Our oldest son is white.  Our other son and daughter are African.  As we sit in the restaurant my oldest son stares at the TV trying to understand the images.

“Why are the white police all pointing guns at the brown man?”

How do I answer the naive question of my 8-year old son?  I don’t know that he has experienced or seen discrimination.  He knows very little about the police and fortunately no longer threatens to call them when reprimanded. 

How do I answer his question? And yet it is not he who will face the discrimination.

I struggle to explain: There’s a town where a white police officer shot a brown man.

“Was he trying to hurt them?”  No, we don’t know all that happened.

“Will they be punished?  How?” I try to explain the justice system but he just wants to know, will they be punished?  Perhaps his question really is, “If they shoot a brown person, do they get punished or not?”

I wish I had an easy answer.

“What do the signs mean? Hands up, don’t shoot.”  

Again, I try to explain, people are angry, people are protesting.

“What’s protesting?” Well, it’s a little like when we stood on the corner in John Day and our community didn’t want bad people moving to Grant County.

But I can’t delve into the long history of race relations in our country and across the world.  I can’t explain the persistent racial divide that affects blacks such that poverty is more prevalent and “brown” men are at a much higher risk of jail.

I can’t explain the structural racism that perpetuates better home environments and good education among affluent Caucasians and broken homes and inferior educational opportunities among for many urban blacks.

I do hope I am starting a lifelong conversation.

I do hope I am establishing a foundation for a series of lifelong conversations.  

Sadly, this will not be resolved in Ferguson. Sadly, I will have to have difficult conversations with my Caucasian son and my African son and daughter.  I will try to prepare them for a world I will never experience, a world in which they are judged inferior simply based on their skin color. As a father, I feel inadequate to address their probing questions.

Yet I am encouraged by their questions, by their awareness.  I am hopeful that through our small conversations lives will be better, attitudes changed and prejudice shed.  Yet, it will not happen in a day, a year or even a lifetime.  As hard as they may be, I remain committed to these conversations.

Andrew Janssen and his wife Andrea are parents and physicians in John Day.

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