small victories

i don’t ever really know what sinks in when i talk to my kids about racism. about sexism. about ableism, heterosexism, cis privilege, imperialism, genocide, etc. i’m just winging it. trying to teach them to recognize their privilege. to see white supremacy, the patriarchy, police officers and capitalism for what they are. me and their daddy try to contextualize it so it intersects with their lived experiences. but who knows. this parenting thing is like making it all up when the script is supposed to be in front of you.

and i’m even more dubious when i talk to my 8 y/o. sure, he grasps more, but he’s not as attentive or empathetic as his little sister. he’s bright. but can still be pretty self centered. i dont know what lessons about the struggles of others really make an impression. which made the other night at bedtime especially thrilling. in an enraging kind of way.

elijah and i were snuggling in his top bunk. it was dark and we were just cuddling quietly. sometimes we talk, sometimes we share stories, but that night it seemed like we were just going to lay there quietly while he fell asleep.

after a few minutes of cuddles e finally broke the silence, startling me a bit. he started with the bold (but totally unshocking) statement that they’d read a racist book in class that day. i was intrigued, curious to see how he’d interpreted our informal lessons. the book is called “betcha” and is a tool for teaching rounding and estimation. elijah was angry because the whole book centers around two boys: one white, one black. and apparently throughout the book the white boy consistently, diligently does his estimation and rounding, thus getting every problem right. while the black boy just sort of guesses: sometimes getting it right but more often getting it wrong. ugh, right? but oh, so run of the mill.

we’ve talked about racism as it intersects with academics, the way teachers will differentially treat white students and students of color. especially black students. about tracking and school suspensions and all other manner of white supremacy in the classroom. and here it was glaring my kid in the face and he saw it for what it was. it’s a little thing, i get that. and he didn’t harass his teacher for reading it–which feels like step two in teaching your white kids to recognize racism. i can’t wait for step two, y’all.

so i’m just going to sit here and appreciate my little one and do a tiny, tiny shimmy of exaltation. and then get back to the work of raising white kids to see the world around them critically and resist the crazy bullshit at every turn.

ain’t nobody want a lady with chin hair

i am often asked why i wear my chin hair. i am often told that i am beautiful but would be so much more beautiful without it. i am often pointed at and talked about cruelly “behind my back.” my chin hair is a thing everyone sees and that few are neutral about.

in the past when i’ve been asked why i dont get rid of it, i’ve responded with the line that one) i like it, two) i think it’s all sorts of mad bullshit that i’m supposed to get rid of it and three) that i want to fuck with people’s ideas about gender. but until recently that last bit was more theoretical.

until last year when my partner’s son decided he loooooooved wearing dresses. a battle ensued with the principal of his school who was close minded, underhanded and downright hateful. in the end she conceded that he could wear dresses (not really her choice, it’s protected by city school policy). but that was it. there was no in school support for E around school bullying.

and after joyfully stepping into the hostile environment that is a school full of children bred into gender rigidity, E chose to stop wearing dresses altogether. because he doesn’t want to get teased for it (his words). and my heart breaks every time i think of how happy he was then and how unhappy he is now. i know it’s not all a result of  losing this part of himself, of being beaten into social expectations of what a boy should like, but i know that it contributes in a real way.

enter this summer, when i was unceremoniously fired from a nanny position for something that wasn’t my fault. fortuitously friends of mine were looking for another hostess at their worker owned inn and hostel, but that ended recently and i’ve been searching for a new job for the last several months.

i’ve nannied for many reasons but have recently considered trying to do something different. something less isolating, something with co workers maybe. but here’s the catch. i’m a lady with chin hair and almost anyone who might be interested in employing me before they know that are not so interested after i reveal this part of my identity. it’s been fucking hard. and i know that my chin hair is a choice. that i could get rid of it and be readily employed in many of the positions i’ve unsuccessfully applied to. i am a young, white woman. people love their young, body privileged white women. and i’m good at the things i do.

but ever since elijah’s learned not to wear his dresses i feel even more disinterested in modifying my body presentation to succeed. i do not want to reinforce that lesson for him. i dont mind enduring the stares and the snark (most of the time, i am not a rock though and sink into the pain from time to time). it makes me defiant when it doesn’t slam into my vulnerability. i want everyone to see that a lady with chin hair can be like any other lady: can be their friend, their colleague, their comrade.

