlight just one thing that I think is lovely
about what you're saying. It's very easy for us to think that sadness, just
being down, being worried, being concerned, being angry is a self-indicative of
the problem. You're saying, "No, actually, doesn't that make perfect sense
that kids would feel that way?"
Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith: Yeah.
EmbraceRace: And yes, only when it becomes perhaps, embedded in and calcified, that then it is an issue. I heard that as you giving me permission to sleep in tomorrow?
Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith: Yes.
EmbraceRace: Yeah. We don't need permission.
Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith: Well, the parallel is that we have to do that ourselves.
Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith: We need to give our children access to our navigation of the full emotional range. Right?
Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith: For me to be chipper in the midst of a pandemic and racialized violence all day, every day isn't real and it teaches them that they have to negotiate horrible trauma by getting rid of their own feelings. I will say that we want them to see our full range of our own humanity and when we can't get out of bed for days, then we need some help. Right? When I have no patience to listen anymore and I'm angry all the time, we need some help. So it's also about that kind of compassion in ourselves too. Again, so much of this is a conversation about what we tell our kids. It's what they're seeing. It's what they're seeing in us.
EmbraceRace: Then Allison, you're seeing a range of parents and families and you said, it's harder to see kids during COVID. Right? But, I'm wondering about the differences you're seeing in how they're responding to racial differences, if there are differences? What are the specific fears around one's racial identity, in these times?
Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith: Yeah. I think we have to locate this in a couple different ways. One of which, I'm going to start with Black kids, and while owning the great variability. The message that Black kids are receiving is that their lives do not matter. We're getting questions. I get this question from my son: "Will a police officer kill me?" That question about what that means to have that located in their bodies and in their spaces is heartbreaking and it's too much. So of course, we're going to expect some worries, some anxiety to come up with that, that we will mediate and that this is all about how it is that we're going to make some change with that. Right?
Then, we can think about the other kind of ways. It's not unusual for other kids to ask that question. It's just that I can't as easily to my Black son say, "No, you'll be fine." So even in the context too, we can think about the broader notion of racism. So all the folks that are here with us that are folks of color can have a language of racism, how racism is showing up. So when they're seeing this going on, or when kids are seeing this, it can be framed within the family around racism. Like, "How do we understand racism? How does it show up?" So that again, is another place that kids might feel and embed in an approximate way, about how they feel about that.
Then we move out another layer, another circle of our community which is white folks, which is that the translation of what will happen, or what may happen to kids, might feel different for white folks. That the presumed necessity to talk about this might feel different, or perhaps the landmarks by which to talk about it. I think it's a new conversation for many white folks to have with their children, and they're struggling with how to talk it. Whereas, many folks of color have had to a conversation about race since jump as means of protecting and engaging our kids.
So I'm not sure that I actually got to your question but I'm thinking about it in these different kinds of realms. What I'm seeing is, not to say that I don't have Latinx kids who are really anxious and they're impacted by racism. I was talking to a client today, whose family has DACA. So wanting so desperately to go and protest but feeling that not only is their life on the line, but that they could be sent back to their home country. So that's a stressful piece to embody and that actually can be a place of shared experience of the terror and horror of what's going on.
EmbraceRace: There are different degrees of vulnerability. Right? We're not all situated the same with respect to what's going on, whether that's COVID or protests or police brutality certainly, and our children aren't either. So especially with the young children, our inclination as parents and as adults who love them is how do we protect them? One thing I hear in what you're saying is, "Well, be honest." Sometimes there are assurances that we cannot give, depending on their vulnerability, and then where we can give those assurances because of our particular circumstances, they may well have friends, peers, who are vulnerable. Right?
How do we walk that line between, yes, maybe some of us can give assurances with respect to some things, but we also want our children to be aware that not everyone is so privileged in that way? Can you say something about that?
Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith: Yeah. I think even the language that you just talked about. The way that you actually just phrased it is a language that kids can grasp. What you just provided in the question was, 60 seconds of something that can be translated. "This is really impactful for us because we're Black folks and we also know that there are other people that are impacted by terrible things that are going on as well," and invoke friend's name. What we want to be able to do is care for ourselves and care for others. Or if I could flip that.
"We know that we're actually in place that we're really lucky. That because we're white. People won't look at us in the same kind of way and we don't feel like that's right and we want to think about all our Black brothers and sisters in the community and how we want to be of support." More than anything I think, it's not that the language isn't available to us, it's that we get caught up in the fear of saying the right thing.
And I'm hearing that from so many folks within my white community. The worry is that if I say the wrong thing, then I'll hurt somebody and I don't want to hurt anybody. My encouragement is that this is not about being the perfect parent, it's about being a good enough parent that can make a mistake and narrate that mistake, to be accountable and come back.
The last piece that I really want to think about in terms of another piece that I'm seeing a lot in the context of folks of color and white folks, outside of Black folks, is the problems of guilt. So "I feel guilty that I'm not impacted in the same way. I feel guilty that I'm not out protesting. I feel guilty that I'm housed." And so I know people are getting caught up in understanding and appreciating their privilege and getting overwhelmed by senses of guilt. I also want to articulate that that is the cost of racism. The cost of racism is that any one of our spaces of intention of helping folks out gets labeled and smashed down as being about being guilty.
So I want to encourage us not to persist in the guilt but persist in our places of relationship and care and to try to do that. I think that's the same thing that we're seeing with our kids. It's the worry that we have in the conversation to our kids around privilege is that maybe they'll feel guilty. So I think we get a chance to talk to them about that, our privilege doesn't make us bad people, it means that we have a space to move into action.
More than anything I think, it's not that the language isn't available to us, it's that we get caught up in the fear of saying the right thing. And I'm hearing that from so many folks within my white community... My encouragement is that this is not about being the perfect parent, it's about being a good enough parent that can make a mistake and narrate that mistake, to be accountable and come back.
Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith
EmbraceRace: That's really helpful, Allison. That's a beautiful response. This appreciation for the different ways in which different people might be situated with respect to the various threats against some of our communities and opportunities. Now we're moving into questions. A lot of great questions coming in. Of course, we won't get to nearly all of them, but we're trying to pull some clusters of questions that point to a lot of the shared concerns.
Parents, teachers, etc. whose loved ones include mixed race kids, multi-racial kids. They're asking, "Where do I fit in all this? I'm not Black. I'm not white. Maybe I'm neither or maybe I'm both?" How do you speak to the child who wants to know, "Have I disappeared in this narrative around what's happening?"
Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith: I mean, I'm spending a lot time thinking about this. I'm in the middle of completing a book exactly on this. Where we landed within this, we revised it a couple of different times, but it's going to go back to the message that radical listening is necessary. The radical listening that's necessary in the context of being a mixed kid now. So we brought in kids and their parents and had them talk to each other. Then we also brought in siblings and had them talk to each other and really listened to what they were saying. We didn't get questions from them about, "I don't know where I belong." It's that, "Other people won't let me belong." That's very different.
The radical listening that's necessary in the context of being a mixed kid now ... [When listening to mixed race kids] we didn't get questions from them about, "I don't know where I belong." It's that, "Other people won't let me belong." That's very different.
Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith
Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith: I can't speak to that from my own experience because I'm not mixed, but maybe Melissa you can. The idea isn't that a person doesn’t understand who they are, it's that so many people are unwilling to listen.
Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith: This is what the research bears out. This is what these kids told us, is that mixed kids have agency in their identification and fluidity. And all the kids that we interviewed who were part Black knew and wanted to claim their Blackness. That was taken from them by adults who refused to see them see that way, or adults who wanted to categorize them.
