Anti-racist baby

I read Anti-racist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi to my littlest. They especially like the counting. While reading this book, there is a page that shows a white person on a ladder who reaches the top and has a trophy. There is a second ladder with a Black person and the rungs above them are completely broken.

AW pointing to the Black person on the ladder: Oh no! It’s broken!

Me: It is broken.

AW: We have to fix it!

Me: Yes we do.

Black Lives Matter

She’s been having trouble sleeping. There is a lot to worry about these days. And it’s all taking form in the minutes after she lays down to sleep. I know this all too well.

The other night, she came out and said she was scared. We asked her what she was scared of. And she told us the protest she went to, and specifically the police…

Back in May and June, local protests were planned everywhere. Most were too far to go for us, as I only had a limited window of time for our two-year-old. But then, one was planned nearby during their nap. It was organized by some local high school kids, in collaboration with a local advocacy group. It was a protest march from their school into the next neighboring city. I asked my oldest if she wanted to go.

She said yes, but I told her it could only work if we put some safety measures into place. Here is what I told her.

“You have to hold my hand the whole time. If I say run, you run with me, not questions asked. If we get separated, find another protestor and ask them to call me. We will put your Dad’s cell phone number in your shoe in case I get taken away. Or a person can’t reach me. The police are not your friends this day, do not go to them. Go to another person walking and ask for help. The police may look different than you’re used to. They may be wearing special outfits that are all black. They may wear helmets or facemasks. And you may see their guns. There also may be people there who disagree with us. They may also have guns or yell things at us. Do not look at them, ever. Always stay with me and look at me.”

She was in.

The day before we made some signs and planned out the schedule. The morning of, she dressed in all black. We slipped both mine and her Dad’s phone numbers into her shoe. For back-up, we wrote her Dad’s in sharpie on her leg under her pants. Dad was on call and had his phone handy in case anyone called. He knew to answer all calls and he knew that I might call if I needed someone to witness something.

We packed our masks, some water, our signs, and headed out. There were hundreds of people. She was nervous, worrying about her mask and feeling like her sign was too heavy. But she liked seeing some of the other kids, pets, and lots of people.

“Where are the police?” she asked.

I pointed to the top of the hill. They had minor riot gear on, just vests, dark clothes and walkies.

After some speakers, we started to walk. I kept her towards the back and on the outside of the group so we could step out if we needed too. She clung to my hand, and walked carefully. We switched our signs a couple of times to change it up. One said “Black Lives Matter” in her handwriting. The other said “Say Their Names” and we listed so many people who were murdered by police.

We had to get back for my youngest, so we couldn’t do the whole protest walk. When we reached our stopping point, she decided she wanted to support the rest of the protestors. On the side of the road, she held up her sign with unwavering intention, straight-faced yet waving at people and cars. Many honked and gave her a thumbs up. When the last car pulled up, a person in a car across the street slowed down and called her a terrorist. I told her it was time to go and explained that this person was angry with our message. She knew why this person disagreed with her, as we had talked about it so many times before.

In further protest, she held the signs out of our car window the whole ride home. She then marched inside, grabbed some tape and put them on our front door. Days later, she made more, and then even more. We have to keep making more as the days go by, in order to ensure we say all of their names. That we make a statement to our community that we won’t forget. And that these people who were murdered matter.

On the day of the protest, there was little police activity. Except to handle traffic. It was that day that she realized that they always carry guns. That at every moment they are in uniform, they can kill whomever they want.

This was her nightmare. This was what makes her scared. To not feel safe from a group who she has been told repeatedly in her white schools that they are there to protect her, help her, take care of her.

My partner reminded her that night that police can be helpful. But it really depends on who asks for help, or who they are interacting with.

She experiences her privilege as a white person every second of her life. This was her first really hard glimpse into what it feels like to not feel safe in her community, by those that are advertised to protect and serve. This is her nightmare, and she knows that for her it’s short-lived. And that for people of color in this country, for the Black folx she has and is making signs for, this is their everyday. Their nightmare does not go away.