so i will resist for as long as i can. but my family’s needs are real and we are not cradled by the luxury of wealth. i hate to consider being smooth faced. i hate to think of looking into the eyes of all the kids who have known me and loved me despite this cultural oddity. and i hate to give in. hopefully i won’t have to.

fuck the police

this weekend i took the kids to visit my sister in DC. we were in the car and the kids were asking how long it would take us to get where we were going. we told them 20 minutes, unless we got stuck in traffic or lost, etc. what we didn’t anticipate was getting pulled over.

i hadn’t even noticed the cop car behind us until it flashed its lights and blew its sirens. i assume that my 8 y/o son didn’t either, though i dont know for sure. at first we didn’t realize it was us they were pulling over. but we figured it out and pulled 1908067_747129632018709_7864569770200059818_ninto some parking spots on the side of the street.

i have kids who say “fuck the police” when they see them passing by in their cars. and elijah had already revealed that he’d given this particular cop car pulling in behind us the finger. i quickly told them not to talk or interact with the police as we waited for them to sidle up to the car.

leaning down to speak with my sister about the smoky license plate cover she was illegally driving around with was a white male cop. standing silently outside my window was another officer, a man of color. the cop tried to insinuate that molly was hiding something with those tinted tags. but after throwing his weight around a bit, she got off with a verbal warning. when he was done with my sister he asked if he could have a conversation with her child.

which is when i jumped in and explained that that was my child in the backseat, that i knew what he had done and was supportive of his actions. either out of disbelief or upset, the officer asked for clarification. did i or did i not support my son giving him and his partner the finger? i did. i went on to explain that we’d been having a lot of conversations lately about how the police interact with different communities, when i was abruptly cut off by the cop standing on my side of the car. as soon as i’d made any reference to the reality of racist policing the officer outside my window who’d been silent the whole time immediately said, “we’re not going to talk about that.” which was also code for both officers to turn and walk back to their vehicle.

at first i was just startled by the abrupt departure, the trigger point of the conversation we could have had with the cops about how their actions impact how the population engages with them. and then there was the knowledge that if we weren’t white the whole situation would have been dangerous, as my partner reminded me when i texted him about the whole thing. i had no doubt that if my little boy were black he would have been pulled out of the back seat and that the cop would never have asked if he could have a conversation with e. he just would have taught a little 8 y/o boy what happens when you dont respect the police.

as i watch resistance to police brutality increase in communities that are not my own, as i wonder how to best support that resistance with my white body, i am left unsettled. i’ve seen the reports of white anarchists playing their tell tale role of outside agitator; i’ve heard the stories of white presence within the ferguson resistance inciting the police to even greater anger. ultimately i want to make the decision to place my state protected, beloved white woman’s body in between the police and the communities they are committing genocide against. but as i sit with the fact that my white boy got away with flipping off the police i wonder how best to use my white privilege when it comes to battling police brutality. how to use it without reinforcing it. because saturday’s traffic stop felt like a reinforcement of our white privilege instead of a blow against it.

Lessons i will teach my white daughter

I am seeing a lot about how white folks need to accept responsibility for our privilege and our role in the maintenance of white supremacy in the wake of the continued police sanctioned murder of black men, women and children. And it’s true. As i’ve said before, we need to teach our white children how NOT to be racist, how to see and call out racism, how to recognize the ways we benefit from and contribute to white supremacy, how NOT to be killer cops or trigger happy vigilantes.

There is a whole heck of a lot we need to be teaching our white kids. But as I read pieces by white mother’s grappling with their white privilege, I feel they come up just short of what we, as white parents of white children, need to be digging into

White female tears

White female tears

with each other. The action steps, the how to’s, the words we can use to talk with our children about something that saturates our world as completely as white supremacy.

I want to offer my messy and incomplete thoughts into the realm of strategy sharing. To start a conversation about how exactly we raise white children to make different choices about how to live with and use their white privilege. This post focuses specifically on my white daughter and it is incomplete, but i want to do similar posts for my white son and to expand on this one in the near future. I really am hoping this will be a conversation.

