Young voices are front and center of many of the recent protests. This is not new. Historically, across the world, children have always been a part of revolutions, rallies, and protest marches. Today’s youth are not afraid of sharing their voice nor opinion. Although many have been criticized for stepping up and speaking out, they are not deterred. In fact, for underprivileged families, it is important that children understand why and how America arrived at this moment. The public outcries for justice are real and this is the perfect opportunity for conversation. Dialogue and participation ensure the next generation remains an active part of the discussion.
On Memorial Day, George Floyd, a black man, stopped breathing after now-fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes. Since then, major protests over racial injustice and the plight of black and brown communities have sprung up in cities across the U.S. and the world. Tens of thousands of people, including children, have taken part in largely peaceful demonstrations, but some gatherings have been punctuated by violent encounters between police and protesters and late-night looting and vandalism.
This has produced a generation empowered for change. Afflicted by “despair fatigue,” protesters are putting their bodies on the line because they feel as if they have no other choice. Most have spent their lives under the maxim “there is no alternative” but now circumstances have forced them to widen their political imaginations in search of something new. When children are invited to political protest, it disrupts their need to experience the risk that goes along with it, and that aids in the development of a sense of courage, pride, and agency.
Protesting is as natural to children as eating. As children become more self-sufficient, their form of protest must evolve and become more complex. Gone are the days when they cried to be fed. Now they yell when told to clean their room. They wear clothes they know parents do not approve of. They find creative ways to defy authority and, within certain limits, it is through this type of rebellion that children experience healthy separateness.
In the past two months, however, the presence of children at protests has triggered an intense public debate. In times of political and social tumult, is it ethical to draw children into polarized protests and revolutionary movements? Does it leave them traumatized, or does it teach them how to express dissent in a democracy?
Over the weekend, a viral video clip of an African American girl, Wynta-Amor Rogers, took social media by storm. The video shows the little warrior marching and chanting, “No Justice, No Peace!” as she joined her mother Lakyia Jackson in a New York protest for black lives. When speaking about her involvement in the movement, the seven-year-old said:
I just want everybody to get along. I want us to be a good New York community. If we get through with this, we can fight this, you know? And we can come into a big group in one piece — just one piece.
Jackson, the child’s mother, said her daughter refused to stay home. She was adamant about participating. When sharing her thanks for the support and encouragement for her daughter, Jackson explained:
I just have to explain to her, everyone is not peaceful. She understands the reason why we dropped on our knee was because the police, you know, killed George Floyd. She also understands that there are good cops and there are bad cops.
According to many African American parents, involving children in socio-political movements is inevitable, desirable, and often necessary. Children are part of a political framework right from birth, particularly if they are born into disadvantaged or marginalized social groups. According to Sujata Mody, a labor union leader from Chennai, “When tumultuous events are happening in our lives, it is absolutely natural that children will be drawn into it.” She added:
It is not wrong for us to expose our children to protests when we are asking for justice and basic human rights. Of course, one should not take children to a place where there is a possibility of violence.
Others agree that children should be aware of what is going on around them, but there is an age for everything, and kids below 10 or 11 should not be exposed to something like protests. These parents suggest that a child’s ability to understand concepts and contexts only begins to develop around that age. To this wise, one clinical psychologist from Mumbai explained that even older children up to the age of 16 could be hurt by participation in intense political movements.
Within the black community, more parents are open to conversations with children about racial injustice in America. That includes conversations about police and community relations, and about the long history of white people marginalizing people of color in this country, which planted the roots of economic and racial segregation.
According to Howard Stevenson, a clinical psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, kids who grow up having more conversations about race with their parents and families are better at navigating situations around race, including speaking up for themselves, studies show. Compared with children who do not ever talk about race, they also tend to perform better on tests of conflict resolution and anger management.
Videos of child protestors have gone viral. Many approve while others do not. Regardless of which side of the pendulum parents’ thoughts hinge, this undoubtedly, has fostered an opportune moment for parents to talk to their children about racism, protests, and riots.
Opinion by Cherese Jackson (Virginia)
Fox6: Our Children are our Future
USA Today: Kids need to talk about George Floyd
Indian Express: Girl hailed as “icon” after video marching in protest goes viral
Top Image Courtesy of Twitter – KRAZIE KYIA (@kyialuvu)
Inline Image Courtesy of Fibonacci Blue’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Featured Image Courtesy of Jamelle Bouie’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License