What does your child want? In this kind of context, we have to understand why it's so compelling to try to move into whiteness. I see that in terms of what parents are trying to do sometimes with their mixed kids is we've sublimated and transcended race. "Race doesn't matter in our family. We can see that." Kids are telling us that it doesn't really feel that way. What's going on in the streets, doesn't really feel that way.
Then it's also really understandable. I'll give a quick example. So years and years ago now, we took our kids to a Black Lives Matter rally. My son must have been 5 or 6 at the time. So we were walking and he was asking, "So why are we doing this again?" I'm like, "Well, we're doing this because people haven't been kind to Black folks." And he turns to me and goes, "Well, I'm Black." And I'm like, "Yeah." And he goes, "But it's okay because I'm white too."
So he's a mixed Black, white, Mexican kid and it makes sense that kids, in this moment of fear, might be compelled to move into a place. That was a very 6 year old way of thinking about it. Right? Like, "Well, you're telling me people aren't kind to people like me, so maybe it's better to be like them." So we've got to be able to listen to that and not judge them for it, but listen to it. I think I went off on that point.
EmbraceRace: No, it's all good. No, it really makes sense. I'm white presenting and the thing that's so interesting about mixed raced people is it's up to the person who's identifying you. You can't predict it. You can't predict how they're going to identify you and what that's going to mean and it depends on the context and who you're with. But what I always do is talk about how I self-identify and how others identify us, and they're not always the same thing.
So for some people, they are the same thing. Andrew felt a little silly saying, "I'm Andrew and I'm African-American." He's like, "Don't they know that?" But it really underlines that race is constructed. Right? That actually, what does that mean? The divisions are not that clear. .
So we had a bit related to that. We did have a question about a 6 year old who calls herself Brown, who is Korean-American and white American and she has been freaking out because she wishes, especially in light of the movement for Black Lives and all that's happening, she wishes she were either Black or white, anything but Brown. Her mother says, "She's struggling mightily with where she belongs and where to identify. Which I suspect, may be case for many brown children right now, especially from mixed, nontraditional homes, not pinned to one ethnicity."
I wonder what you say to a parent, to help a child who's really struggling with being mixed and/or Brown right now?
Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith: I think one of which is, to listen and to validate that struggle. You know, "Sweetheart, I understand why it's so hard to feel like you've got to pick a side because it looks like what's happening outside means that people have to pick." Then you've got to reference your own self. That it can be complicated if your racialization is different than your child but you can also say, especially if you have similar experiences. "I remember what that's like too. I remember that people wanted to make me pick a side and what I've decided to do is not pick, and this is who I am."
So it would be listening to the child and coming back to our own. This is a big thing that I've spoken about with you all, in different ways, is that we do have make a way out of no way. We do have to give our stories. Our stories of resilience, as much as our stories of struggle too. And to know that this is going to happen. What I think I hear in that is, a worry and a concern about how the child is freaking out but I also hear an anticipatory worry that maybe they won't like themselves.
So again, that's our worry and we've got to slow down with that. We have to expect that children, Black children, Brown children, children of color, raised in this society are going to struggle a bit with their identity because of the messages that are out there.
Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith: I hate to say that because there's grief in that. None of us want that to have to happen and it's a place that we can think about and support.
EmbraceRace: Here's a question from Autumn, who says, "If our Black children are not exposed to news and media right now, is it okay to let them stay unaware of the tumult or does that do them a disservice? Especially, my 10 year old, but also my 13 year old with limited screen access. I don't want to steal their confidence and joy." Allison, I know your kids are 3, 9, and 11. So that question about the age, does your answer depend on the age of the child?
Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith: So the answer depends a little bit on the age of the child but my go to question when I'm asked about this is, "Would you rather be the person who tells them about what's going on or would you rather have them learn from someone else?" Because they're going to hear about it and even if there's limited screen time, it's not far. It's not hard to find out, to hear a thing. It's okay to titrate. I think that's the difference that I used to have before is this idea about, we can speak to it, we can show them. I think we're actually now in a moment of if we can do some titration and if we can limit, but if there's a kid that has a phone in their hand, I want to frame that as, that's an access to images of viral, Black death, is what they have in their hand. It's only a second away.
