NEW YORK • For eight minutes and 46 seconds – the time it took Mr George Floyd, an unarmed black man, to die at the hands of Minneapolis police – cable TV kids channel Nickelodeon’s screen went black last Tuesday to sounds of inhaling and exhaling, as white text flashed: “I can’t breathe.”
The Pokemon Company pledged US$100,000 (S$140,000) in support for Black Lives Matter. Sesame Street co-hosted a televised town hall meeting with CNN last Saturday.
These are just a few examples of how companies in the United States that entertain or sell products for kids are adjusting their messages, as they attempt to deal with this moment in American history and explain the complexities of racism and police brutality to children through action and words.
“It’s one thing to try to preserve the innocence of children, but you shouldn’t preserve the ignorance of children in a country that is multiracial that has this bad history,” CNN commentator Van Jones told Reuters in an interview last Friday.
Mr Jones and CNN anchor Erica Hill hosted the hour-long special on CNN – Coming Together: Standing Up To Racism – in partnership with Sesame Street. The show aimed to teach children how to identify inequality and speak out against it.
CNN is owned by telecommunications company AT&T, whose chief executive officer, Mr Randall Stephenson, urged other CEOs to speak out against racial inequality.
Experts said parents need help interpreting for children the relentless barrage of messages on social media and on television as peaceful protesters and looters clash with the authorities across the country.
“I have seen a spike in anxiety for my black kid clients because they are having access to the news,” said clinical mental health counsellor Javonte Bass. “When the parents are watching, they’re listening.”
Fear of catching the coronavirus forced families indoors. Fear of dying at the hands of police keeps kids from going back out, Ms Bass said.
One nine-year-old black child even asked Ms Bass: “Am I going to get shot too?”
IGNORANCE IS NOT BLISS
It’s one thing to try to preserve the innocence of children, but you shouldn’t preserve the ignorance of children in a country that is multiracial that has this bad history.
CNN COMMENTATOR VAN JONES
SPIKE IN ANXIETY
I have seen a spike in anxiety for my black kid clients because they are having access to the news. When the parents are watching, they’re listening.
MS JAVONTE BASS, a clinical mental health counsellor.
GOOD TIME FOR ‘THE TALK’
I don’t know any black parents who don’t have the talk with their child. But it’s now definitely a good time.
MS TIFFANY RUSSELL
Mr Jones said the CNN event was not meant to be a historical rundown of slavery and colonialism in the US. It urged parents to teach their children empathy. “Failing to teach kids about empathy and fairness is always harmful,” he said.
That applies to views of law enforcement as well, Mr Jones and Ms Bass emphasised. “Police officers are not saints or superheroes. They’re human beings,” Mr Jones said. “Some are good. Most are good, but some are bad.”
The death of Mr Floyd and subsequent demonstrations nationwide have many families discussing racism – but for many African-American parents, “the talk” has long been a necessity in a society where their children must learn the dangers of growing up black.
“I don’t know any black parents who don’t have the talk with their child,” said Ms Tiffany Russell, 26. “But it’s now definitely a good time.” When she was three years old, after a dramatic incident, her mother advised her how to behave: “You have to be careful about how you act, about how you react.”
Ms Russell added: “You can’t be too aggressive, too angry. She told me if a police officer stops me, just don’t say anything and just listen. Even if you’re upset – you cannot show that you’re upset.”
Mr Joseph West, a partner at a law firm and a father, remembers what his own father told him before he went out for his first drive: He taught careful driving and respecting traffic rules, but also no fast moves in case of a police check, and a deferential tone even in case of an unjustified pull-over.
The message? “Even though the vast majority of law enforcement officers are good people, they in fact have the power to take your life – and you are far more likely to have that happen to you if you are a black man than if you’re not.
“It was a chilling realisation to have at that time, and it is something that stays with me to this day,” Mr West said.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE