‘Doesn’t ‘I Can’t Breathe’ Mean Someone is About to Die?’: Telling Your Kids the Ugly Truth About Race


Doesn’t “I Can’t Breathe” mean someone is about to die?

Yes, your kids are going to ask this—and yes, George Floyd did die at the hands of police officers whose duty is to protect American citizens. This also happened to Eric Garner in 2014. Garner uttered the same three words, “I Can’t Breathe,” before dying in a police chokehold. Not all American citizens are treated equally. Our children are going to ask these types of questions about race and we, as parents, have to provide our perspectives and worldviews to them.

Today, I want to share my personal experiences discussing race with my children and bring to light some of the struggles that South Asian Americans have when discussing race.

What Is the “Right” Age to Talk About Race?

One evening at dinner, my four-year-old son started to label his preschool friends based on the color of their skin. Some of his friends were White, Black, Yellow, or Red and then he asked, “What are we? Yellow?” I thought for a second, and replied, “Actually, we are Brown.” I remember contemplating whether I even wanted to answer his question, or if I should tell him to stop talking like that. However, I knew that when it comes to race, we cannot remain colorblind or color-mute. We all see color and we all make assumptions based on the color of someone’s skin.

There is a common misconception that young children of ages 2-5 may be too young to talk to about race. Sometimes parents feel that they may encourage racial bias in their children by talking about it, but this is not the case. Research shows that children can pick up on race and color as early as infancy. Babies as young as three months tend to look at the faces of people who match their caregivers’ race longer. As they become toddlers, they may pick playmates based on race, and at as early as 4-5 years of age, they will start drawing their own conclusions about an individual’s race. If we don’t have an opinion, our children will form one that is based on the opinions of others—whether that be the media’s, their friends’, or based on their own unwarranted assumptions.

How Do You Start Conversations About Racial Injustice With Your Kids?

Trust me, I know this can be awkward to talk about. However, there are developmentally-appropriate ways to introduce racial injustice to your child. Diverse books are a great way to start a conversation about race. There are also books that explicitly address racial injustice. For example, the children’s book “Something Happened in Our Own Town” by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard is a great resource to help answer your child’s questions about what happened to George Floyd. This book also helps children identify and counter racial injustices in their own lives.

I also understand that parents may be afraid to give kids this information because you don’t know exactly what they will say and to whom. Kids don’t always have a filter when it comes to these topics. I still remember when my four-year-old son went up to a woman in his preschool and announced to her, “You are Black.” She politely replied, “Yes, I am!” She was one of the only African-American individuals in our pre-school, and at that time, I was reading him a book about Martin Luther King, Jr. I explained this to her and, of course, she understood because, verbally or nonverbally, it was a difference that was being acknowledged by not just him, but by others in our communities and in our schools. I know these topics are difficult to bring up, but by starting these conversations early, you will be there to guide your children through this complicated process.

What is Microaggression?

By building a foundation of acknowledging racial differences, I was able to take my conversations with my son a step further. During his elementary school years, I talked to him about how we, as South Asian Americans, are positioned in these discussions about race and how we may deal with subtle microaggressions throughout our lives based on the color of our skin. 

Microaggressions are acts that happen in our day-to-day interactions with people, whether intentional or unintentional, that target a person in a marginalized group. I am a mother of color, and my kids know they will be treated differently in society. We are still seen as immigrants who are often told to “Go Back To Your Country” when someone doesn’t like the way we dress, talk, look, or act. And if they do like the way we dress, talk, look or act, we will be called “model minorities.” I have raised my children to be aware of how race is a social construct that changes based on the political and ideological needs of our society. When my kids hear race-based comments like: “What country are you from?” or “You speak English well,” or “You’re good at spelling, right?” they understand that these microaggressions exist because the concept of race has been socially constructed over time—it serves to socially stratify human beings based on the notion that all human beings are not created equally.

Can Brown People Be Racist?

Yes, I have told my kids that Brown people can also be racist. South Asian Americans need to tackle the issue of anti-Blackness by unpacking the biases that exist within their own communities. Lighter-color Indians are often racist toward darker-colored Indians and this discrimination has existed for years. Many South Asians believe skin color determines a person’s worth in society. India even has an entire beauty industry dedicated to helping dark-skinned Indians make their skin a lighter color by manufacturing products such as Fair and Lovely. In the United States, we have perpetuated this stereotype by typically featuring Indian characters who look like Princess Jasmine. We need to acknowledge and disrupt these conversations, like Mindy Kaling did when she featured a dark-skinned Indian girl in her Netflix series, “Never Have I Ever.”

How Do We Help Our Children Respond to Racial Injustice?

