As many families across North America are having difficult conversations after George Floyd died in police custody, Darius Spence is reflecting on how he has been impacted by anti-Black racism for at least half of his young life.
“I haven’t experienced lots of racism, but when I have experienced it, it has been severe and bad,” the 10-year-old said during an interview at a park in Pickering.
After Floyd died while in police custody in Minneapolis, it sparked an important dialogue at Darius’s house. So with his mother, Erica Edwards, they decided to create a video to share how Darius was feeling. They sent the video Toronto Deputy Mayor Michael Thompson, who shared it on his Twitter account.
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“Sometimes people don’t want to play with me because of my skin colour and a big, big reason why racism is starting is because of kids and their parents. They say, ‘OK, you can’t hang out with this person because of their skin colour,’ and we have to say that isn’t OK,” Darius said before addressing the topics of bullying and police brutality.
“What the cops are doing to us isn’t right. We have to stand up.”
Darius went on to discuss how he would like to see society stop racism, calling for people to stop judging others “before we get to know them” and to call out instances of racism as those happen.
“One way the government can help is by sending out a message throughout Canada and through the world, really, and say, ‘we can’t let racism happen.'”
Thompson praised Darius for his message.
“Thanks for sharing your feedback and for so ably expressing the change you would like to see in #Canada,” he wrote.
“You are a great example of a young leader who is willing to speak up and inspire change. We all have a part to play in ensuring that kids whether black, white or mixed feel safe to live and breathe in a world where they feel respected and loved.”
Global News spoke with Darius and Edwards after the video was posted, who shared how they as a family have been dealing with Floyd’s death.
“I really try not to watch any of these videos. This was a video I felt was very important to show my son because it was, excuse my pun, very black and white. It was very straight forward. There was no question of is this right or is this wrong,” Edwards said.
“How I introduced it to Darius was I said to him we got a new ancestor. We didn’t know him. We weren’t directly related. But now there is a new ancestor and we need to honour him.
“Out of the mouth of babes, he said, ‘How can he kneel on his neck? How is that right?’
Darius said he tried not to watch too much of the video capturing Floyd’s arrest because “it was very disturbing” to him.
“It made me feel sad. It made me feel angry. It made me feel quite worried,” he said.
Edwards said she hoped she could help the community with Darius’s video is by encouraging “courageous conversations.”
“His reaction was unprompted. It was unscripted,” she said.
“I felt the honesty of a child would connect with people and maybe it would be a voice that people would hear more clearly than others.”
In the wake of Floyd’s death, experts have encouraged parents to have conversations about police brutality, injustice and systemic racism earlier in a child’s life and more frequently.
“If our children see that we’re afraid to have these conversations with them, they won’t be having them with us,” Janelle Brady, an anti-racism researcher and educator, told Global News, adding children and youth are seeing the news online.
“A lot of conversations don’t always happen verbally. They happen by what we model to our children in our homes, in our communities.”
Within minutes of speaking with Spence at the park on Wednesday, he discussed his own encounters with racism and recalled a few of the hurtful comments.
“At school, someone said, ‘Your skin looks like the colour of diarrhea poo,’ and that really offended me,” he said while also recounting a particular instance where he wanted to play with classmates.
“They said, ‘Oh yeah, you’re Black so I’m not going to play with you’ because it was a group of white-skinned people. I felt very excluded.”
However, despite the comments he has received, Darius said he has a message that he tells himself.
“When they say things like that to me, it makes me feel like, ‘OK, you’re going to be mean to me, you don’t deserve my respect. You don’t deserve anything like that from me.'”
And while conversations about race and anti-Black racism have come to the forefront in recent days, Edwards said the reality of racism is not new for her family and many other families.
“I have three children and they have all been called a racial slur by their peers, so it’s another three- or four-year-old that’s using these words and these terms — and excluding and not including,” she said.
On the back of what Darius has heard from fellow children and as he approaches his teenaged years, Edwards said she has recently had to have an honest dialogue with Darius.
“Sadly it came time to give that speech of going from being a kid to being perceived as an adult male, having to explain to him that at 13 and 14 if someone were to give his description it would be of a Black male — they wouldn’t say a kid, they wouldn’t say a child,” she said.
“You’re perceived differently because of the colour of your skin … I wouldn’t be doing him justice if I sent him out there with an ideal versus the reality.”
“To impart a message that actually makes no sense whatsoever and reinforce that as a truth they need to survive, it kills your soul as a parent.”
Darius admitted he’s worried about what could happen in the future.
“I’m scared about the fact that maybe when I get older, I might do the littlest thing wrong and I’ll go to jail or I’ll get shot or something like that happens,” he said.
Meanwhile, Edwards echoed the call for families to have an open dialogue.
“It is not just the responsibility of Black people to teach their children about racism and inequality, everyone has to do it. We do not perpetrate these crimes against ourselves. We do not perpetrate systemic racism,” she said.
“For all of the white families, the families who are not of colour, speak to your children but don’t just speak at them. Ask them questions, ask them what they think, ask them what they feel, and be honest — that is what’s going to change the world for our children.”
As for Darius, a lover of sea creatures and dinosaurs who said he would eventually like to pursue music, basketball or paleontology when he gets older, he looked ahead to the future with optimism as people continue to protest.
“It made me feel very happy and like we’re taking a big step forward, and that we’re fighting against racism, and fighting for Black lives and for Black rights,” he said.
“Everybody in the world should be treated equally, racism won’t exist — I really hope that happens.”