Lesson one: i will tell my white daughter that every man that has ever hurt me deeply was a white man. it was a white man that raped me. it was a white man that emotionally abused me. it was a white man who stole a lot of money from me, lied about it and then tried to wheedle his way back into my life. media, friends, teachers and other family members may try to convince her that black men are somehow scarier than white men. but they will be wrong and i will work to remind her that white female fear of black male bodies is a powerful tool of white supremacy. and i will teach her not to wield it.

Lesson two: i will teach her that as white women we are white supremacy’s darling. we are the antithesis of black male bodies. we are what white american terrorism is made for. from the lynching of emmett till, to the kkk, to the school to prison pipeline, to the ongoing open season on black bodies. all of that institutional violence, at it’s core, is all for us. all for white women. we are the battle cry of our white brothers. we are something to fight for and protect. while non white bodies, male and female alike, will be seen with suspicion by law enforcement and will be charged and imprisoned with enthusiasm by our justice system, she will be seen as innocent. she will be protected. at the very least she will be given the dignity of being treated innocent until proven guilty.

my daughter will know the names and stories of shanesha taylor and kari engholm. shanesha taylor is a black mother who left her two young children in her car with the windows cracked and the fan running while she went to a job interview. immediately upon returning to her car, ms. taylor was charged with two counts of child abuse, faced up to 8 years in jail and had her bail set unnecessarily high. her children were fine. keri engholm left her infant daughter in her minivan and then rushed off to meetings. tragically the little girl died but iowa officials were hesitant to charge mrs. engholm at all and it took them awhile to do so. my little girl will know that justice looks different when you’re a white woman. and that that is all kinds of fucked.

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White women: doing the work of white supremacy every. damn. day.

Lesson three: i will teach her that her white female body is used as a weapon of white supremacy against non white women. that while, yes, we face certain violences as a result of our female bodies, we also face less because of our skin color. and that her skin, hair and eye color are the trifecta of perfect beauty. that it is our bodies that have colonized beauty standards worldwide. that women all around the world have been taught to hate their own bodies because they are not light enough, their hair not straight enough. and that all over the world there are women that change themselves to look more like us. it pays to be the darling.

Lesson four: i will teach her that our dominion as the ultimate woman goes beyond beauty standards. that it permeates our psyche and that we let it be our truth. i will teach her the real history of the white female heroines she will learn about in school. she will know that when it mattered, during the women’s suffrage movement, white women were willing to throw black freedoms under the bus. that they were pitted against black male suffrage and instead of uniting made it clear they would not work with black men but fight on their own. i will teach her that margaret sanger, hailed as i champion for female reproductive choice, used her development of the birth control pill to serve the agenda of forced sterilization of black women. my white daughter will understand the legacy of our white foremothers and know how it continues to impact white feminists’ erasure of women of color.

There is endlessly more to teach her. There are whole lessons on avoiding the white savior complex. About tokenization, white woman’s tears, white guilt, how to step back shut up and cede some of our power. I just needed to start somewhere. And open the conversation with other white parents of white children about HOW exactly we teach our children NOT to use their lives as a pillar of white supremacy. Comments, reactions and feedback desired.

It’s time for white parents to have “the talk” with their kids

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

An open letter to the white woman who cried “animals”

Dear Jeanne Doucette,

While others organize in protest of the Cville weekly’s racist, sensationalist faux-journalism in reporting your story, I find that my upset lies primarily with you.  For while there are two very different sides of the story of what happened on the downtown mall on December 20th, what is clear based on medical evidence collected in the course of the legal investigation is that your story was wildly exaggerated.  In a most dangerous and racist way.

You played on your white female privilege and deeply entrenched white fear of the black man.  We–white women–are the archetype of innocence; we are the ones who will be believed.  And you exploited that to condemn three unknown black men, your archetypal enemy.  You played it all out, you took up the mantel of Carolyn Bryant (accuser of Emmett Till) and cried your white woman’s tears and wrote your indignant indictment of the local police.  You spread a fictionalized version of events, grossly exaggerating the violence of your “attackers” pretending that it all happened unprovoked by you and your white knight of a boyfriend.  You used every element of a mythology that relies on white supremacist hatred to make your case: the savage violence of the black man, the pure innocence of the white woman and the valiant efforts of the white man to defend the white woman’s honor.  And then you posted blurry photos of these young black men and closed your dramatic telling with the blazing conclusion that they were “animals that need[ed] to be caged.”  Your words.  And yours was a rallying cry for white supremacists and garden variety racists–by which i mean most white people everywhere who would be moved by a story out of our worst white people nightmares–alike.

