I overheard another Mom the other day, as she was sharing a story about recently riding the subway with her nephew. On the ride, they saw a group of young men of color. Her nephew responded by gawking, as his predominantly white neighborhood had normalized his experience to be one without people of color in it. His aunt was mortified and embarrassed by his behavior.
This led me to think about the dreaded questions that toddlers love to ask, that us parents interpret as ways to embarrass us. I think of my own child, growing up in a nearly all white daycare in a predominantly white neighborhood. There is a real chance that we’ll be in the grocery store one day and she’ll turn to me and ask, “Mommy, why is that man so black?”
So how do you answer this question? Many parents might hush their child for fear of offending the person they have pointed out. But in reality, what does that teach them? I think it teaches them to not talk about race. And this means that we definitely won’t talk about racism.
Why don’t we speak about race? We label ourselves by race all the time, it’s on nearly every form we fill out. There is no secret that people have different skin tones. Yet, the larger secret seems to be that being brown or black makes a difference in this world. We whites have decided to turn a blind eye to this difference, living in eternal colorblindness.
My child is born into a world of privilege, with the only strike against her to date being that she was born with girl parts and is gendered a girl. But she is white, blue-eyed, blonde hair, beautiful, smart, and has a stable living situation and family. So how will I teach her that she was born into this, that she didn’t earn it. That her father and I didn’t earn it. It’s not her fault that she didn’t choose it, but how do I teach her that she should acknowledge this privilege and use it as a tool to break down the structural racism that continues to breed in this country.
This may sound like a far jump, but when you take off the colorblinders, you can’t miss racism persisting all around us. This means she’ll see it too.
I want her to grow up to understand the hardships that she and others face in this country. If she loves others even half as much as she loves me and her family, she has the power to make change. As a white woman, I have faced my own level of oppression, fighting for equal pay, and investing my career into advocating for reproductive rights and justice for all people. But this is in no comparison to racism. I know she’ll experience much of the same, so I expect the same of her to balance both her own experiences with oppression and also how she perpetuates it. I expect her to stand up and call out racism, bigotry, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and all other forms of oppression. But I expect this not because I will teach her it is right, but because I will do everything I can to allow her heart to grow in a way that she sees the world in all lenses. She will stand up again racism because it’s in her heart to change it, because it’s not the world she wants to live in.
So what will I say when she ask me why the man at the grocery store is black? I’ll tell her that it’s a very good question and that people come in many colors. In fact, that we all have melanin in our skin which allows for these variations. That right now we live in a place where depending on what color you are, you get different things and that this is not ok. That there is an incredibly rich history that I’ll share with her more as she grows – the establishment of whiteness and the structural oppression of all other races. And when I share it, I will tell her that it is important to see people’s races, not because it should matter what race you are, but because if she doesn’t see people for all of their humanity, she will fail in fighting for justice and equity for everyone; she’ll miss the key details that the world around her is working so hard to keep her from seeing.