WASHINGTON — “Mommy, because I’m brown, could this happen to me?”
A heart-wrenching question from a 5-year-old, but one that Alana Hackshaw, a mother of two young boys, had to answer after he saw the news of recent police shootings that killed African-American men in Minneapolis and Louisiana.
“I was taken aback, because we really have tried to shield him from the news,” said Hackshaw. “I said nothing is going to happen to you, mom and dad are here for you.”
“But what was hard for me is that I actually had to have that conversation with my son at 5 years old.”
April Finkley, the mother of a 12-year-old boy, said there is no blueprint for this conversation.
“No one told me when you have a child, when you have a son, this is the conversation you have to have. You have to tell them how to conduct themselves where he is not a suspect,” she said. “You’re policing your own children basically.”
At almost 6 feet tall and 200 pounds, Finkley’s son looks older than his preteen years, which plays into the conversations she has with him. Recently he came home, excited to tell his mom about a new game he was playing with friends.
“He called it Cherry Cherry Knock Knock or Ding Dong Ditch,” said Finkley.
It’s a childhood game where kids ring doorbells, or knock on the door, and then run away.
“As soon as he said it, my face kind of went stoic. I said you cannot play that game,” she said.
“He said why? Because when your friend plays the game and he’s running away from a neighbor’s house … he’s going to go home. There’s a probability he will go home to his mom. When you play it, you may not come home to me, because you will be seen as a black male running from a stranger’s home,” Finkley said.
“We have to have conversations younger than what we anticipate (about) our interaction with cops. Before, you know, you were having a conversation at 15 or 16. Now we’ve got to have this conversation at 7 and 8,” said Natasha Gorden, mother of a 2-year-old boy.
“The childhood innocence is gone,” she said.
More conversations needed
Hackshaw hopes more conversations happen outside of black homes as well, to help bridge the divide, lack of information and lack of understanding.
“We all know that there are conversations that black parents have with their children, but now as a nation, as we’re witnessing what is happening, in order for us to come together this conversation needs to be had in all households, that sometimes there are a different set of rules for black children versus white children,” said Hackshaw.
“This is what you need to understand about your fellow Americans,” she said.