Why Are They Shooting Each Other?: Explaining Racism and Perception To Your Child

Tonight I broke my child.

As I sat blissfully unaware on my couch, casually catching up on emails and ready to rid my self of all the stress of the day, my son said, “ Mom, why are people shooting each other?”

Shamefully, I had not watched the news in what had felt like weeks. But, I would know if something terrible was going on in the world around me, right? “ Did you Dad buy you a video game that’s too old for you? It’s just pretend. Go back to sleep and throw that game away!”

His eyes welled up with tears and his lips shook as he said,

“The TV said they shot him in a car. A kid was in there. What did they do wrong? Why are they mad at each other?

Panic set in. I turned on the news to the tragedy that occurred in the last few days. I had no time to decide how I felt about any of it.

How do I explain racism and perception and media fueled hate to a 6-year-old? I don’t even understand it myself?

I had distanced myself from the big scary news ever since becoming a mom. Call it naive. Call it living in a bubble. But life was scary enough trying to keep tiny humans alive. I struggled to do that some days, I can’t take on the tragedy of the world.

But here they were, staring me in the face through the sad scared eyes of my beautiful tiny human.

I glanced around, grasping for any thought that came to my head as to how to not lie to him about the big bad scary things but to also not break him. As I scanned the room, I spotted his sister’s half eaten bag of Skittle’s.

“Mom, I am scared. Why are they shooting each other?”, he asked again as he curled his kindergarten sized frame into my lap.

I said,

“Imagine humans are like this bag of Skittles. Now imagine a red skittle hurting a green skittle just for being green.”

Confusion and innocence covered his face.

“But Mom, that doesn’t make sense. It’s dumb. They are all made of the same stuff.”

In that moment, I realized anything I say to further explain is going to steal a piece of his innocence. We aren’t born with hate. We are taught it.

“Will someone shoot me if they don’t like me?”

My six-year-old, adorned in his shark pajama pants and toothpaste from night time routine still lingering on his chin, my son who counts sheep and believes in Santa and doesn’t see color or race or flaw, wants to know if someone is going to shoot him.

And I can’t promise him no one will. This world is a crazy place. The crazy place was now staring me in the face. I wanted to promise him people are good and we don’t hurt people intentionally. I wanted to swear that he could never worry about people disliking him because we accept people and love them for who they are on the inside. I wished I could swear that there’s nothing to fear and the world will be okay and love will win in the end.

But I can’t. Not now. Not how we are doing things.

So I held him and whispered in his ear,

“You just remember to be kind. Be Brave. Don’t be scared. The world is not as scary as it seems. “

I rocked him to sleep, and then vowed to myself to make this world a little less scary every day by simply choosing kindness. I will chose to believe in love. I will chose to see the good in the world.