Since the death of George Floyd, I cannot get two thoughts out of my mind. The first is that his 6-year-old daughter will grow up without a father. The second is that in his last painful moments, he called out for his mama.
Our families are, like no other, our people. We protect each other, we love each other, we support each other and sometimes we drive each other a little crazy. But somehow love helps us rise above our differences to stay connected.
If only our human family did the same. I pray our nation will take this moment, learn from it and do better. Peaceful protesting, advocating for change, educating and listening to each other is a start. But to make long-lasting change, we need to lay the foundation in our own homes, with our families.
At The Concilio, we say parents are their children’s first and most important teachers. Long before our children’s first days of school, and long after they graduate, they are learning from us.
Children learn their first words from us. They learn what is good to eat from us. They learn to be fair, to share and not lie from us. But they aren’t learning enough from us about race.
Talking to our children about race should be mandatory. It is just as important as talking about faith, the importance of education or avoiding unhealthy behaviors and influences.
If we don’t, children learn and fill in the gaps themselves. That’s dangerous because it is how our society got where it is today. For people of color, these conversations happen more often because they are necessary and even life-saving.
We need to talk about race early and often. Let’s put behind us the notion of children growing “colorblind.” Research has shown babies notice race as early as three to six months of age and begin developing stereotypes between the ages of 3 and 5.
I began having conversations about race with my 17-year-old daughter when she was 3 years old. Those conversations about race, like many other topics, have become more complicated as she has gotten older. But the beauty of it is we are having them.
Take it from me, there is no easy tip list or instruction manual. In fact, I guarantee some of these conversations will be uncomfortable. You may feel out of your element. You may make mistakes. But you are a parent, so you have been there before.
Model the behavior you’re discussing by reading books and watching movies that celebrate diverse experiences, people and history. Invite people of varied backgrounds into your life, and actively listen to perspectives different than your own. And lastly, recognize and self-correct your own biases because we all have them. The only way to overcome them is by being vulnerable enough to listen and reasonable enough to understand.
To protect its democratic soul, our country has hard work to do that will take many years — long after the protests and headlines fade. The first step, following the death of George Floyd and the subsequent protests, is to begin building the foundations for change in our own homes.
Florencia Velasco Fortner is chief executive of The Concilio. She wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.