Eat! and Race!

My youngest is 19 months old, so it’s time to start talking about race. In our house, we believe that being race explicit is essential to understanding racism and oppression in this world and country. We also believe that colorblindness is harmful and we want them to untangle this problematic worldview in their lives.

Once, my daughter identified herself as “normal” when we were talking about race. Despite our repeated teachings, she is still absorbing the whiteness around her.

So we start young. And keep teaching.

There is a book we have called “Eat!” that was given to my oldest by our first pediatrician. It’s a story about messy eating and shows several baby faces covered in food. I love this book, one because they love it, two because it’s gender expression neutral, and three because it’s a wide array of skin colors.

This baby loves this book, seeing the baby faces, the messy food and meeting the eyes of other kids their age. We read the book and then we point out skin color. “This baby has dark brown skin. This baby has lighter brown skin. Look at your skin, see how it’s different. We call your skin white.”

Being race explicit does something so important for our kids. First, and foremost, it makes us a family who does not pretend race does not exist in this world. It’s a common belief among many white folks that if we just treat people as people, or if we just recognize that we’re all the same underneath, then we can change the world.

We believe that this can probably eventually be true. But right now it cannot. Our society, our internalized beliefs are rooted in skin color and race. Pretending to not see it, or trying to love through it means we are not seeing the racial oppression, or we are trying to love someone as a solution when they are telling us that they are actively being harmed. Not to mention, not seeing a person’s skin color erases their humanity. We are all linked to our ancestors, our cultures, our history. Many white people don’t do this well. And just because some of us don’t feel connection to our ancestors, tend to live ahistorically, and/or fail to identify with many of our ethnic cultures doesn’t mean others should do the same. White supremacy has also impacted white culture, teaching us we are the norm and that others should follow suit, or they are then less deserving. And the policies and practices have been and continue to be put in place ensure things are taken away, restricted, policed, or even manipulated to our benefit all to uphold white supremacy.

So we talk about race in this house because we want our kids to know these details and to name them.

At dinner the other night, we played a game with our oldest. She asked if we could take turns saying things that are real that we wish were not. I went first.

“Capitalism,” I said.

“What’s that?” she asked.

I can’t remember my exact response but it went something like this, “it’s where people make a lot of things to make a lot of money. Where money is important and some people end up having a lot more than others.”

She went next.

“Guns,” she said.

Then my partner, “Poverty.”

We explained this one too.

Next I said, “Racism.”

She didn’t blink and said her next choice. We mentioned climate change, cancer, politics, human trafficking, animal abuse, stealing, the system of police, etc.

We talked about some but she knew many already. We have taught her that the world has big things in it that hurt people, that white people hurt people, that our ancestors hurt people. And we also teach her that we can talk about it and work to make it better.

Next we did a round on what doesn’t currently exist but we wish it did. We got answers like being a kid forever, unicorns, magic, boss baby, captain underpants, etc.

At one point, my partner said “superheroes.”

“Superheroes are real!” she exclaimed.

We exchanged eyes and just let it be. Even though her superheroes might be spiderman or batgirl, she also knows there are real life superheroes too. She knows Harriet Taubman, Martin Luther King Jr, Angela Davis, Dolores Huerta, Frida Kahlo among so many more.

So if you’re also a white parent raising a white kid, talk about race with your kids. Without knowing what it is, how to see it, and it’s impact on the world, they won’t know how to contribute to change, their own growth, a better world for their future. If you talk about race, they’ll believe in racism. And if they believe in racism they’ll also believe in anti-racism. And if your strategic, they just might believe in superheroes.

Small steps

The other day, I saw a post on facebook that I decided to share with my daughter. Here is the picture.


I quickly noticed the issue and wanted to see if she did too. I showed her the picture and we talked through what it said. I asked her what she saw. She noticed that happy and proud seemed to be associated and that sad and angry were too. I asked her if she noticed the race of the kids in the picture and she said yes.

