‘Everything will be ok. I love you.’ Parenting after Trayvon

MSNBC - Melissa Harris-Perry, host of MSNBC's 'Melissa Harris-Perry Show,' talks about how to talk to kids following the George Zimmerman trial...

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MSNBC – In the aftermath of the not-guilty verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman, I have tried to offer and elicit analysis of the legal, historical and political meaning of the case and its outcome. But in this case, the political is deeply personal. I have experienced the killing of Trayvon Martin, this trial, and this verdict as a political scientist and television host. But I have also felt it, in my gut, as the parent of a black child.

I am far from alone in this experience. Parents of children of color are struggling to process their own fears and cultivate meaningful conversations with their children about personal safety, about the history of injustice in our country, and about sustaining hope and a sense of youthful exuberance and possibility. Parents of white children, trying to raise conscious, engaged, fair-minded kids, are seeking their own ways of talking with their children. We don’t want to be a generation of handwringing elders who make our children afraid to grow and explore. We do not want to nurture hatred, fear, or disinvestment in the collective project of America. But we also want to give them the tools to thrive in a country where race continues to predict their life outcomes in powerful and insidious ways.

I do not have all the answers. Not even close. I have been asking others to share. On Sunday’s MHP Show my panel of parents spoke about how they were grappling with talking to their kids.

In the spirit of parents helping parents, I am opening up about the very personal interactions my husband and I had with our daughter on Saturday night. I know that sharing these words will undoubtedly leave me open to criticism. But I hope that there is something here that can help others as we work toward just and loving responses to the pain so many of us are feeling.

Here is our story of Saturday night.

The first text came from MSNBC central booking at 9:30 pm:

MSNBC: Melissa, the verdict is in. We need you to come on in.

MHP: Ok, I’ll be there in 15 minutes.

Ten minutes later the second text arrived:

MSNBC: Not Guilty.

MHP: Oh, this is going to be a long night.

Thirty minutes later I was in full broadcast make-up, sitting on set in at 30 Rockefeller Center. Along with my MSNBC colleagues, I listened as the prosecution and defense attorneys shared their reactions to the verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman. At 9:52 my phone buzzed again. This time it was a text message from Parker, my 11-year-old daughter. Parker spends the month of July in Chicago with her father. She was awake and tuned into MSNBC along with her dad.

Parker: Hey mom. Watching u now. I can’t believe this America has no justice. It makes me sick. So sick.

I felt so powerless. I desperately wanted to reach out and soothe her, but she was thousands of miles away and I was on live TV.  So I fired off a quick note.

MHP: It is ok. I promise, everything will be ok. I love you. Please try not to worry about it.

Parker: Ok, but maybe next year we can move to Paris.

Paris—the destination of choice for generations of African-American intellectual and artistic expats, trying to escape the systemic and dehumanizing racism they experienced in the United States. It was hard to tell if she was tapping into this long tradition, or just making a tween plea for a trip to Europe.

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