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.

https://bookshop.org/books/antiracist-baby-board-book/9780593110416

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.

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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.

“But I’m a good white person, right?”

“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.

Charlottesville

Today, I spoke to my 4 year old about white supremacy. We’ve talked many times before about how some white people think that they are better than people of color. We have talked about how some people even have hate for people of color. But today, as she scrolled through my facebook feed like a normal day, she stopped and asked me “What is this picture about?” It was the scene of chaos after an alt-right, racist man rammed a car into a crowd of anti-racist counter protesters. I told her that yesterday and today many white men and white women came together in protest because they believe that white people are the best and that many others don’t deserve to be here; that they believe that people of color are taking something from them. I told her that they even hurt people who were counter-protesting because they believed they are wrong in disagreeing with them.

I showed her the faces of the many white men at the University of Virginia with their tiki torches. She has heard me speak about white men before. Just earlier today, before the protest, she turned on the television and watched a few minutes of an infomercial. An older white man was talking about healing and health and how his product had all the answers. I told her that she shouldn’t believe everything white men say. She asked what I meant. And I told her that in this country white men are told that they know all of the answers and they in turn then tell the rest of us how to live. I told her that she should always question what white men have to say and to listen to her own heart instead.

She remembered this as she scrolled through the pictures in Charlottesville. Many parents may disagree with me, but I do not shield her from this violence. My white, blue-eyed, privileged, cisgender baby girl knows that she has it better than others and that the world is not so kind to people of color. I need her to know this. She asks to see the pictures; she takes me for my word, but she needs to understand this in her own way. When she asked why these white men were flooding the streets in Charlottesville and at UVA, I told her that this world sends messages every day that white men are superior. I then told her that she has to listen for these messages and then turn against them.

She watched the car hit the counter-protestors and wanted to see what then happened to the people who were hurt. I told her we can’t watch that and that maybe we should stop watching things that are so terrible for a bit. She said, “No, I want to see more things that are terrible.” So I let her keep scrolling.

She always asks me “Who’s this?” when she sees someone she doesn’t know on the feed. Her first ask was a picture of Michael Brown. I told her it was Mike Brown – he had died three years ago. She asked me how he died and I told her that a police officer killed him. “How?” she asked. “With a gun,” I told her.

Here is where I did my best, I’m not sure I gave all good answers, but I kept answering. She wanted to see what a gun looked like, then a bullet, then how a gun works. How can the bullet kill you, what does it do to your insides? She asked why police have guns? Why do they shoot people? Trying to explain the state of our police system to a 4 year old is a challenge.

I felt her get frustrated with me. I did share that many people believe that police are here to help us and that sometimes they do. For example, if someone was trying to hurt us, they may help.

She asked me again why they killed Mike Brown. “Was he a bad guy?” she asked. “No,” I said, “he was a kid, and a police officer thought he was scary and so he shot him.” I told that some white people see black and brown people and automatically think they’re scary because they are black and brown. I told her that she needs to work really hard, with everything in her little body, to not believe this – that we have to break this cycle, that I need her to know that black and brown people are not scary no matter what the world tells her. “Oh, I know Mama,” she said.

She looked at me and asked, “If I make a scary face at a police officer, will they shoot me?” I told her that no, she’s white so they’re not likely to shoot her at all. I also told her that if it was a friend who was black or brown and they did that, then yes they may get shot.

When she was asking about guns, I made sure to explain that if she ever saw one that she should never touch it and she should tell an adult. And if someone around her touches it, she should run and tell an adult immediately. So this became, “If I see a police officer with a gun, I should run and tell someone right?” I told her that police are allowed to have guns and to not run from the police. I have mixed feelings about this. I wanted to go into this more, to say she definitely shouldn’t run if she’s with a friend of color, that she should make sure they’re safe. But we didn’t get to this.

I have had many tough conversations with this kid; she is so incredibly curious and earnest. She wants to know how this world works and she’s finding her place in it. She is starting to understand her own whiteness and how it sits differently in the world.

