This fall I approached a friend with the idea of facilitating a small group of parents who were interested in doing Anti Racism Work. The group would be geared to white parents (and so happens, moms, though that was not necessarily the intention) who were interested in digging deeper and supporting each other in understanding our own internal biases, white supremacy in all its flagrant and passive forms, and how we could start to recognize and interrupt patterns of oppression. Some may look at this move as a selfish endeavor– being the caregiver of Black children, it behooves me to take any and all action to protect them by educating the parents of their peers. Sure. I get that. But at the heart of this work is the deep need to do better by my community, specifically white folks in my community. Maybe we can take this work into our school PTOs, our small businesses, or our HR departments. Most importantly, maybe we can use this work to help our children identify oppression in all its forms and then model how to stand up against it.
I broached the topic and then I backed off. Maybe I was not the right person to see this through.
Thankfully, a friend asked about specifics and offered her home up as a meeting place. Peer Pressure works.
One of the recurring themes in our meetings is when and how we engage our kids in these conversations. When are they old enough? How much information is too much information? How do we balance their innocence with their education? And the truth that we keep surfacing is that we cannot and should not value their innocence over their education. As parents of older children– particularly white boys– the lament is that we should've started much sooner. That at 6 or 7 a child can understand and have empathy for a peer who is being singled out for their differences by adults or other children. We should be able to surface and name adult behaviours for them and help them process their emotions. By 8 or 9 they should be able to have language to interpret what they are seeing and know who the trusted adults are in their lives that they can process this with. By 10 and 11 they should have the tools to speak out and stand up when they see bias-in-action. By 12 and 13 they should understand what organizing looks like. They should be able to have candid conversations with their peers and caregivers about internalized racism, patriarchy, and bias. If a child in middle school can run their own student council campaign or participate in a science fair, they should be able to address adults when they see those adults leaving kids behind.
You have undoubtedly heard this all before. You have your own ideas of what your child is capable of. You worry about their high anxiety or that you are teaching them to "other" people by teaching them to notice. You worry that your words will undermine their self-esteem or self-importance. You worry that they will see themselves as less than as you teach them to value others more. You might be attachment parents or believe that you are your child's most important teacher and you do not understand how to teach this..
You do not know how to model this behavior.
You are not wrong.
But consider the price that your children might pay down the road: They will grow up and validate phrases like "black on black crime". They will assume black kids make good basketball players or that poverty is the greatest indicator of intelligence. They will assume that justice is blind and that all those people in prison were given due process. They will have a Black best friend or adopt a Latino child and this will excuse them from examining their own behavior. They will become liberal activists, who center their whiteness before the experiences and education of the people they are trying to help. They will position themselves as experts in every room. They will hire people that look like them or who share their life experience or upbringing. They will comfort themselves by reassuring each other that they have "pulled themselves up by their bootstraps" paying no attention that many of their peers were not afforded boots.
Here is the price my children and children who look like them might pay: they will continue to have to work twice as hard for half as much. They will make a habit of calling ahead as they approach unfamiliar places, letting folks know that they are coming up the front walk as to not be alarmed by their presence. They will examine the clothes they wear, the way they talk, and then pull apart every interaction looking for clues as to why they were treated differently than the person before them in line. They will drive with their licenses taped to their dash and a picture of their family hanging from their windshield, so that they never have to reach into their pocket during a traffic stop and that the officer is reminded that they too are mothers, fathers, daughters, sons. They will suffer from the stress of constant vigilance around whiteness. They will be strong and resilient. They will be lauded and punished in equal measure for being both.
Fear and Fragility are two guiding forces in my life that I am constantly fighting. They leave me twisting in a sea of self loathing (bad day!) or in a land of rationalization (self-care day!). The best moments are when I can clearly see these forces for what they are and firmly move forward anyway. What are you afraid of? Where does it leave you? What price will you pay? I feel deep gratitude for the people in my life who are committing themselves to wrestle with these things while experiencing strong, personal discomfort.
Here are some writings and podcasts that have brought me to the floor or given me (far less emotional) tools to keep going the last few months..
Where Does it Hurt? An Interview with Ruby Sales. Please listen to the unedited version. This spoke to me on deep levels.
A Guide to Allyship and Interracial Friendship Written last year by the Feminist Griote– someone I have learned so much from the last few years
White Fragility is Racial Violence This is a very readable/conversational piece that acts as a good primer on what Fragility might look like in your life
Stop Blaming "White Privilege" Let this one not so gently smack you upside the head. I'll wait while you go get some ice.
And here's Vincent Harding… Again, listen to the unedited episode. He was a flipping Mennonite for the love…! He speaks on Democracy and Faith and the importance of inter-generational relationships. His words on being a "human signpost" were revelatory in my life.
The tables in this clinical analysis of Microaggressions are very instructive.