At Catapult, Black UVA alum Taylor Harris writes about explaining the racist violence on the Charlottesville campus to her six-year-old daughter, who hadn’t yet personally encountered racism or ever learned about racist violence.
Only a day before the “Unite the Right” protest that led to white supremacists beating Dre Harris and killing Heather Heyer, her daughter and husband had been right there, buying ice cream. Harris wrestles with informing her daughter, because she doesn’t want to rob her of her innocence.
We’ve talked about her beautiful brown skin and thick, curly hair, and she has a sense for why Rosa sat and Dr. King died. But we’ve never discussed anything this present, this evil, this close to home.
Did I tell you she calls this city beautiful? She, gorgeous with her huge brown eyes and tight curls. She is proud that her daddy teaches at the university, the one she has no idea was built by her people. We don’t start there, though. We start with that day and what happened on 4th Street on the downtown mall and why those white people were rallying in her hometown in the first place. We use the word racism.
And what happens next isn’t fair. What happens is that burden folds itself over her shoulders, a mantle I don’t want her to carry, and she says:
“Uh oh. We’re black people.”
I cannot bring her back.
“Is this gonna happen every day in Charlottesville?” she asks.
Which part? I want to ask. The racism, the destruction of black neighborhoods, the hidden pockets of public housing among great wealth? Yes. But a racist rally and a car crash? No.
Here she is, learning norms, feeling her way through fear, wondering if she’s next. She’s 6, you know. Her school supply list still calls for blunt-tip scissors. I heard the terrorists hid weapons in bushes.
We have dinner plans that night, and as we get into the minivan, she murmurs, “I just can’t believe what happened in Charlottesville.” She still conjugates some of her verbs incorrectly, and this time I don’t fix it when she says, “Is Mimi white or brown? Would they have foughted Mimi?” She wants to know if her light-skinned grandmother would have been in harm’s way. Look at the world opening like a pop-up book before her.