All the filters in the world, you're still going to get some part of that. If not, then my kid who's got access to that, and your kid who doesn't, our kids are going to talk and my kid will say. So I think we have to do that. But to answer specifically, I think it's okay for us to do some titration and talk about it. This is a big thing. You don't have to go into all the details. You can hear in the language that I said for my son, "People haven't been kind." That's an understatement in terms of what it is but that was a 6 year old appropriate language for that.
Now, we have a discussion about, not only were people not kind, but people are killing each other, and that Black people are getting killed in a particular way. So we can have more of that kind of conversation now. My 3 year old, this is not the conversation that I'm having with her, and she can tell we're all distressed. So, "Mama's having big feelings right now," or she's at the door at night, "You in a meeting?" She knows that. So we have to be able to have some kind of language around that kind of stuff, but the big question I come back down to is, "Who do you want to tell your child about what's going on? Not whether, but who?"
I think it's okay for us to do some titration and talk about it. This is a big thing. You don't have to go into all the details.... But the big question I come back down to is, "Who do you want to tell your child about what's going on? Not whether [your child hears about it], but who?
Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith
EmbraceRace: But let's stay with that for a moment. You mentioned your 3 year
old. I think she's almost 3, so it's of course a different conversation. But we
have another big cluster of questions around preschoolers, 2, 3, 4 years old,
even 5 or 6.
What does responsible exposure look like at the preschool age?
Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith: I think about it this way, what an amazing opportunity and great age to start building in some of the skills to manage this. The skills of understanding skin color and pride and reading stories about, I'll speak about Black people just living but also about Black people thriving. What a beautiful age to begin an inoculation or an attempt. I don't think that my job as parent is to protect. I think my job as a parent is to prepare. That's me. That's not true for everybody. Right? But I feel like my job is to get them ready. I just did a wonderful talk with a community of pregnant and expecting folks to help them get ready to think about how they're going to talk about race. I was blown away by peoples eagerness to think about it.
I don't think that my job as parent is to protect. I think my job as a parent is to prepare.
Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith
So in the context of this particular racialized violence, you're already teaching your children about, "We don't hit." You're having that conversation with a 2 year old. Why? So that's the larger context. "We are kind to each other. We do not use our hands and our bodies to harm each other." You're having that as a conversation right now, and that is the conversation that's being held in the streets, at another level.
EmbraceRace: Yeah. Beautiful. So we have a question from Romena. She says, "I'm wondering if there are specific ideas or tools that can be discussed on how to help kids of color release tension, fear, and anger from their bodies?"
Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith: I think that's actually one of the things that's particularly challenging in the context of COVID. The ways I would typically support folks is to be in community, like sports or dance. Because it was about our physical movement but it was also about being in a community. But I'm also really impressed with, there's a Zoom class for dancing. My son's basketball team is meeting via Zoom tomorrow. I don't think they're going to be doing any drills or anything, but still.
So I do think that one of the caveats in this particular time is that we really have to be conscious about providing that. So anything in the developmental range, I think what you want to pay attention to is number one, your own body, where are you in your own bodies and what are you doing with your own bodies? Are you going out for a run? Are you going out for a walk? Are you doing sit ups in the room? My son has started doing these seven minute workouts. So it's something like that. But I think the idea of paying attention to our bodies is of central and foundational importance. So we can encourage our kids. And this can be hard.
The thing that I've heard a lot from parents is how hard it is to get their teenagers out of the house right now to go for a walk. The piece that I want to say around that is it's okay for us as parents to have something that in non-negotiable. I know there's a lot of things that are going on with our parenting right now that we want to be extra flexible and extra kind and understanding the grace, so I want invoke grace. But it's okay to pick a place to fight. That fight might be, "You've got to be in movement for 15 minutes." That fight might be, "You have come on this walk with me."