“What do you think about that?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she replied.

So I offered her more, “What do you think about the fact that the black kids are angry and sad and the white kids are happy and proud?”

“I think that’s probably right,” she replied.

Patiently, I asked her why.

Her response, “White people don’t treat them so well, so I think they’d be angry and sad.”

Such a moment, in both validation, but also in missed teaching on my part. I told her that she is right, that they have every right to be angry and sad. And then I tried to explain to her that people already think black people are angry and sad, all the time. And if someone seeing this picture didn’t know so much about how black people are treated, then they might think that all black people are sad and angry for no reason at all.

I could see her confusion. And the complicated nature of trying to explain this was bouncing around in my brain.

I chose to simply say, “There are messages everywhere about how people are and this is an example of how we can pay attention to those.”

“Can I go play now?” she asked.

“Of course,” and she ran off.

I quickly realized an important piece of parenting that I am thinking about how to approach. I have taught her the reality, what exists. That is easy for her to grasp. In fact, she’s even pointed out things she sees as wrong or biased. But I haven’t taught her how to see it from a neutral perspective, or to see it in something that isn’t so obvious. And I’m wondering how to even do that. She is 6 years old. I cannot expect her to see this page in a book, raise her hand, and say “Um, teacher, this is racist.”

She actually encountered something similar recently when a book was read in class. It was “If I Ran the Zoo,” by Dr. Seuss. That book came into our house this part year because my parents brought a big pile of things from both mine and my siblings’ childhood. This book was included. When I read it with her, I pointed out all of the racism and stereotypes. We talked about what to do with the book. I wanted to throw it away. She wanted to give it away. I told her that if we gave it away, then the racism in the book would still be around and others might not recognize like we did.

We actually still have the book on our shelf. I’ve left it, it sits unread, for no reason other than we haven’t decided what to do with it. (Update, yesterday she brought me the book and asked me to throw it out. “It’s trash,” she said.)

Two days after they read this book in class for the celebration of Dr. Seuss’ birthday, she came to me and told me they did.

“Mom, we read the zoo book in school,” she said. She eyed me up, looking to see what I would do.

“Did you say anything?” I asked.

“No, we’re not supposed to talk during read aloud,” she said.

She waited two days to tell me because she was worried her teacher would get in trouble. With me, I presume. I told her I’d talk with her teacher and tell her that we think the book can be hurtful and that we want them to not read it again next year. That no one was meant to get into trouble. Instead, our goal is always to help other people sometimes.

So we reached out, and it all went well. I suspect the book won’t show up again for either teacher. I told my daughter the same and she seemed good with the outcome.

But in full honesty, I wish I pushed for a different outcome instead of just removing it. Because I actually think that this book is useful for a classroom full of nearly all white kids. It’s a teaching tool for anti-racism. But it’s not an easy request to ask a teacher to read the book and also point out the racism and harm. Without deep conversation and understanding between all of the parents and the kids. In this system anyway.

When my daughter saw that picture on facebook several months ago, I was worried about how to teach her to speak up. But now I’ve seen she has. She is still learning to find her own voice, and certainly under the thumb of authority in the systems she is now in. But she told me.

And I acted. As a parent, I am working to live as an example for her. A example of how we can make change in the world even in the small spaces we’re in like reading books in class or before bed. One thing I am learning is how going smaller can have a big impact. I’d like to think that her voice was maybe shared with a classmate, or that this post will make some of us check our bookshelves. Small ripples towards our freedom. And I’m also reminding myself that taking small steps also need to be steps towards the larger goal of liberation. For all of us.

*The picture at the top of the page was posted by a local Boston organization called Wee the People. They do such rad work and actually work with young kids to talk about racism. They also do parent workshops on how to take books and use them as learning tools even when we don’t like the content. Check them out, support them, and go to their workshops if you’re nearby.