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How do you talk to your children about race? Buffalo parents weigh in

Left: Courtesy of Emily Foschio; Right: Courtesy of Mary Miller
Left: Avery, 4, poses with a Black Lives Matter sign on Sunday. Right: Mary Miller and her children live on Buffalo's West Side.

As protests and riots sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day continue to sweep the country, Buffalo parents are weighing in about how they’re talking to their children about disturbing events in the news—and race.

This is part one of a two-part series airing Wednesday and Thursday during Morning Edition on WBFO.

Late Saturday night, Emily Foschio watched from home as protestors walked up her residential street between Buffalo’s West Side and the Elmwood Village. Foschio, who is white, debated waking up her four-year-old daughter to show her what was going on.

“She throws tantrums when you wake her up from a sleep, so I did not, but in the morning, I showed a short video of the protestors marching and I told her, ‘You know, these people were marching up our street,’” Foschio said. “And she yelled at me, she was like, ‘I wanted to join them! Why didn’t you wake me up?’ and I had already told her that a man was hurt by a police officer and so she knew that, and she knew that they were protesting that.”

Refusing to be left out, Avery held her own personal protest, complete with a Black Lives Matter sign, around the family’s neighborhood on Sunday.

Foschio said her daughter knows what a protest is because she’s brought her along to several, including the Women’s March and demonstrations against family separation in U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention. She said she reads Avery books with main characters of color and is glad that she has always had Black teachers in daycare and early education settings. But she also said there’s no substitute for simply talking to Avery about race.

“We need to stop having the privilege of not having to talk about race, like white people. We need to teach our children about the history—and the real history—or else nothing will change.”

Credit Courtesy of Dennice Barr
Dennice Barr has lived in the Fruit Belt for 25 years.

For Dennice Barr, a longtime community activist who lives in Buffalo’s Fruit Belt neighborhood, talking about race has never been an option. Barr, who is Black, has five grown sons, and she said she’s inherited many more children over the years.

“Personally, I have always told my children that they need to be aware of the fact that people will never really see them because of the color of their skin. They’ll never really be visible outside of that, and that is a reality that they have to accept,” Barr said. “This is a time for white people to sit and really reflect on how they have shown themselves in raising their children, what it has really looked like, how has it really reflected and bounced off of their children? Have they really stood up for social justice or have they just turned their heads? You know, this is an opportunity for people to try to have some conversation and try to equip their kids for not just today but whatever is going to come down the pipeline tomorrow.”

Barr added that she’s worried the message of peaceful protests calling for an end to police brutality against Black Americans, and an end to racial injustice more broadly, is being overshadowed by looting and occasional acts of violence carried out after or during the cover of protests. She also said two of her adult sons attended the protest in Niagara Square on Saturday.

“Seeing them come back from what happened on Saturday and the trauma that they are carrying right now, and how they’re going to unpack that, how they’re going to manage that, is a really big deal,” Barr said. “People are really caught up right now in the damage to property and, you know, infiltrators in our city and that kind of conversation, and avoiding the real meat of the conversation which is, ‘Why is there so much outburst right now? Why are people responding so heavily right now?’ There’s a lot of avoidance for that conversation and it doesn’t sit well for a lot of people. I know it doesn’t sit well for me.”

Credit Courtesy of Mary Miller
Mary Miller lives with her children on Buffalo's West Side.

Mary Miller is another mother grappling with conversations about race with her children on Buffalo’s West Side. Miller is white and her children, who are 6 and 9 years old, are biracial. Their father's family is from Guyana, and he is Black. That makes talking about race a little more complicated, Miller said.

“I’m having this conversation with my children, which everybody—parents of color—have been calling for years ‘the talk.’ And I’m having ‘the talk’ with my children except nobody ever had that with me,” Miller said, “and I don’t have a basis of knowledge for all of the things, and I’m not about to be arrogant enough to think that I know everything that I need to be teaching them.”

“I was raised in the suburbs,” Miller continued. “I was raised with a whole lot of privilege and, you know, even after I had my children there were so many biases in me that I wasn’t aware of. We’re all a work in progress all the time. There’s no person who benefits from white supremacy who is not in some way complicit in it.”

Miller also said, half joking, that she hopes her children won’t have to spend “the next 40 years” of their lives in therapy because they’re traumatized by her fumbled attempts to talk about race. But her ultimate message was the same as Barr and Foschio’s: These conversations with children might not be perfect but that doesn’t mean you don’t try.

Tune into Morning Edition on WBFO Thursday for part two of this series on how Buffalo parents are talking to their children about race.

Kyle Mackie is a multimedia journalist with reporting experience in Israel and the Palestinian territories, the Western Balkans and New York City. She joined WBFO to cover education and more in June 2019.
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