I want and need my children to respond to George Floyd’s death because Brown complicity in White supremacy has been an issue in our community and we are just starting to tackle what that means. I, myself, have grown up in a community that promoted anti-Black discourse and in which many of us (i.e. second-generation Indian-Americans) were told not to be friends with or date/marry a Black person. We need to acknowledge our Brown Privilege and teach our children that we cannot remain silent and reap the unearned societal benefits from being Brown. We need the next generation to know better and do better. 

My kids and I discussed attending the protests, but at the time I felt it was not safe due to COVID-19 concerns. However, I told them that they could still find a way to respond to racial injustice. Protesting is just one way. We brainstormed different ways we could each be active participants. We could create artwork related to the protests and our feelings around it (showcased here by my son’s friend, Adi Kaushal), start a fundraiser to raise money for Black Lives Matter (like my friend’s daughter, Anaya Doshi did), write a blog post, or support Black-owned businesses. Today, each member of my family is working towards one of these goals.

[btx_image image_id=”75953″ link=”/” position=”center”]Artwork by Adi Kaushal. Photo courtesy of the author.[/btx_image]

As parents, we should teach our children that we have a responsibility to respond to racial injustices and take the right steps towards transformative solidarity with other minority communities. This starts by telling them the ugly truth about race.

The opinions expressed by the writer of this piece, and those providing comments thereon (collectively, the “Writers”), are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Brown Girl Magazine, Inc., or any of its employees, directors, officers, affiliates, or assigns (collectively, “BGM”). BGM is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the Writers. It is not the intention of Brown Girl Magazine to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, or individual. If you have a complaint about this content, please email us at Staff@0mq.349.myftpupload.com. This post is subject to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. If you’d like to submit a guest post, please follow the guidelines we’ve set forth here.
By Amita R. Shah

Dr. Amita Roy Shah is the founder of mysocialedge.com, a company dedicated to meeting the social, emotional, and cultural needs … Read more ›

Raising an Atypical Child in a Typical World

Raising an atypical child in a typical world

Hi! I am Sara and I am a mom to a beautiful, neurodivergent child. This piece explores some challenges of parenting an atypical child in a typical world.

It is a sunny day in the summer of 2020 and I am trying to enjoy the only entertainment that has finally been “allowed” by our province. Parks. Sunshine was always free; scarce but free. I have eyes on my daughter, running and somersaulting, with that untethered quality they say she gets from me, while socializing with two girls her age from a distance.

All of a sudden, the distance called ‘social’ gets smaller and as I run and call out in vain my child has the kid in a tight and loving but forbidden hug. I understand that pandemic or no pandemic, physical space is a basic right but for my daughter, it falls under the ‘but why?’ category.

The next 15 minutes are spent apologizing to an exasperated mother asking me why my kid was not taught the dangers of COVID-19 and personal space. She is four, I tell her, she just got excited. At some point, I zone out and just let her say her piece. Some of it is in a language I have never heard before, complete with hand gestures and melodrama as if it was not a preschooler but Bigfoot.

Maybe later I will do the thing we all do; oh, I should have said that. Maybe I won’t. This is not the first time my kid has drawn public attention and it is not the last.

Six months later, we received a diagnosis for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). After the reaction time (read stress eating and ugly crying) ended, we began our journey of raising an atypical child in a world that insists on the typical.


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A post shared by Sara Q | Storyteller (@saraqadeer)

Textbook wise, neurodivergence includes Autism, ADHD, Asperger’s Syndrome, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, OCD, hyperlexia and Tourette Syndrome.

I could write a book on my journey as a mom raising a child who is neurodivergent (ND). I will in due time and the first chapter would be, “Fighting for inclusion in a world insisting on exclusion.” If you ask any parent with a neurodivergent kid, they will tell you that it is not finances or the fear of the future bringing them down, it is just people. But that’s been the case since the dawn of time anyway.

[Read Related: How Model Minority Myths Fails Neurodivergent South Asians]

If you are someone who is kind and inclusive but are confused by the jargon, read on for some guidance that will make you an ever-favorite ally and, well basically, just decent. It is just basic decency after all to be inclusive and kind.

  1. If you have a kid on the spectrum for ASD or ADHD or any other neurodivergence in your social circle, the first step is to not stop being friends with their parents. Yes, that happens. Parents can get super isolated and alienated because their kid is a certain way. Give ND families a chance to breathe. Invite them to BBQs, ask them what their kid will eat, encourage your kids to include them — the whole nine yards.
  2. There will be meltdowns, at birthday parties, at the mall, in restaurants. Sometimes the best thing to do is to look the other way. Ask the right questions. Rather than asking “what happened?” or “why are they doing this?”simply say “how can I help?” Maybe you can help with another sibling or give the child some space.
  3. Do not equate a sensory meltdown or otherwise to a parenting failure or a lack of discipline. ND parents face a lot of judgment on those grounds. That is one of the top reasons they scoop up their kids and leave before dinner is even served.


