Talking about race as a white, middle-ish class, woman is super fun.
So why do it?
We have this funny story that we often tell each other about when our children first notice or didn't notice race. We tell it when we're feeling awkward or uncomfortable. We tell it when we're feeling like we need to console ourselves over the deficiencies in our own cultural competency. Sometimes we tell it innocently, because "kids! They say crazy stuff!". The story itself is not wrong, but the way we expect our kids to have a language around race is. We fool ourselves into thinking that being well adjusted and open minded must transfer to our kids by osmosis.
And it does, sort of, but it is not enough. Our kids see hair colour and skin colour just as clearly as my pre-verbal kid can identify the difference between a fork and a spoon. They accept it as normal until one day they don't.
When does that happen? How do we flip that narrative? How do we give our children the language to navigate those differences that they most certainly notice? I don't believe for a second that our little people are colour blind. But I do believe that they don't have the vocabulary or the safe spaces to talk about it. And if they don't have the language for these things, they might begin to believe that those differences are wrong or bad. It's not intentional– for the most part– it's just that it's hard! And what if I say the wrong thing?! And aren't we supposed to be beyond all of this?
I know. I get it. Let me assure you: we are not beyond it.
I have to prepare my children for the world we live in as much as I would rather prepare them for the world I hope for. So. In our house we talk about what the N word is and how some people use it with each other to take away its power and that is none of our business. We talk about how it's not an okay word in our family or to use with anyone else. We talk about how it has been used for a very long time to make people feel less than are by the way the look. We speak about these things because these words have been directed towards people we care about. We talk about them because these words are going to be directed at us. We speak about what an ALLY is and how to be one. To Sam, we discuss about how intentional we have to be to make friends with people who might have different backgrounds from us. We explain to him how sometimes our brains have been trained to make assumptions about the *goodness* or compatibility of a person based on what we see on the outside. We tell him that it's hard sometimes, and people won't always understand. It's difficult to be rejected. I tell him that I have not always been the best example of this hard work, but that I am trying.
Sometimes they rolls their eyes and we hear, "I KNOW I KNOW PLEASE STOP". But we do it anyway.
Thankfully, we don't have to do this job by ourselves. We have gracious people around who are open hearted and reflective and are willing to have these hard conversations with us even if they are thinking, "I KNOW I KNOW PLEASE STOP". The boys have friends and adults in their worlds who come from a variety of backgrounds. We help them process what they're feeling or how they are being made to feel. As for me, I say the wrong things. I don't always recognize my own privilege. I'm working on it. I don't have it all figured out.
My friend and I were talking about the divisive words our kids are exposed to. I was explaining some of the challenges we were facing, in part because so many (white) adults don't realize how important it is to identify the hard stuff (for lots of complicated reasons). Besides the fact that she now blames me for ruining her life, she realized very quickly that we can't be complacent. She's part of
an interracial family, she's a disability advocate, she is smart and
kind, and still, there was a piece that she realized she was missing:
proud of myself, though, that I never use hurtful words tied to a
person’s skin color, language, disability, or sexual orientation. But
now I’m wondering…is this enough? Is it enough to not use these
powerful and hurtful words, or do I need to do more? Do they know it’s
NOT OK to stand by when they hear others using these words? Do they
know it IS OK to stand up for their friends or classmates who are being
hurt? Do they know that sticking up for another child would make me
proud? Honestly, I don’t know.
Somehow I’ve been assuming
that my silence (by not using these words) is teaching them all they
need to know. But I’m not sure. I think I need to talk with them, very
simply and clearly, about the words we use, the words we hear (or might
hear), the power of those words to hurt, and how we should react when
it happens. I'm not sure why I haven't done this yet…in a very direct
fashion…but I haven't. That will change…starting today."
My dad made a short documentary this year with his friend, Isadore. Yummo Comes Home: A Residential School Healing Story. It is primarily aimed at helping churches understand the importance they play in the Truth and Reconciliation Process in Canada, but it also seeks to educate folks on the devestating impacts of privilege among the dominant culture. Plus there are some sweet, old pics of my dad and grandparents.