In a culture that sees the murder of innocent men and women of color at the hands of killer cops and racist vigilantes every 28 hours, you brought all those fears to a fever pitch and then asked people on social media sites to help you identify your “attackers.”  In a country where institutional racism translates into the school to prison pipeline phenomenon, where 30% of African American men between the ages of 20 and 29 are “under correctional supervision,” what effect could you have possibly hoped your fictional account would have?  What other than blatant racism and a desire to avert responsibility for your actions that night could have inspired you to write your woeful facebook account of that night?

Your words have power and you used them very deliberately.  I cannot believe you were entirely ignorant of that fact.  In fact I’m inclined to believe you knew exactly what you were doing.  None of it makes much sense otherwise: the dramatic appeal to the world of facebook, the wide discrepancies in your story and that of the other men involved coupled with interviews of witnesses and medical evidence that undermines your account, your choice choice of language.

You didn’t only endanger the three men you claimed as your “attackers” that night but every other young black man that anyone who read your words sees.  You have done your part to entrench the unjustified fear that leads white women to cross to the other side of the road when black men are approaching and the dangerous protective instinct of white men who believe the racist hype.

And now the men you asked for help finding are the only ones facing charges, despite police reports that indicate they may have been provoked and attacked themselves.  The age old story carries on with your help.  And you will almost certainly never be held accountable for your role in upholding the deadly, racist environment in which young black men try to survive daily.

Congratulations!

PS.  Even the NYPD, notorious for their racial profiling and abhorrent stop and frisk practices, seems to believe that the idea that a “knockout game” is spreading is nothing but an urban myth.  So bonus points to bulwarking that as well.

Consent with kids

I started a blog by this title awhile ago, but I had no idea what I was talking about.  Not really.  For those who don’t know I haven’t been back to my blog much because I’ve been transitioning into the role of co parent to my partners two, young children.  And while I’ve spent much of my life over the last few years nannying and building relationships with the amazing kids in my life, parenting is a whole new game.

Consent is something we just don’t do as a culture.  We don’t ask, we don’t check in, we don’t talk about it when we’ve touched someone who didn’t want that touch.  Couple that with the way many people view children as property that doesn’t know what’s best for them and we’ve created quite a dangerous world for our kids.  And what we end up teaching our kids is that their bodies are not under their control and that other people will dictate when and how they are touched, cleaned, clothed, etc.  And so we do, whether it be forcing a kid to give grandma a kiss goodbye or training them to acquiesce to the touch of others, put our children at high risk for abuse and teach them to ignore their own boundaries.

As a woman who was raped at 21 and who went through a series of relationships where I buried my own needs and boundaries, where i accepted my male partner’s desire as something i needed to accommodate, it has been very important to me that i equip Maya and Elijah with a strong sense that their bodies are theirs’ and no one else’s.  That if someone is touching it in any way 62a455be1bcfa0231ab8ddf62a31ed30that makes them feel uncomfortable or that they don’t want, it is not okay.  And that it is never their fault if someone does touch them that way.

After several conversations about our bodies, i was shocked and thrilled when M and E spontaneously started practicing consent culture.  One night they just started asking each other before any new touch.  They would ask, “can i give you a hug?”  And then, “can i give you a monster hug?”  There was no new touch without a check in.  It was fucking amazing.  And i recognized that
there were no “no’s” that night.  Which is maybe the hardest part.  So i waited.

And it didn’t take long for these resilient little beans to surprise me again.  A couple of nights later i was putting them to bed by myself, which always requires some creative cuddling, because i am one person and they both just want to be held until they fall asleep.  I was gently stroking maya’s head when she pulled her thumb out of her mouth and looked up at me.  And she said, “Sara, can you please not touch my head?”

I was more than thrilled to stop immediately and say yes.  I am sure we will have to keep reinforcing these norms as the kids grow.  But i am so excited that at four years old Maya can state a boundary.  It’s taken me years to articulate my own and i’ve got twenty years on her.  I want so badly for these little ones to be strong and powerful and confident in their bodies everywhere they walk.  And i want to be working with other kids on consent and boundaries as well.  Stay tuned for more parenting oriented posts.

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