To my fellow white parents: how to talk about racism with our kids

White adult hands cradle white child hands that are holding a dandelion

In 2012 when Trayvon Martin was killed, I was sure Zimmerman would be convicted. I realize now how naive that was. His murder was a catalyst for my anti-racist journey, and if you, white friend, are reading this, then you’ve likely experienced a catalyst too. In 2012, my oldest child was only one, and I had no clue what we would eventually discover when he started school.

We’re a white family living in the suburbs with a lot of other white families. When we moved here because of a job, I didn’t know why that was the case. I taught karate at after school middle school programs for a while until I was too pregnant to teach, and didn’t understand why I’d been warned off one school as containing the children who were “difficult.” That school had a much higher percentage of black students for our county than the other two I worked with. I still needed to learn that “good schools” was code for “white schools” and that discrimination in the system becomes clear even amongst the peers of my son as he started kindergarten at the local elementary school. By then I’d learned to see many of the little and not so little things in the system that weight society against a black child from the moment they make their debut in the world.

Different encounters and stories from my five year old made me realize that anti-racist education must start early because the presumption of white innocence and black guilt starts early. Black students even in kindergarten and preschool are more than twice as likely to be suspended as their white or even Hispanic peers. White children are perceived to be more innocent and even seen as younger than their black peers, while black children are often perceived as older and therefore more culpable and are punished more severely. This is seen most drastically in incidents such as the murder of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old child playing with a toy gun, as indeed my boys like to do, who was murdered by the police before the car even came to a complete stop.

The officer who murdered Philando Castile in cold blood for following the law and declaring he had a lawfully owned gun in the car at a traffic stop was acquitted because the jury found his defense that he had been afraid for his life reasonable.

Both of these incidents are just drops in the bucket in what could be a very long list of white people seeing black people as dangerous. Trained officers shooting down a child because his skin made them so afraid, they couldn’t even put the car in park to assess the situation.

And if you are justly horrified by all of this and asking what you can do, I’m saying part of the answer is talking to your white kids about racism.

Perhaps some of your thoughts are like mine were along the lines of, but why should I be the one to destroy my child’s innocence? They shouldn’t have to deal with things like this. I struggled with this as well until my kid encountered racist ideas from his classmates and possibly his teachers and I realized that unless I actively taught my children to be anti-racist from young ages and to break the cycle, our culture in this country will teach them to be racist from the start.
White supremacy is programmed into the very DNA of our nation from the stolen indigenous lands on which we reside to the stolen people from Africa we brought here by force and who built the economy that continues to benefit white people more than black people. Black parents start talking to their kids around the age of five about how they will be seen as different, and if black parents have to talk to their kids about this, white kids shouldn’t be exempt. In fact they can’t be exempt if we want to break the cycles and hopefully build a world where one day, none of us have to have “the talk” with our children on race.

There are so many resources out there on all of this if you haven’t done a deep dive into this yet. I’m writing to you today to share some ideas and resources specifically to help white parents talk to white children about race.

The easiest way is to make sure that they are reading and watching shows that have people of color as protagonists. From Doc McStuffins, to Elena of Avalor, to Molly of Denali, the children’s shows of today are beginning to not only be more diverse in their representations, but also to talk frankly about racism. One of the first episodes of Molly of Denali deals with her grandfather being forcibly sent to one of the boarding schools that the colonists imposed on native children where they cut their hair and punished them for singing and speaking in their native language. The episode is beautifully done and led to an age appropriate discussion about stolen land and boarding schools.

For 8-year-olds or older, “Raising Dion” is not only awesomely written, but deals frankly with racism in schools as experienced by a black child of that age. Shows with representation teach children that all stories are equally important, not just white stories. Shows with representation that also talk about race from the characters perspective are even more invaluable for your child’s anti-racist journey.

One book that I’ve found invaluable to help talk to my now 9-year-old is Not My Idea: A Book about Whiteness. Laid out like a storybook that he could have read by himself, I still sat down and read it with him because we had to stop every few pages and talk through the content. It is a fantastic tool for conversation.

We are the Change is a beautifully illustrated book with quotes from civil rights leaders with short blurbs about who the person was and what they were fighting for. It’s not only inspirational, it can be a great jumping off point for research about the lives and struggles of the people in the book.

Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson is a powerful piece on the Birmingham Children’s Crusade in 1963. It’s told from the perspective of one of the marchers and highlights just how powerful children are in the struggle for social change. Plus if those kids faced hoses and police dogs and spent time in jail while white adults responded by bombing Dr. King’s brother’s home, I think our kids can handle learning about it.

She Came to Slay: The Life and Times of Harriet Tubman by Erica Armstrong Dunbar is written on a fourth grade reading level or so and is a wonderfully concise biography that adults could learn from along with their children.

A Young People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn fills in many of the intentional gaps created by the white-centered history curriculums taught in schools and homeschools across the nation.

For more ideas and books with black leads, just google “books with black leads for kids” and you’ll see lists of them. Some of the lists are entitled as “books all black kids should read” but I would argue they should be read by all kids. The world in which we immerse them during these formative years is very powerful. I hope to give my kids a jumpstart on their anti-racist journeys so they don’t have as much to unlearn as I do. And if a lot of us white parents start doing this, I truly believe it will normalize anti-racist converstation and shift the culture. After all, in systemic racism, we are the system, and it won’t change until we change.

And if you think you haven’t gone far enough on your own journey to teach your kids, let me leave you with this quote from Ijeoma Oluo: “The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be an anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward.”

Cross-posted to Medium.

Capitalism, Supremacies, and COVID-19

Capitalism, supremacy, and COVID-19

Here we are in the thick of what is officially now a pandemic, and I’m writing to you from basically preventative self-quarantine of an indeterminate nature. You see, I have several chronic illnesses, one of which being asthma, as well as a suppressed immune system from years of steroid use for that asthma. So I fall into the category of “at risk” even though at forty I would probably have a positive outcome with treatment, possibly in the hospital. But if the situation here gets like it is in Italy, me being on a respirator in the hospital means someone else is going to be denied that respirator, probably someone elderly, who is less “survivable” than I am, and I don’t want to contribute to that triage scenario. And yes, that is literally what is happening in hospitals in Italy right now.

They ignored the warnings, focused on the economy, and pretended it would go away. Sound familiar? As a result, they didn’t flatten their curve and their health care systems are overloaded and they are making calls on survivability like it’s a war hospital triage center to decide who gets care. And as a forty-year-old mother of young children, I’m sure I would come out well on that ethical conundrum, and I’m not okay with surviving at other people’s expense.

Except, I already live at other people’s expense. It’s just not as visible. I can think of a myriad of examples, but one I tell a lot is how I have my house because of white supremacy.

You see my great-grandfather was an orphan. He was a share-cropper and a prison guard and raised 11 children in a two-bedroom house on the land he worked. My grandfather didn’t tell me many stories of that time in his life. What I do know is that he enlisted to fight in WWII and benefited from the GI bill to go to college at UCLA. He ended up with a doctorate in education and able to be upwardly mobile through a combination of GI benefits and inlaw support, and possibly benefiting from one of those GI-friendly loans that were part of FDR’s New Deal to promote home-ownership.

Those benefits were largely denied to black GI’s of the same age as my grandfather.

Twelve years ago, my grandfather gave me a lump sum of money when my husband and I were looking to buy a house–my inheritance, but early. It enabled us to not only buy a house but build our lovely 2000 square-foot Craftsman-style bungalow.

I had an opportunity that was denied to black families.

I can hear the push back already. But your grandfather worked his butt off! And yes, he did, to the point where he fainted at his job in college because he was working full-time and going to school full-time and not taking care of himself. But so were black GI’s of his same age, and yet they wouldn’t go on to be as upwardly mobile on the whole as white GI’s. Me saying that I have benefited from things that black woman my age haven’t been able to benefit doesn’t detract from my grandfather’s work ethic, it just acknowledges the way things have worked and how all too often they continue to work.

At the end of the post, Holy Obstinance, I referenced the “supremacies of our nation.” That post was long enough, so I didn’t try to unpack what I meant by that, but recent coronavirus stuff has brought that to the fore for me personally again. These supremacies allow us to reassure ourselves that the virus isn’t “that bad” that “only the old or those with underlying conditions” will get serious cases.

