In 1944, George Stinney Jr. was the youngest person executed for a crime that, 70 years later, would be proven he didn’t commit. It took ten minutes to convict him. He was fourteen years old.
In 2012, Tamir Rice was fatally shot by police officers while playing in the park with a toy gun. He was twelve years old.
In the same year, Trayvon Martin was walking home from a gas station when he was shot to death by a neighborhood patrol member. He was seventeen years old.
This year, Gianna Floyd lost her father to a police officer who knelt on George Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and forty six seconds after he tried to pay for items at a grocery store. Gianna is six years old.
After Floyd’s death, Nickelodeon, and many other networks at Viacom, paid tribute by going off-air for the same amount of time that Floyd was strangled for. Nickelodeon also released a statement that explained their support of the Black Lives Matter movement in what was titled as the “Declaration of Kids’ Rights.”
The statement read: “You have the right to be seen, heard, and respected as a citizen of the world. You have the right to a world that is peaceful. You have the right to be treated with equality, regardless of the color of your skin. You have the right to be protected from harm, injustice, and hatred. You have the right to an education that prepares you to run the world. You have the right to your opinions and feelings, even if others don’t agree with them.”
However, following the tribute, some parents expressed anger and disapproval on social media, claiming it was inappropriate for the children’s channel.
In a deleted Twitter post, from deleted user @geigtm wrote: “Ok, I’m PISSED! Why is this s*** just popping up on Nickelodeon while my kid is watching a show?!!!! My eight year old is scared to death!!! F*** YOU MEDIA!!! F*** YOU!!! U are DONE!”
Others on Twitter shared similar concerns for appropriateness following Nickelodeon’s statement.
It's beyond wrong that was on a children's channel. That pushing death onto young children, it could be scaring.
— Emily Ann 🌻 (@F1reFlow3r) June 2, 2020
But for many Black children in America, death, reality, and police brutality is systemically “pushed” onto us before we can even write or tie our shoes. Many kids are “scared to death” when people that look like them are murdered in cold blood on the television screen every day for doing some of the same innocent things that they do, like playing in the park or buying groceries.
But for many Black children in America, death, reality, and police brutality is systemically “pushed” onto us before we can even write or tie our shoes.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, “Black children are more likely than white children to be exposed to frightening or threatening experiences” due to a variety of different systemic factors. This puts Black kids at higher risks to suffer from academic, health, and behavioral problems.
So why is it that some children and families get to opt out? How come my mother had to prepare me for the racism that I’d inevitably face when I was only a child hoping to play? I’m sure that the kids of my second grade class who solely referred to me as “Black girl” understood what racism was. Why were the other children afforded their own names? I’m almost positive that when they bullied me for being too dark, they knew exactly what they were doing.
Too many parents want to teach their kids a “color-blind” mentality. The reality for people of color, though, is that race isn’t something that can just be swept under the rug. Not when our country is still pungent from the racist remnants of Jim Crow, 9/11, and even the pandemic right now. When you say that you “don’t see color”, you also say that you don’t acknowledge oppression and issues like police brutality, although they ravage communities like my own. To be “color-blind” is to willingly choose ignorance.
To be “color-blind” is to willingly choose ignorance.
There are many ways to appropriately approach these types of uncomfortable topics for nearly every age. In fact, experts even say that toddlers as young as two years old are ready to have age-appropriate conversations about race and racism. Children’s media has been recommended as a good way to help families navigate, and books like ‘A is for Activist‘ by Innosanto Nagara and graphic novels like ‘New Kid‘ by Jerry Craft are good places to start. And similar to Nickelodeon, other children’s programming like Sesame Street have recently included race into their show’s conversation as well. More resources can be found here.
It is never too early to speak to your children about racism. I’m sure that your kids are probably already well aware of it anyways. To deny your child conversations about race – or to lash out – because a corporation was mature enough to do so instead, serves you both a major disservice in the changing world that we live in today.