Parents around the country are faced with the unavoidable challenge of talking to their children about a pandemic that’s changed our daily lives, and protests that have stemmed from a history of racial injustices in our country. This week, we’re talking to three Lubbock families about how they’re conducting these conversations with their children.
Jimmy and Carlene Kelly
In a video Jimmy Kelly recorded, he talks to his six-year-old son Richard about race. “So Richard,” he starts, “Let’s start by talking about race.”
“What is race,” Richard asks.
Jimmy laughs and begins breaking down, in simple terms, what race in the United States looks like. “In America they would say people who look like me were Black, and people who look like your mother are white,” Jimmy says.
“What about me? I’m in between,” Richard says.
“That’s right, you’re in between…”
Like parents around the country, Jimmy and his wife Carlene have had to navigate some pretty heavy topics with their young son recently. He just finished kindergarten and thanks to schools shutting down, the pandemic was something he had to comprehend early on.
“We joke about the ‘Corona-pirates,’ I saw that in a meme, and it makes it fun,” Carlene, Richard’s mom, says. It makes a scary topic a little more digestible for the kindergartener, while maintaining the message of severity. Carlene and Jimmy say, their son understands the virus. He knows it makes people really sick and that the safest thing they can do is stay inside. But it she says, he still gets upset about it and misses his friends.
The protests that have erupted over the police killing of George Floyd and so many other Black men, is a lot
tougher to tackle for the young family. Jimmy says that one thing that used to prompt a lot of questions from Richard was the news they would listen to on their morning drives to school. But since the schools shut down, Richard’s intake of news has stopped as well. So, Jimmy and Carlene aren’t really sure how much their son knows about the protests.
“Richard, he just has questions,” Jimmy says. “So when he asks about something I explain it to him.” Richard hasn’t asked about the current protests yet and Carlene says they haven’t brought it up to him. “With him being six—he’s smart and understands a lot—but he’s still six. So, it’s kind of a struggle as far as that goes is how much is too much,” she says.
He has however been curious about other situations involving race.
Carlene recalls a few conversations that stemmed from his questions. One night, while laying together at bedtime, Richard said, “Your skin is different than my skin and way different than dad’s skin.” He’s beginning to notice the differences, his parents say.
Back in January, when the children were learning about Martin Luther King Jr. another tough topic was brought up. Richard said to his mom, “A long time ago daddy couldn’t be in the same place as us.”
She responded, “Yes.”
Richard asked, “why.”
“And that’s a really tough question to answer a six-year-old,” Carlene says.
But Jimmy and Carlene know that in a few years they’ll have to have an even harder conversation—one that Robert Baxter, another father we’ll talk with on a later episode, says is like a rite of passage for Black people.
“I don’t want to overwhelm him and scare him yet,” says Carlene. She says yet because she knows the conversation is inevitable. “I know we’re going to have to have multiple serious talks as he gets older about life as we know it and life as a Black male.”
Richard is mixed, but Carlene says, when people look at him, they’re going to see Black. “The ones you’re going to worry about are the ones who are going to see it and treat you differently.”
“Well maybe some of that will change a little,” Jimmy says.
“Hopefully,” Carlene responds.