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A post shared by Sara Q | Storyteller (@saraqadeer)

The biggest challenge in our community is acceptance. There is a dire need to accept that around 30 percent of our population is neurodivergent. This includes adults and undiagnosed individuals. You and I might not even know if we are atypical, the world is just getting to know this word and what it entails. As for the South Asian community, neurodivergence is practically stigmatized and seen as ‘spoilt’ child behavior or ‘mom spending too much time at work, on social media, Netflix, sewing, knitting, kayaking…’ The list goes on.

[Read Related:Let’s Talk About the Desi Hypocrisy With Autism and How You Can Help ]

It is 2022 and we are all trying to make space for people at our tables. This includes people who might not look or act or perceive the world like us. As a parent I have fears that all parents have, but somehow those fears have been heightened to exponential limits ever since my kid’s diagnosis came through.

How is she doing? Did someone bully her? Does she have friends? Is she included in activities? What if she says something silly and they laugh at her? What happens when she is older? Will she go to college? I should not be thinking that. I want to think about how much she is learning at school, what game they played today, what she and her friends talk about and all other typical mom things.

Except I am not a typical mom. And that is okay.

My child has wonder; she has innocence. I see things from her lens and her computation of the world is unique. The biggest misconception people have is of intelligence. A child with autism finds difficulty in processing social cues (like sarcasm) but otherwise they are as smart as you and me, if not more. Probably more.

Some days are hard but not all days are hard, and not every moment of that rough day is difficult. We, parents of ND children, do not keep obsessing over the fact that our kids are atypical; we binge watch the same shows, we have hobbies and interests and date nights and ‘me-time.’ Some days are magical and the most important thing for people to know is that Autism families are not looking for pity parties, just kindness and inclusion with a healthy sprinkle of understanding— an understanding of the atypical in a world only rooting for the typical.

By Sara Qadeer

Sara Qadeer hails from Pakistan and has always had a not-so-secret writing life on the side, in addition to her … Read more ›

Rakhi Celebrations and the Hybridization of Cultures in the Contemporary World

Rakhi celebrations

Culture, in the broadest sense, is a shared set of norms, values and beliefs. We pass down our culture to our children based on our own lived experiences, and what we believe in. The decisions we make for our families reflect the values that we want to prioritize. We also hope that our children will want to pass them down to their own children.

As parents, it’s important to reflect on our cultural values: Where did they come from? Why do we believe in them today? Also, what values seem outdated or irrelevant in modern times and for our own children? By reflecting on these, parents will consciously be aware of the values that they believe are relevant, meaningful, and important to articulate to their children before they leave the nest and fly off into the world.

Our South Asian-American culture is constantly shifting and adapting to reflect changes of the modern times. Today, we are continuing to hold on to the celebrations that bring us the most joy and meaning in our lives. For example, I am attending a family wedding, this October, where the bride is Gujarati and the groom is Tamilian. They have decided to have a Sangeet which is traditionally a Punjabi custom, but they wanted to celebrate both cultures in this new way with their families because they both love music and dancing to Bollywood songs. They are also honoring their individual cultures during the ceremony by having a mangalsutra (the most important piece of the Tamilian ceremony) and the sindoor (the most important part of the Gujarati ceremony).

[Read Related: Celebrating Rakhi: An Ode to Our Brothers ]

As we approach Rakhi this year, I think back to how I used to celebrate Bhai Phota, which is a Bengali version of Rakhi celebrated during Diwali. Today, I have chosen to celebrate Rakhi with my brother and with my Bengali-Gujrati family as a separate celebration, that takes place in August, because this way we can spend more quality time celebrating this sibling bond.

Post-colonial theorist Homi Bhabha puts forth how when cultures mix together, we often open up a hybrid, third space, which forms new ways of being and living in the world. This idea of hybridity acknowledges the space in-between cultures which is filled with contradictions and indeterminate spaces. By negotiating between these differences, we are able to create new forms of culture and identity.

“hybridity… is the ‘third space’ which enables other positions to emerge.” – Homi Bhabha

Today, South Asian American children are forming new ways of connecting to their cultural identities. This summer, I launched my new children’s book, Shanti and The Knot of Protection: A Rakhi Story, to provide more context to children about the historical origins of Rakhi, while also capturing the new and unique ways Rakhi is being celebrated in contemporary times. In contemporary times, we don’t just celebrate with our immediate siblings, but also with our network of family and friends that we have created in our communities.


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We celebrate individuals in our lives (boys or girls) who provide us with a sense of protection and security. This could mean siblings that are both girls, siblings that are both boys, only children, or children who identify as LGBTQIA+ and don’t identify with traditional gender norms. I wanted this story to highlight images of inclusivity and to represent and validate the experiences of all children who are celebrating this festival in the modern day and age. Through this story, children learn the importance of creating a community and feeling secure with not just their siblings but with their friends and other caring adults.