Today was a tough day in parenting, but also so incredibly important. I am so proud of my kid, her curiosity, her desire to still know the terrible things, to understand them. Talking to kids is so important, it’s essential. If we are going to evolve this world into one that does not look like Charlottesville, then we need to talk to them.

Those alt-right members in Charlottesville are a reflection of me. They are my age, grew up in the same world as me, stared at the same history textbooks that talked about Hitler and the horror he brought to the world. These are the same people that watched Sesame Street, listened to 80’s pop music, lived through the awkwardness of the 90’s in our teenage years. These people are me. They likely go home to a family or even partners that still welcome them, break bread with them, laugh with them. I need her to know that life can look normal but still be so incredibly hateful and that it is our responsibility to bring forth change, to break this system, to evolve our future because she is our future.

The day after the election

The night of the election, she went to vote with me. I had already explained the urgency of this election and the fears I had of the outcome. I wanted her to vote with me, in case we made history that night. Leaving the voting booth, she turned to her Dad and said, “Daddy, we winned.” I hope so, is all I could think.

Watching the results of the election, I was silent. What was I going to tell her? From all I had shared, this was essentially going to be me telling her that Prince Hans has taken over Arendelle or that Rapunzel is locked up forever.

I got some advice from a family member who suggested I tell her that some people make mistakes. No way, I thought. There is no mistake in this. In fact, this is intentional hatred, racism, sexism, transphobia, islamophobia, xenophobia. She has to know the truth. I can’t allow her to walk through the world thinking that this was just a bunch of people who messed up, when this was calculated. When she woke up in the morning, she immediately asked me if we won and I told her no.

She looked at me and sadly said, “but he’s a bad man.”

“Yes,” I said, “he is.”

“Why is he a bad man?” she asked.

“Because he upholds structural racism,” I replied simply.

Her demeanor changed, her eyes welled with tears. Something in her body knew that the word “racism” was heavy. She knew from my voice, my body, my steadiness, that this must be an awful thing. This is one of only a few moments where I am fairly sure I’ve seen my daughter’s heart break.

Parenting in an election year

I am 34 years old and have watched white man after white man run this country. In a moment of sheer hope and relief, President Barack Obama won the election in November 2008. I have never felt such joy for politics, to see someone win on a platform of hope and change.

November 2012 was a turning point for me as a parent. Twenty weeks away from parenting, sitting 20 weeks pregnant, I held fear for my unborn child. All I could think, was that the outcome of this election meant possible harm and oppression to her little body – to see her stripped of reproductive rights, access to comprehensive education – more white men in charge of her decisions in life. I truly feared that she would come into a world rooted in the same white patriarchy that I have seen nearly all of my life. It was that night that myself and my partner decided that no matter the outcome we were going to parent with the intention of teaching anti-oppression and justice. We always knew that in our bones, but that night we said it.

My daughter is now three years old and she has only known a black president. I say that sometimes to myself, just to hear it again.

This election year, things are looking dramatically different. We’re in a fierce battle of opposition, values, and especially gender. I have been explaining to her that a cisgender woman may actually become president and how that has never happened before. She has no concept to relate this to, and just seems puzzled that a cisgender woman couldn’t have a job just like Mommy does. But I am struggling in explaining to her the dynamics at play, what this cisgender women is living through in her pursuit of the presidency.

I read to her the story “Grace for President” by Kelly DiPucchio. It’s the story of a classroom that decides to have an election of a young black girl versus a young white boy. In the end, Grace wins out but only because one boy classmate decides to vote for her. Otherwise, all of the girls vote for her and all of the boys vote for her opponent. There are many dynamics in this book not unlike what this election year looks like. Grace and her opponent are both qualified in that they are students of the school, have values and opinions, and want better for their friends. They have opposing views, such as whether a certain food in the cafeteria should be offered every day or if it should be taken off the menu entirely. (This analogy reminds me so clearly of so many things being talked about in debates: health care, women’s rights, contraception, abortion, government funded programs, comprehensive education…you name it. We either will get it or we won’t.)