EmbraceRace: We have those fights. We've decided we're going to fight about walks.
Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith: And you know what, I have to say a good 30% of the people I talk to are having fights about walks. I worked with one family where they were just like, "Look, if you do this amount of walking, then you can get this reward." Which is a behavioral way of doing it but it has really worked. Right? That idea of walking and being outside. I know that outside is not available and not safe to everybody, but the idea of doing something within your bodies I think is super important. A dance class, a movement, something that attunes us to that. The last part, in terms of joy. We've got to listen to what brings our children joy. Right? So how do we cue into that? Music, song writing, art, whatever it is to give some kids an opportunity to do that.
So I do think that one of the caveats in this particular time [of COVID] is that we really have to be conscious about providing that [spaces for kids of color to feel joy] ... So we can encourage our kids. And this can be hard... I know that outside is not available and not safe to everybody, but the idea of doing something within your bodies I think is super important.
Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith
EmbraceRace: We have a lot of questions from educators and about educators. So from parents thinking about the return to school at some point. Across many, many of our webinars, we've had this variant on this question of, "I'm concerned that my son's teacher, my daughter's teacher, may not understand that when she," typically most often she, "talks about X, that might actually be traumatizing for my son." Or even if it's not traumatizing, not appreciating that the range of kids in the classroom again, are differently situated with respect to that issue, and they're not necessarily all sharing what they're feeling at the end of coming off of what we're coming off.
We know kids and parents, families, schools, are going back to a range of circumstances, almost surely. All the complexity we know. So the basic question I think is, "How, as a parent, do you engage a teacher so that the teacher understands that your child and other children may have somewhat different needs and that what the teacher has to say may land differently on different ears?"
Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith: Yeah. I think what you're talking about is so important. Like, I felt tired hearing it. I want everybody to hear. This is the added burden of being a person of color. Is that we have to prepare for and engaging with teachers to make sure that they're educating our children fairly. Thank goodness, we've got brilliant, amazing teachers that are ready and willing and doing all of this, and it's hard. I think the parallel is, and there's intersections of it, but if you're a parent that has to get ready to talk to your teachers about your child's special needs, then it takes more to do that.
Now we have to do that within communities. It's always more helpful when we have, not just you asking that, but when your community of parents are asking for that. So I think it's a place of not just me, but am I in a community that will lift up this question as well? That will lift up questions of equity. That will lift up questions of how will we treat folks. The other piece too is there are abundant resources for teachers. There are abundant resources for schools to learn more, to do more. I also know that there are such overwhelming pressures on our teaches that it doesn't mean that they're actually allowed to make use of those resources.
But I think we have to be thoughtful about the communities that we pick, the school communities that we pick, and that's complicated in all these kinds of different ways. But I guess my answer to that is, it's not so much an answer but a call upon the rest of our communities is -that's a great place where we could be in community with each other and get some support. It would make a big difference in my life if I didn't have to go up to the one teacher and say, "Hey." I'm really thankful that I'm actually in a community that does that, where the community will say, "Hey, we are noticing and this is what we would really like to have for our kids."
The last thing I'll say about that it's so compelling for us to go back to normal. The idea that going back to normal means that we won't have to talk about this. I think the push for all of us and all of us as educators is this is not normal. This hasn't been normal for a bit, and let's not rush to return to normalcy when we've had so many children and families be disproportionately impacted from the pandemic and from this wave of racialized violence.
I think the push for all of us and all of us as educators is this is not normal. This hasn't been normal for a bit, and let's not rush to return to normalcy when we've had so many children and families be disproportionately impacted from the pandemic and from this wave of racialized violence.
Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith
EmbraceRace: So, a question here. "I'm the white, gay dad of two Black and Brown sons, 5 and 8. I'd like to hear about ensuring that I don't sugar-coat the information but also don't instill extreme fear in them." So that's a different position, right?
Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith: Yeah. I think it's really wise for all of us to be having that kind of thinking and to think about that. You can tell where I'm going to go with this. So you should go ahead and try it, try to say something to your kid. They'll tell you if it's too much.
EmbraceRace: They will.
Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith: They'll tell you if it scares them. Then we provide them with the means of addressing the kind of fear is to provide someplace that's secure. So we should move to that. So the problem is when we give the fire and brimstone speech and then walk off or not follow-up. So we've got to be able to have the conversation and listen. But more of my worry is that so many folks are so worried that the conversation will be traumatizing that they don't have the conversation at all.
Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith: I really want to challenge the notion that the conversation will traumatizing. What's more traumatizing is not being equipped to face this and not being prepared. And that preparation takes time. We have to think about this as, this is not a talk. This is not a one talk. I'm not going to sit you down and explain racism to you right now. That this is a small talk that you have all the time. Perhaps this is a forum where we get to talk about it more in the context of what's going on.
I'd really encourage that father in particular to keep on having these small discussions and when the children tell you that they are overwhelmed by it, provide them with the love and the support and the means of actually being okay in that moment.
So the problem is when we give the fire and brimstone speech and then walk off or not follow-up ... But more of my worry is that so many folks are so worried that the conversation will be traumatizing that they don't have the conversation at all... What's more traumatizing is not being equipped to face this and not being prepared. And that preparation takes time.
Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith
EmbraceRace: Yeah. There's so much positive that's happening in this moment that kids are doing, that people are doing. I just pulled up on my phone. I just took a walk down the street very close by and this white family who we know had put these signs in their front yard that they made. The first one was, "Because of my white privilege, I can do the following without even thinking twice." And then it said, "I can go jogging. Ahmaud Arbery. I can use my cell phone. Stephon Clark. I can sell CDs. Alton Sterling. I can go birding. Christian Cooper."
It was just so moving for me to just see because so often, you go, you talk to your neighbor, you don't necessarily have that conversation but you think it. You think, "Oh, their life is different. Their kids' lives are going to be different." And they're saying, "Our lives are different because we have this thing [white privilege]." Just to have them standing up the way the kids that you talked about were demonstrating radical activism. There's a lot of hope in this time as well that we can use to tell the story, I think.
Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith: I think what we can do is we can think about where are we cultivating our attention. But it's not to say we should ignore the bad (it's kind of impossible to ignore) but we do need to figure out wherever we put our attention that will grow. I think that's a chance we get to have with our kids about, "Yes, we can bear witness and be in this place and bearing this terribleness." I'm going to invoke Mr. Rogers, "We can look for the helpers." Right? I think the reason why that quote is so widely cited is how child specific and child friendly it is, which is to encourage us in the midst of terrible things, to look for the helpers.
Then I think the added question is, "I look for the helpers. How are you a helper?" That's a conversation that can be had at 3, 4, 5, 6. "How are you a helper?" It's a conversation that I still have with my older kids too, about, "What are we going to do about it? How are we going to help?"
EmbraceRace: So Allison, this is not a question but it's so powerful. We've talked a lot about what adults may be going through, especially adults of color. It's tempting to think of it largely, given the context in which we're having this conversation and what we're about. In the context of taking care of yourself, at least in part, so you can better care for the children that you love.
I want to read this from Barbara. "Being one of the first female African-American's to integrate schools in Richmond, Virginia more than 50 years ago, I felt much pain yesterday as I watched the home going service of George Floyd. As an 8th grader, I experienced name calling, go home N word, and my coat being dragged on the dirty floor and no one to come to my rescue, teacher, principle nor National Guard. The knee was on my neck so I couldn't breathe but I survived, with the scares reappearing with the scene of George Floyd." That's deep.
Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith: Yeah.
EmbraceRace: The wounds go deep from long ago and yeah, re-traumatized over time. I don't know if you have anything that you want to offer?
Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith: Yeah. The thoughts that I have about that actually come from someone that we both know and someone you've worked with a lot, which is john powell. One of the things that he said... I'm going to misquote it, is that, "Scientists tend to think about, that we are made up of atoms but really, we are made up of stories." The idea is that the means of connection and survival and all of that. That's also why we've got to listen to our kids. We need to listen to their stories.
I think that beautiful offering that you just read and that person's experience is the most powerful story. And a story that can be read and told to our children. Then we ask, "What do you think about that? What is that like? How do we understand that?" That's a story, because I also heard her say, "All of those things happened and I'm here. And I'm here, and I'm scarred. I'm here, and I'm wounded." I hope that's also what's happening in the streets is that people are listening to other people's stories.
The defensiveness that's been up for so long around needing to be the "good person" is actually falling down so that we can listen to these stories and listen to the stories about what's going on for folks. I think the stories are pushed upon us in the form of a viral video, but that is not the full story. I think we were also so compelled by hearing George Floyd's daughter say, "My daddy changed the world." That's going to be powerful. We have the opportunity to construct some stories here that are about having this be different.
EmbraceRace: You know Allison, I just have to say, the potentially therapeutic and prescriptive value of, as you say, radical listening. I think we need to do so much more of that including across generation. The elders in our community and others to be sure, but certainly the elders in our community have such stories to tell.
So a question from a therapist whose young Black client told her she watched a video on YouTube of an innocent Black person being murdered in their home while they were sleeping. "My immediate response was to tell her not to watch those types of videos because I wanted to protect her from it. I now think that wasn't the correct response. I want to return to the conversation and apologize to her for letting my instincts shut down a possible conversation and not allowing her to explore this more with me. I'm wondering how to process these incidents with children so young? I am a 24 year old Latino, mental health service provider, working with children in the 2 to 8 year old range."
Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith: There's twofold there, right? Especially with the young kids. We do want to think about, is there a way of limiting their access. Right? That's actually hard for me to say because I'm actually a person that really believes that we should read racist books to our kids so that they can learn how to read them. That we shouldn't shy away from difficult conversations. This is a place where I think I've changed over the past couple years and I've changed in part because my students have done some research. I have a student, Givanna Jacobs, that did research with Black adolescent girls and found that they were exposed to repeated images of Black, viral death.
Viral Black death, all the time on their phone. Not surprising, it's deleterious to their health, seeing that. That's the thing that is different now, then in the '60s. It was bad in proximity to that, but to be able to see that in your hand! So I trust and really believe that the therapist's instincts in that part around, "I don't want you to have to see that." Which is different than, "You should stop looking at it." Those are two different things. "I don't want you to see that. What can we do to actually help make sure that your view is not clouded by that?" But of course, turning away from it is really hard. Any of you have a hard time turning away from watching those videos?
Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith: It's a dope of adrenergic hit of fear that gets us quantitatively addicted. So how this therapist can return, they already did it and it's a good example for all of us. "I'm sorry, I think I made a mistake. I want for us to think a little bit more about this. I held some worry for you that you were seeing such terrible things. But I want to us think about when that comes up again in your hand, what we can do?"
EmbraceRace: It's so great to demonstrate that you can be wrong but it's an ongoing conversation. It's an ongoing conversation, even as an adult. Right?
Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith: Yeah.
EmbraceRace: That we make mistakes, we're fallible. In your answer, I think, for at least the second time in this conversation, you said essentially, "When I learned more, I did better." Right? We think of that Maya Angelou quote, "When I knew more, I did better." Without recrimination, without self-loathing, without beating ourselves up, that's what we're going for. Right?
Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith: Yeah. And don't we want to teach our kids that?
EmbraceRace: Exactly. We'll that's part of the modeling. We are coming close to the end. We have at least one more question. I want to pause here for a moment to offer just a few things. Especially because we have so many folks who know are new to this EmbraceRace community. So just a few words especially to you, but to all of us.