Except. Except. When did we decide we were okay with those people dying? And as I am one of those people, when did you all decide my life was worth less?

Because that’s what that narrative promotes. My life is worth less and you shouldn’t have to cancel that trip, stay in your house, take extra precautions because at worst you’ll get a cold or flu like sickness not unlike many others.

That feeling of my life being devalued on a public scale really pissed me off. And then I thought, this is what black people and indiginous people and refugees all experience on a daily basis. Daily. Mine is a situational devaluing, theirs is a systemic devaluing.

Combine that with unregulated capitalism defining human worth based on how much money one can produce and you have the systemic devaluing of people with chronic illness and disabilities.

These are the supremacies of our time: white supremacy, male supremacy, able-bodied supremacy, youth supremacy, wealth supremacy. All of these devalue lives that don’t fit their world-view of worth. And that view of worth is so very narrow and in direct opposition to the greatest commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. Too many of us are too busy living our lives without stopping to think what that looks like on a daily basis. Coronavirus threw it all into stark contrast and offers each of us an opportunity to reexamine love of neighbor and to learn about the supremacies in our nation that fight against total human thriving.

Tornados, Time, and Neighbors

Tornados, Time, and Neighbors

Time is so strange. This week feels like forever. I can only imagine how much stranger it feels to those who lost their homes in the storm, or worse, lost loved ones. Tragedy as a way of bringing everything to a standstill. Each day is an eternity, each heartbeat is painfully slow.

It’s as though a bubble rises up around the tragedy and everything inside is in slow motion. The world rushes by outside the bubble still on normal time, doing normal things, but for those inside everything is slow and painful and hard.

I found myself on the edge of the bubble this week. Personally, my family and I were unaffected by the tornados. They missed us, carving up a long swath of several cities just south of where we live.

I hadn’t gone to sleep yet when the warnings popped up. It was so fast that we would barely have made it to shelter if it had come our way. I sat in the dark and got on facebook. There were so many people on, reaching out to each other from basements and closets and bathrooms where they sat huddled with their children and if they’d had time, their pets.

“Are you okay?”
“We’re okay, it missed us.”

Like an individual liturgy, a call and response pinging back and forth across the wireless waves in the wee hours: “Are you okay?”

“We are but our house isn’t.”

And then Nashville happened. And Cookeville happened. And I don’t mean the tornados, I mean the response. People turned out and showed up and brought and are still bringing supplies, showing up with chainsaws and cutting up trees. I heard today that hazardous tree removal teams that had been sent to help have sent people home because the volunteers have already done so much.

And it’s so damn beautiful to see.

Most of the people I know who live in Nashville or nearby, even if they couldn’t physically help have been boosting the signal. We’re sharing information far and wide, and donations are coming in from friends and family in other states. Individuals who can shop are collecting donations from people who can’t and are delivering carloads of supplies.

A fraught election year and coronavirus fears haven’t been able to squash this outpouring of neighborliness.

Some sites have had to turn volunteers away, they were so overwhelmed with help. And of course in the midst of the bright spots, North Nashville, the predominately black neighborhood that was hit, had been underfunded and under-helped by comparison. But we boosted that too, and it’s gotten better, though they are not to the point where they are turning people away. The news crews didn’t go there, as I guess demolished music venues in North Nashville are sexier for national news and local news alike.

So it’s not all some instant utopia, but it does make one think about how well humans do come together when their neighbors are affected. And maybe Tennessee is just particularly good at it, I don’t know. As one friend said, folks who are new are about to see why we’re called the volunteer state. And it’s true.

I just hope we can hold onto some of the neighborliness as we move forward into the rebuilding stage. Already, predatory developers are swooping in as they did after the 2010 flood, trying to buy up houses for cheap so they can gentrify areas and make a boatload of money. So the community will have to come together to see if we can stop that this time. Social media has definitely helped because we’ve got people talking about land trusts and things I’d never heard of in 2010, but it makes it so much easier to resource and educate and organize.

Anyway, there’s not some big revelation in this post, I just needed to process out loud from the edge of the bubble here where time still feels slow and strange and pain and love are intermingled as we sort through the rubble of our neighborhoods.

Donate to Gideon’s Army to help North Nashville here.

If you’re local, here’s needed supplies and updates.