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What does a black parent say to a child after the Zimmerman verdict?


Host Melissa Harris-Perry and her Sunday panel debated how parents–particularly African-American parents–should talk to their children about the “not guilty” verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, and its broader meaning.

msnbc contributor Joy Reid remarked how when she was pregnant with her daughter, she’d initially been hoping for a boy because she was “afraid for a girl in this world,” but now is more afraid for her teenaged sons.

“Everywhere they go, everything that they’re wearing, their demeanor, the way they walk, are they looking at you funny–everything about them is supposed to be suspicious, and tbey’re tiny, skinny little kids who to me are babies,” Reid said. “All three of my kids I think of as babies, but the world doesn’t see them that way. As soon as they’re out of my custody…they’re basically walking suspects.”

Reid also remarked that while black families are accustomed to warning their children about being suspected by police, now the conversation will have to include civilians. However, the safety concerns that parents must address include the safety of those parents. “What does it mean to raise black children in a country where their parents don’t feel safe?” asked panelist Salamishah Tillet, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Tillet, who became a mother of a girl last year, added that it is difficult to instruct black children properly on how to behave and thrive when the parents themselves are “under siege and under surveillance constantly.”

UConn professor Jelani Cobb recalled taking his young daughter to rallies after the 1999 shooting death of Amadou Diallo at the hands of the New York Police Department. Now that she is older, Cobb said that she is concerned about his safety simply because he’s a black man. “I’m actually recognizing that she not only worries about the young man who’s responsible for getting her home safely; she worries about her father. She worries about me as I’m out in the public as well.” He reassures his daughter that he’ll be safe, he said, but added that that is “another parental reassurance that no one should have to make.”

Harris-Perry recalled the “relief” she felt when she learned years ago that she’d be having a daughter–despite her concerns, as a sexual assault survivor, about raising a girl in a world plagued by sexual violence. “Last night, I thought, ‘I live in a country that makes me wish my sons away. Wish that they don’t exist, because it’s not safe,” she said.

On Monday, Harris-Perry penned a column for msnbc about the experience she had communicating with her young daughter after the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial. Read it here.