I wanted to write about the Oklahoma Fraternity horror today, but I can’t find the words. I’m still feeling all the stuff over it and that means writing a coherent sentence isn’t in my wheelhouse today. So, instead I’ll revive this post about the accidental bigotry lesson I found myself in riding in our car one day. I sure hope what I did means my kids will never be caught on a bus chanting evil things about people. Gross.
The other day, driving through town, my son called from the back of the van, “you know the problem with Hispanic people? (Chest tightening.) They all look the same so you can’t tell who is on the street.” (Stomach heaving.)
After my initial instinct to vomit in my mouth, I turned to the reaction I thought appropriate which was to scold him and convey in my best stern mom voice how inappropriate a thing it was to say. I caught myself though, and reminded my rattled brain that this was my sweet eight year old boy who thus far had not displayed one ounce of racism or bigotry with any kid he’d encountered.
So, I started with a question about why he would say that and what exactly he meant. Turns out, he thought he saw his friend K. as we were driving by, but couldn’t really tell if it was him so he was embarrassed that he may have waved to a stranger.
Then I asked another question about all his little blond friends and if he thought they all looked alike. (They do.) Then I reminded him that I routinely put my hand on one of his sister’s friend’s heads and try to lead her to my car at school pickup at least once a week-mistaking her for my own kid.
“So should we say all white kids look alike?”
“Well, no because they ALL don’t, mom.”
Then I asked him to compare the Latino kids on his baseball team and tell me if they looked alike. They don’t.
“So, really, do all Latino or Hispanic kids look alike?”
“No, they don’t. But that kid did look like K!.”
“Fair, but all of them?”
Then, in my little mini-van with my little crew of white kids, I launched into stereotypes and how they are dangerous and often unkind. Now, my 8-year-old does not go down without a fight, so as you might imagine this conversation was wrought with tension and arguments such as, if these statements are true (“white or brown, these kids look alike mom!”) why are they bad to say?
Trying to explain inherent racism and bigotry to three kids under eleven was challenging and I questioned my decision the entire time. I thought I wanted to raise my kids to view the worlds’ citizens as equal. We chose our town purposely for its diversity because I feared raising kids in an area where they never saw any color. I had the great fortune of growing up around a variety of people and I wanted the same for my kids.
But I constantly question how much to expose them to on the flip side. Can I just show them models of what’s right or do they need to know the ugly in order to avoid it?
After the Trayvon Martin verdict, two women wrote incredible pieces on their perspectives on the aftermath of this case. What I’m thinking, after reading both Amy and Janeane, is that in this case, exposure to good might not be enough. Instead of raising my kids to view everyone as equal, I have to raise them to be NOT racist. Because racism is learned and so is the opposite.
As a mom of white kids, I will probably never worry about them being shot walking through my neighborhood. I won’t have to teach them, in the same way as my friends, how to behave with authority for fear of retribution and I won’t have to explain that their clothing choices might cost them their life.
I could feel guilty about all of this-our accidental privilege. Hell, I have felt guilty about it over the years. But instead, I’ll choose responsibility over guilt. What’s the saying? With great privilege comes great responsibility? As a mom of white kids my responsibility is not just to raise them in an environment of equality, but to teach them our history (because it is all our history), so we don’t repeat it in any way.
Guilt is a useless, but fighting ignorance is not.
P.S. Looking for more parenting guidance and tips for self-care? Check out From Chaos to Calm a guided training to help you feel better in this tough season.