How do I tell my son that he may be treated differently because of the color of his skin?

"We know we can’t protect our son from everything and that includes racism."

Video byElisa Tang
June 16, 2020, 4:09 AM

How do I tell the most beautiful little boy I’ve ever laid eyes on that one day someone may treat him differently simply because of how he looks?

My little boy is smart, sensitive, curious, empathic, observant and inquisitive. He asks questions all day long and follows nearly every one with, “Why?” Often, we’re telling him not to do something so he doesn’t get hurt. And when he asks why, we tell him we love him and as his parents, it’s our job to protect him. Of course, we know we can’t protect our son from everything -- and that includes racism.

It broke my heart to have to even tiptoe near the subject when he started asking questions recently. They were rapid-fire questions as he watched pictures and video of protests stemming from George Floyd’s murder. As a Black woman, I’ve had countless conversations about race, inequality and my personal experience with it. But this would’ve been the first time with my child, and I couldn’t find the words. I froze. I stuttered, I stumbled, I cried. I choked up telling him we may be treated differently because of the color of our skin. I hid my tears so he couldn’t sense that I was panicking.

He’s only 2-and-a-half now, but one day we’ll come back to this conversation. And we’ll explain to him that his dad, a military police veteran who served two tours in Afghanistan, sometimes wears an “Army Veteran” hat so he appears less threatening.

We’ll tell him we had a frank conversation with his first teacher about implicit bias and we’ll explain the preschool-to-prison pipeline.

We’ll tell him he and his sister were born at home out of concerns over this country’s maternal mortality rate for Black women.

We’ll explain the affirmations he says everyday are reminders that he’s powerful, a leader and that he can do anything because society may tell him otherwise.

We’ll tell him the stories of Ahmaud Arbery, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd and so many others. We’ll have so much to explain. And hopefully by then I’ll have the words.

I will always look at my son and see this little boy with a megawatt smile, big, bright eyes and a contagious giggle. And as much I wish everyone else did, too, I know society won’t and I can’t protect him from that.

Janai Norman is Pop News anchor for "Weekend GMA" and an ABC News correspondent.

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