One, do the work. I think that's one of the big take aways from this. We have a lot of resources on EmbraceRace. Allison is dropping pearls. We have a lot of stuff on the site. Read it. You can read a lot of conversations that we've had with Allison as well. Keep going back to it,. Keep working it.
Number two, relatedly, stay with us. Again, a lot of you are new. This is not the work of one webinar, one day. Clearly not. It's another cliché, but it's a marathon, not a sprint. Stay with it. Stay with us. We're learning a lot over these last four years. We're not experts. We're fellow travelers. Let's walk it together. Keep coming back.
Third, if you find this webinar helpful and the rest of the work we do helpful, please help support it. Literally everything we offer now is free to the folks who use it, but it's certainly not free to produce. So please do support us if you're able to.
That leads us to perhaps, our last question. Kara asks, "How can we help young children feel proud and empowered but also keep them safe from protests that may turn violent?" We want them to feel empowered but we worry about them. Going back to what you said at the beginning.
Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith: Yeah. So I think about it in this way is, each of you as a family have to decide whether or not protesting is your way of making a change. It is a way. It's an important way. It's amazing for what it's done, and there are other ways as well. In terms of whether or not to make the decision about bringing your children, we also have to think about, there's risk in any of the things that we do so you have to be prepared that should things go wrong, how are you going to protect your kids?
Explicitly in terms of violence, I think you have to do the work to try to be as safe as possible. That's the same thing that we 're doing. Think about it. How many of you all are bleaching your houses all the time? Or washing your hands too much, or not enough? Or putting on the mask? We've got these concrete pieces of trying to do what we can to protect them from this invisible threat. It's the same kind of thing. So if you're going to choose to protest, who can you go with? How do you go? Go early. Have your car nearby. It's the preparation. Again, it's not about not having something bad happen, it's about getting prepared.
I think that's the analogy here. As you're seeing and invoking, this conversation is really different for me now from 10 years ago. Because 10 years ago, I had this kind of conversation, and when people asked me where the resources were, I'd have to point to just one or two little things. Now, I can say, "Go here and read all the things! Watch all the webinars." There's no excuses anymore because so many folks, like yourselves, have consolidated information and have been doing hard work. So we can do this work. It's really, really possible.
I just want to end on the other piece that was said again, by john powell that, "This is an inflection point. This is a moment that can be moved to make sure that things are different." I know we're weary because we've had inflection points in past and we've had inflection points in the recent past. As much as I can say that things are different now because they're worse in many different ways, they're also different now because the opportunity to really effect change is different. Our youth are stepping into it and leading it with such boldness and such fierceness that it's awe inspiring. And that had to come from them, and it had to come from their parents as well.
We can do this. When I say, do this, I think we can effect change so that hopefully, in two years from now, I won't have to come back and have this conversation. I hope never to talk to you all again. No, I'm kidding.
EmbraceRace: Tell the truth, Allison.
Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith: I hope that we have a bandwidth engaged in something different then. So I remain really hopeful to see 2,000 people or however many people are tuning in and really do hope that people continue to be invested. And for those of our community that are so weary, that we will help to lift them up with it.
EmbraceRace: Allison, I just want to endorse that. I want to encourage folks to take that possibility seriously. So it's not necessarily about being optimistic, meaning you think it will work out super well. But there really is reasons for hope. In part, because things are so bad. We did two webinars this week. We've had 15,000 people register for two webinars. We're a small organization. And those 15,000 represent a lot more behind them. So of all races, etc. So keep hope alive.
Allison, thank you so much for another excellent conversation. And thank you folks for registering and for coming. And come back. Let's keep walking this together. Have the regular conversation with us and with various folks that come through. Allison, you'll come back. It might be a better time.
Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith: Yeah. We'll be talking about jewelry.
EmbraceRace: We'll be happy to have a different conversation but we'll be talking to you for sure. We'll have a sing along, or something.
Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith: Thank you all.
EmbraceRace: Thank you so much.