But what strikes me most in this book is that the young boy who is running against Grace doesn’t do very much campaigning. He assumes that because he’s in a lot of clubs, plays sports, and does well in school that this election will be a landslide for him. And the outcome supports this. In comparison, Grace campaigns tirelessly, working to gain everyone’s vote, holding speeches and sessions to hear from her peers. He does none of this. And yet, he still nearly wins. We’re supposed to feel great that Grace pulls it off, turning one young boy to make a difference. All that work, and she only gets one person to turn.

The lesson of course is that hard work, courage, and pursuit pay off. But what a raw deal…Grace has to do all this work just to be considered when her opponent just has to exist. I cannot ignore the work she puts in and the drain on her little body just to achieve this.

I look at this election year and it feels so much of the same. One candidate is the most qualified candidate ever in the history of politics. Yet, we cannot stop talking about what she is wearing, her demeanor, her softness or lack thereof, her marriage, etc. None of these are required to do the work of the presidency but they are top qualifiers for her simply because of her gender. She has to do so much extra work just to get people to hear her, to consider her, to allow her to stand on her own instead of under the past presidency of her husband.

In comparison her contender is a criminal, a racist, a rapist, an abuser, a supporter of violence, and as close to a dictator that we can imagine. This man has been accused of sexually assaulting women, including a 14 year old girl. He has called women fat pigs, dogs, whores. He has encouraged his crowds to resort to violence against those that oppose him. He has stated himself, that he could kill someone for no reason in the streets of New York and still wouldn’t lose a follower. And this is true, he is doing very little work except to be his ignorant, racist, vile self and people love him. In fact, he is being uplifted for simply not being a politician…which is hard to swallow since the majority of our population has the same qualification, yet they chose him.

So yes, I have no idea how to talk to my daughter about this election year. Explaining the persistent racism and white patriarchy feels pretty heavy for her little body. Yet, she is aware of many of the facts, the two different sides and approaches. I have shared my frustrations, my fears, and my anger for what is happening. I mostly fear for what I will have to say if he does win – to explain why people did vote for him, that so many people in this country care more about themselves than others with less, to explain what she might lose, and to explain what this means for people in this country.

In our election story, there is no author to change the ending, to change history. And history is speaking pretty loudly these days.

I can only hope that I am surprised…

 

Talking racism

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.  

 

 

Darth Vader

It was a regular afternoon, I had picked up my kid from school and we were sitting on the couch as dinner cooked. I had just retrieved the mail and a giant toy catalog had arrived. This was about to be her second Christmas and this year, she had a better understanding of the concept, so I thought “why not!?” and handed it to her to look at. She flipped through the pages mesmerized by the colors and pictures.

After dinner, I sat down next to her and went through it with her. I asked her what she liked and spoke to the new things she had never seen before. When we flipped to the page on Star Wars, she pointed right at Darth Vader. She looked at me with her curious eyes and in her little voice told me that was a monster.

For most, this might seem completely harmless, even accurate in fact. But my heart sunk. This little person had never experienced Star Wars. It was not quite the fad yet at school and we don’t own anything with Star Wars on it. My heart told me I had to ask her. “Why is this a monster?” She just shrugged. So then I asked her, “is it because he is black?” She nodded quickly, looking at me with her eyes, thanking me for understanding even though she was too little to share the inner workings of her brain.

My heart felt heavy. “It’s already starting,” is what I was thinking.

But then I thought, “not my kid.”

I looked at her curious face and asked her, “what color is our puppy?”

“Black!”, she replied.

“Is she a monster?” I asked.

“No,” she responded with some confusion.

I wrapped my arms around her and said, “just because someone or something is black doesn’t make it a monster, okay!?”

“Okay!” she responded, and flipped the page.