Alright white parents, it’s time to get real. First, you should read the following articles: this one on the root by Tonyaa Weathersbee and this one by Jennifer Harvey at the huffington post. Both explore the nuances of how parents navigate conversations about race and racism with their children and to what effect. A spoiler: it is largely to damning effect.
In short, Ms. Weathersbee argues that “the talk” black parents have with their children about not provoking white people, not doing those things racist dominant white culture deem “suspicious” just supports uninterrupted white supremacy. And gives white folks a pass to continue their violent legacy of racism. On the other hand white parents fail miserably at cultivating critical thinking on racism with their white children. As long as we, as white parents, fail to challenge the racist culture we live in and teach our children to see white supremacy for what it is, this shit is not going to get better.
Let me draw a parallel that you might be able to connect with. Maybe you’re familiar with the idea that we need to stop blaming our daughters for dressing in certain ways or consuming alcohol or being friendly and instead teach our boys not to rape and assault our girls. Makes sense, right? We can get behind that, right? Well now i’m going to challenge white parents to step up and stop hiding behind the idea that black and brown people need to stop wearing hoodies or reaching for their wallets when stopped by the police or blasting their music or knocking on strangers doors when they’ve been in an accident. And that instead white parents need to start teaching our white kids not to be racist and kill black and brown people because of our white supremacist indoctrination that teaches us to fear and hate non white people.
It’s the same idea, really. Even if we don’t want it to be. In order to do it though we have to give up a couple of pretty lame excuses i hear far too often from white folks who claim to want to do this work. The first is that white people often feel like we need to be taught by people of color about racism. As if as white people we have no experience perpetuating or benefiting from racism that we could use to work from, or no ability to look critically at the systems of power all around us. Or no access to articles, blogs, news sources, comedians, etc. who are speaking from their lived experiences about racism in this country. Not to mention the way this re-centers white need and forces people of color to not only live in our racist culture but also enlighten well meaning white folk about their struggle. It is baffling to me. The second excuse i hear is that we don’t know what to say, that we need some pre packaged talking points to get us started. And then nothing happens. We’ve stated our desires to work on this ish, but we have no tools and apparently no power within ourselves to take a leap and build as we go. But we need to let go of our fear of not being the perfect white “anti racist,” because always saying the perfect thing doesn’t matter if we are letting it get in the way of doing anything to deconstruct the systems of oppression we. participate. in. and. benefit. from. every. day.
So white parents, it is our turn to tackle “the talk” with our kids. To share the burden of unpacking racism with parents of color. It is time we teach our white kids not to murder and fear kids of color. Not to assume they are guilty, violent, lazy, stupid, drug addicts, etc. Because if Ms. Weathersbee’s analysis of historical patterns holds we are swinging back into a period of even more severe violence against children and women and men of color. Soon #Every28Hours will be #Every18Hours.
And there is some good news for us, white parents. Once you start to look for jumping points to discuss racism with your kids, you will find that they are nearly limitless. Here’s an easy first step. Just take a look at any media that is relevant to your child(ren) and you are bound to find stereotypes aplenty or maybe just a palpable lack of characters of color, voices of color, etc. Media constructs a significant part of our kids worlds today and even if we’re groovy parents that limit visual media consumption (ya know because it teaches our girls they need to be rescued by boys, etc), there’s always books. My nearly 6y/o daughter will almost only consume books with rad female characters. If i pushed her i think she’d be able to identify that that’s because she can connect to those characters more easily than she can cool male characters. So what if i pushed her to consider how in these same books she loves there are very few characters of color? And asked her if she thought her friends at school would be able to connect to those characters in the same way she does. And when she says no, to encourage her to consider how that might feel. To be constantly unrepresented or stereotypically represented in movies, books, television shows, etc. It’s not a giant leap.
Or you could work with your child to analyze the ways in which we teach history in this country. You know, because we make it all sound so pretty when really our American history is an ugly parade of violence and white domination. As they come home from school with construction paper “native american” headbands, take a second to talk to your kid(s) about what really happened to those same native americans after the yummy feast was over. About how we killed native americans, pushed them from their lands, killed them a lot more and pushed them onto increasingly smaller reservations, then how we legislated their assimilation, stole their children and jailed them with impunity as they tried to resist and preserve their lives and cultures. School, i promise, will provide SO MANY OPPORTUNITIES to debunk the great white myth of our own superiority and fairness.
And while we can start small we MUST build up to the big stuff. We’ve talked to both of our kids about the murders of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis. The murders, mind you, the blatantly obvious murders. We’ve talked about how this happens a WHOLE FUCKING LOT. I’ve talked with our 6y/o about how she is the antithesis to a black or brown male. Cops will trip over themselves to save a pretty white girl, we are who armed forces have risen to protect throughout white history. I mean, damn, we’ve had whole nations going to war for us.
Explain to your kids that we fail to sentence the murderers of these children but conversely imprison and execute men and women of color for NON VIOLENT crimes. Explain to them the next time there’s a missing white girl’s face racing across every news outlet and computer screen that we do not do the same to find missing girls of color. Help them draw the conclusion that this means in our white supremacist culture that we just don’t value the lives of people of color. They will not need your help to know how utterly fucked up this is.
Our kids are bright and they get shit, they pick up on what’s going on around them. So let’s not hide them from the ugliness of the world we’ve built for them, but instead let’s reveal it to them so that they know what we’re up against. We cannot fight what we are not acknowledging. We cannot protect our own children if it means condemning other people’s children to a life of violence and a high probability of murder.
This blog does not begin to cover everything it needs to. But it aims to start a discussion and keep it going. #ItsTimeWhiteParents