[Read Related: 5 Books that Portray the South Asian LGBTQIAP+ Experience]

Shanti and the Knot of Protection also helps parents open up the conversation about what values they want their children to prioritize in our post-pandemic world and how to live a balanced life. In this story, Shanti’s parents die and she decides to rule her queendom based on the four values that her parents taught her: strength, curiosity, community, and security. In addition to highlighting the importance of relationships, this book also highlights the importance of balancing one’s life with the four domains of well-being: physical domain (strength), cognitive domain (curiosity), social domain (community), and emotional domain (security). These domains are all connected to one another and influence our overall well-being and happiness in life.

As parents, we want to be the North Star for our children and provide them with an inner compass to know what values are important and why. We also want them to know how to be resilient during difficult times. As Ann Landers states, “It’s not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings.” Through this story, I hope parents can have important conversations with their children about prioritizing values that will contribute to their overall well-being, happiness, and resilience in their lives.

Feature Image courtesy: Dr. Amita Roy Shah

By Amita R. Shah

Dr. Amita Roy Shah is the founder of mysocialedge.com, a company dedicated to meeting the social, emotional, and cultural needs … Read more ›

Holi Celebrations: A Time to Reflect on Diversity and Inclusion

Holi Celebrations

Holi is a Hindu festival that celebrates the coming of spring and is observed near the end of winter. It’s also referred to as the festival of colors or the festival of love. Although my daughters and I are not Hindus, (we are Sikhs) we still celebrate Holi. Our Holi celebrations always include reading about this festival, making colorful art, playing with the colorful powders, and making some delicious, traditional sweets. This is always such a great occasion to discuss the diversity of Indian culture with my daughters. I use this opportunity to teach them about inclusivity and respect for different cultures around the world. All across India, different states celebrate this festival in their own meaningful ways.

[Read Related: Holi With Kids: Celebrating the Festival With Your Family ]

My first experience celebrating this beautiful festival was in university. My roommates, friends and international students put together a lovely day of Holi celebrations outside. We were completely covered in variety of colors — pinks, purples, and blues. There was music, laughter, dancing, and an overall joyous atmosphere (including bhang, which is essentially a cannabis milkshake). It was particularly heartwarming to see so many Indian students coming together as a community, so far from home, to connect with such a beloved tradition.

For those of us, brought up in Canada, such celebrations were amazing opportunities to genuinely experience the true spirit of Holi. Similar to how it is done in India, everyone became one – there were no small groups or cliques doing their own thing; class lines and caste systems, predominant across India, disappeared. Everyone joined together; our skin tones hidden under the bright colours of the Holi powders. It surely was an unforgettable time.

As a child, I got to experience Holi only through Indian Cinema. Bollywood films like “Silsila,” “Darr,” and “Mohabbatein” stand out in my memory. The actors are dressed completely in white at the beginning of the song, enjoying Holi celebrations, and are then painted from head to toe, in various bright colours, by the end of the song. Since then, I’ve learned that certain colours hold meaning and significance. Red symbolizes love, fertility, and matrimony; blue represents the Lord Krishna; and green stands for new beginnings.

Now, as a mother, I don’t want my children to experience our culture through a screen. So we bring these Holi traditions into our home in our own creative ways. We certainly tend to get creative since around March there is still ample snow on the ground outside and a chill in the air!

The activities we have fun doing are:

  • Making rangoli designs using coloured powders (this is a helpful site we’ve used)
  • Making paper flowers to decorate the house with (like the ones here)
  • Making tie-dye shirts (we’ve got a kit for this because the girls love it)
  • Baking a traditional Indian snack, like gujiya (we bake them because I get paranoid about the girls being around hot oil).

[Read Related: Mithai Memories from Holi to Eid and Diwali]

Some of the books we enjoy reading are:

  • “Let’s Celebrate Holi!” by Ajanta Chakraborty and Vivek Kumar (for three to seven-year-olds)
  • “Festival of Colors” by Surishtha Seghal and Kabir Seghal (for two to eight-year-olds)
  • “Why Do We Celebrate Holi” by Anitha Rathod (for eight years old and above)

This year, Holi falls on the same date as International Women’s Day! To combine the two celebrations, my daughters and I plan on sketching South Asian females we look up to the most, and then adding bright colours using different types of paint. For another element of texture, we might add the paper flowers to these as well. I’m thinking these are going to be frame-worthy pieces of art!

By Taneet Grewal

Taneet Grewal's passion for storytelling began at the age of six with many fictional/magical characters. This grew into a love … Read more ›