“But I’m a good white person, right?” my kid asked me the other night. As we were sitting in her bed, I wanted to show her a video of a chicken greeting its owner at a school bus stop because I knew it would make her laugh. In the process of scrolling through my social media feed, it was inevitable that his face would show up. She always says his name the same way, with a scrunched up face and a grunt, “Donald Trump.” She also asks what each picture is about and in this case it was about his comments on “shithole” countries. I explained that he said something racist and upsetting, referring to places where many black and brown people live as bad places to live.
She wanted to know why, so I shared that he believes that how white people live is better than how other races live. I also shard the irony in this belief as here where we live, it’s the white people that make it not such a nice place to live and especially not for black and brown people.
This is then when she said, “But I’m a good white person, right?” She has said this before, and I am quickly realizing the conflict she experiences. As a white family, with many white friends and white people in our lives, she is struggling with the little kid notion of “good people” and “bad people.” At this age, she is not in a place to understand that the system we live in is the problem, not an entire race of people, and certainly not herself.
My answer to this question has remained the same: “Remember, there are no good people and bad people, but instead just people who can do good or bad things. We and our family are working to make good choices to try to get rid of the bad things people are doing.”
This time I went a little further to test her understanding, “The place where we live, this country, has made it so white people get more things than black and brown people. And it’s unfair because we as white people didn’t do anything to deserve it. Imagine if you went to a school where all of the white kids got cookies every day just because they were white, but none of the black or brown kids ever got them. That’s wouldn’t be fair right?”
“Right,” she said, “but that would only happen to **** in my school.” I hesitated in response, as what was interesting about her awareness is that the kid she mentioned presents as white, meaning I believe society reads their body as a white. In full honesty, I do not know their race or their ethnicity, and I named this for her and she was confused. I explained race a little further saying that we don’t know anything about this kid’s ancestors or what stories were passed along to them from their parents (we explain DNA as stories, from the book “What Makes a Baby” by Corey Silverberg) and that most of the time we can’t know unless they tell us. But it was so interesting to me, that she, even at 4 1/2 years old, has picked up on the possible differences in ethnicity among her classmates. I suppose I should feel good that she is being racially explicit, but my inner white socialization feels some disappointment in how she already has categorized her friends. I am doing some personal work to push myself beyond this statement to remember that I need her to see race and differences, or she will never see the differences in treatment or inequities within our world.
It also spoke to me clearly of the lack of representation in her school. I too have mixed feelings on this. I do wish that her school was more diverse, but I also recognize that it’s in a district where mostly white folks live. We as parents have made a conscious decision to expose her to other races of people through our friends and family, TV, books, toys, etc. We have no intention of enrolling her in a school simply for diversity. We recognize the inherent harm that already exists with her whiteness and that we are not in this to create “exposure” to other people’s lives to learn. We have the tools and methods to teach her and besides, the core work for us is with other white folks to change the system. On her own, she will develop deep relationships with people of color, I have not doubt in that.
Next year, she will go to kindergarten which will shift her experience on race. Here are a few things I have already learned about this town I live in. The school she is districted in, is mostly kids of color, more than half in fact. Every other elementary school, all 5 of them, are majority white kids, with some as high as 80% white. I also learned that to be in all day kindergarten, the fee is $3,500 for the year. If you live within two miles of the school, the bus is not free and costs $235 a year. More than 37% of the kids in her soon to be school have more than 9 unexcused absences in a year. Remember, I am talking about 5-10 year olds here. I live in a town that is racially segregated. Most of the kids of color live within her school district and within 2 miles of her school. Clearly, I have a lot to work with as an invested parent in pushing the school system to do better.
As she preps for kindergarten, she is so excited to go. I know she will find so much joy, but will also have so many questions as she will see some of these inequities. She already points things out regularly to me when she sees them. It’s also going to be a new challenge as a parent to explain how these inequities also impact her. This will open the opportunity to really talk about structural racism and how it impacts all of us. I know she will go to school next year with love and intention. And I have no doubt she will make change with every step she takes. So no, we’re not “good white people.” But I know she is a good human who wants this world to be good for everyone. If I can continue to uplift that inner desire in her heart as she grows and learns, that’s a win for me. It’s also a win for our future.