Parenting while white

Manic Pixie Dream Mama wrote a poignant blog this past week on “A Mother’s White Privilege” covering the implications of being the parent of white children in light of the events in Ferguson, Missouri. She notes that it’s another flashpoint in this country’s complicated history with race.

And we in White America are terrified to look.

We make excusp2es. We assume that only bad people get shot by the police. That if we don’t want to get shot, we just obey the law and comply with police orders. If you don’t want to get arrested, don’t break the law. We justify what happened because it’s too much to admit after 238 years, we still have race problems in this country. 

That’s white privilege, ladies and gentlemen, and we have it. 

My white children are less likely to be stopped and frisked, less likely to be arrested, and less likely to go to prison. They are more likely to go to college, more likely to own their own home, and more likely to make a higher wage (though it’s probably also important to note that my daughter will make about 77 cents on the dollar compared to my son, but that’s for another time).

But the solution we’ve come up with is to not talk about race–especially with our kids.

“Shhh, if you don’t teach your kids race, they won’t see race.” See? That’s all we have to do. Signed. Sealed. Delivered. We just solved racial inequality in this country.

Except kids do see race. They aren’t stupid or blind. 

My son was in the bathtub when he was 3. He has a little toy boat that comes with a captain. The captain is black. My son is playing with the captain and says, “Daddy, look, the captain looks like [a close friend of ours who is black].” I didn’t teach him that. I didn’t talk to him about race. He hadn’t even started preschool yet. His vision of the world was basically limited to the people that came over to our house. And here I was, confronted with talking, or not talking, about race at age 3 in my upstairs bathroom. 

Kids see race. Kids know they look different from other kids. It’s no different than if someone is in a wheelchair, or has a funny haircut, or a frowning face. We scan our environments and notice differences. Children as young as 3 have been shown to develop racial preference–and practice racial exclusion–in groups. 

But it’s easier to believe that we don’t perceive race. It’s easier to believe that there is no white privilege. It’s easier to believe that a white police officer shoots a black kid because the black kid was behaving criminally and the officer had no other choice.

And as a parent, it’s still difficult to talk about race. It’s an uncomfortable topic to cover, especially for white parents. And it’s hard for us to admit that there are differences. “Different” has become a word that even us living in progressive households try to avoid. But is it just because we aren’t explaining what difference actually is, and additionally, taking the time to say why difference is good?pswinging

Are we afraid of talking about race because we’ll look stupid?

Well that’s what we have. I am white. My kids are white. We shouldn’t need to bring in guest lecturers to speak to our children about race. There’s only one perspective I know, and it’s the 30 years I’ve put in as a white man in this country. But I also know there will be very few conversations between me and my kids about what to do when they are stopped by police, what to dress in so they don’t get mistaken for someone up to no good, or what areas of our suburb to stay away from because they will look out of place.

With my son starting kindergarten, we’re just really starting to navigate race. I know they have talked about it as his preschool, and I’m sure it’s a topic that will come up in school. But as parents, we should be doing more as well. Ferguson is a teachable moment, beyond just the shooting, it’s a lens into racial inequality in the United States. Why are there protests? Why are the police doing what they are doing? Why are people angry? 

And we in White America need to look in that lens.

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One response to “Parenting while white

  1. Thank you for this. Well put.

    Have just tried my hand at my own piece on White Privilege as a white South African who has just returned home after living for three years in Americaland and so have been watching the events of Ferguson closely:
    http://brettfish.wordpress.com/2014/09/03/im-not-sure-youre-against-that-thing-you-think-youre-against-white-privilege

    These are conversations we need to be having and actions we need to be working towards.
    Brett Fish

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