“The unmattering of Black lives starts in childhood,” Wee The People co-founder Francie Latour writes. “…When we intervene in a way that tells kids the truth, that taps into their innate sense of fairness, and that gives them the agency to create, it can be a powerful step forward.”
So in protest of the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd; the way coronavirus has ravaged Black and Brown communities; and “the ongoing profiling and harassment of people of color,” the Boston-based social justice project for kids, which Latour and Tanya Nixon-Silberg founded in 2015, and their partners—the Philly Children’s Movement and MassArt’s Center for Art and Community Partnership—are planning “Wee Chalk the Walk, a Family Day of Action” for Sunday, May 31.
“For health and safety, this Day of Action will happen on our own blocks, with simple kid-friendly activities Wee hope will spark urgently needed conversations with kids about racial injustice and the choice we can make to speak out,” organizers say on the facebook event page.
Participants are invited to share photos and videos of themselves:
• Making sidewalk art: “What kind of change do you want to see in the world?”
• Making and posting signs.
• Staging a “mini-protest” with your “stuffies, action figures, and dolls.”
• Lighting candles “for the Black and Brown lives impacted and lost to the pandemic, to racism, and to White supremacist ideology.”
• Sharing a playlist of protest songs in honor of Black and Brown lives.
• Writing the names of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd “in chalk, in a notebook, on a T-shirt, with a paintbrush. Let the world know that their lives mattered.”
I asked Latour some questions about the project and she responded via email:
Can you talk about the incidents and events that are prompting you to organize this event?
We organized “Wee Chalk the Walk” as a response to the savage killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd at the hands of police and ordinary American people.
We’re organizing because Black people are in pain, because the pain we feel is an acute trauma punctuating the ongoing trauma of disproportionate Black lives lost from COVID19, and because this public health trauma compounds four centuries of generational trauma from the relentless assault on Black lives, going all the way back to slavery.
We’re organizing because this trauma and death will continue unless White and non-Black people of color begin to act, resist, and do the necessary work to confront how their individual lives—their wealth, their safety, their freedoms—are directly linked to racist, oppressive systems. To confront the fact that these benefits and protections, which Whiteness grants, comes at a cost. That cost is the destruction of Black bodies, the “un-mattering of Black lives,” as activist-scholar Kimberle Crenshaw recently wrote. In this necessary work, we absolutely include White parents of young children.
Why is it important for children to engage these issues? And in these ways? What is the power for children in learning and responding in these ways?
The unmattering of Black lives starts in childhood. Black people have always known this and said this. But now that exhaustive scientific research also says it, new doors have opened to mainstream audiences hearing and understanding the impact of White silence with kids. In the absence of clear, normalized anti-racist interventions by the adults in White children’s lives, the default unmattering of Black lives will grow and grow and grow. Fully grown, another generation of adults will go on to participate in systems of racism and the injustice and trauma those systems cause.
When we intervene in a way that tells kids the truth, that taps into their innate sense of fairness, and that gives them the agency to create, it can be a powerful step forward. They’re creating something that sends a message; that means they’re not only thinking about what that message actually means in their heads, they’re finding their own way to express that meaning expressing it through their bodies. They’re putting on training wheels as agents of change. And they’re learning that any change that will make the world more fair can’t happen without an active choice to do/make/say something and put it out in the world.
What are ways you encourage parents to speak about and address racist violence, harassment, systemic oppression? And to speak about the murders?
I feel like there are a few things every parent, and actually every American, needs to help kids understand about what’s going on right now:
One: The lives of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd were sacred, and they were stolen.
Two: Their lives were stolen by police, the people we are taught to believe are supposed to protect us.
Three: Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd were not killed because they were Black. Blackness is not the problem. James Baldwin has written it, Beyoncé has sung it, Maya Angelou has versed it, Kehinde Wiley has crowned it: There is everything to love about being Black—our style, our traditions, our genius, our roots, our resilience.
What killed Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor and George Floyd is White America’s insatiable need to demonize Blackness. That’s not an easy conversation to start with kids. But it is absolutely possible.
Toni Morrison once said of race, “Can’t you see? It’s all a distortion. It’s all made.” You couldn’t build a bunch of lamps or chairs, plant them in the ground, and convince a kid that they grew naturally from the earth with a shape, size, weight, or color. But that is what the lie of race would have us believe: that some people are White, some people are Black, and they sprang from nature with different intelligence, beauty, morality, and so on. Part of what we have to challenge White kids to do is to become “seers,” to notice the lies and distortions and endless, tortured acrobatics of racism (for example: the U.S. and Europe have looted continents, but Black protesters are the ones who are branded looters). For White parents to do that, they also need to learn to see. And that is the work.
(Photo at top by Philly Children’s Movement.)
Jan. 29, 2020: From The Co-Founder Of Wee The People, A Puppet Show For Kids About Standing Up To Strongmen
Dec. 17, 2017: Wee The People: Talking With Kids About Why There Aren’t More Black And Brown People In Museums
July 8, 2017: Tearing Down The Wall At Wee The People’s ‘Protestival’
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