“Sissy Pink! Momma Brown! Mommy Pink!
“Which of these pictures doesn’t belong?”
“Why would anyone want to kill Martin Luther King?”
“Why couldn’t Rosa Parks just sit in front of the bus? Why would anyone arrest someone for being tired?”
With each developmental accomplishment, there is also a precious loss that I’m still learning how to manage. He knows his colors! Fantastic! He is beginning to understand skin color and race. Ekes! He can sort shapes and colors! Yay! He’s beginning to put things in categories of belonging and not belonging. Bummer.
He’s beginning to learn about our history, our icons, our heroes. Woo hoo! He is beginning to learn about injustice. A lump grows in my throat as my son becomes more inquisitive about the world that surrounds him.
With every story of wonder: how electricity works, what it takes to make a rainbow; there are stories that are hard to share, talk about and explore. When it comes to my biracial children developing their racial identity, I confess that I struggle. I wish that racial identity formation were as simple as acknowledging and celebrating differences. I would love to end the conversation where it starts, “we are all different and we are all wonderful. We all belong.”
Far too quickly, however, our children are learning that opposite equality is inequality; opposite fairness is injustice; that next to kindness, meanness and mean-spiritedness exist. They, we, are not guaranteed equality, fairness, or kindness.
I became familiar with the vulnerability inherent in being a mom dramatically, as my son needed emergency surgery at the young age of nine months. As I watched him pull out his breathing tube in the recovery room, and the nurse called out to me, “go to the nurses station and have them call respiratory, stat,” I knew there was a helplessness being a parent that I would never feel comfortable with. I cannot cure and fix everything. I cannot protect them for all they may face. In many ways, it’s the greatest vulnerability that is universal to all parents. It sucks!
As the only white member of our nuclear family, I am also clear that I cannot end the conversation with “you are black AND beautiful AND enough AND belong.” It would be a disservice to them if I did not also teach that they will face inequality, that expectations of them truly are different from their white (pink) counterparts, and that there are still dangers inherent in being a growing child of color.
It would also be unfair if I, as the white mom with racial privilege, left it to their black mom to be the only one to talk to them about growing up a child of color. Their black mom still comes home with stories and experiences of racism in the present day, and needs to come home to find both rest and an ally. To be there for her and my children, I need to see it, believe it, and work as I can to prepare my children for our world today as I work to make the world a bit brighter for their tomorrow. There are ways that we can all work together to be positive partners for all families of color/families with color. Here are just a few:
- Please accept and believe that to be white still carries privilege. If you have that privilege, please use it to see racism, and note it when you see it
- If you see it in front of your own children, and they are old enough, name it for them. They feel it even if they don’t understand. If you can offer a language around it, they can begin to make sense of it
- Explain what you expect from your children around race, “I would never want to see you do something like that. I would want you to stand up, not stand by. I would want you to tell a teacher, me, or another trusted adult”
- Trust that every action, no matter how small it feels, makes a difference. Even if all you can muster is telling someone, “I saw that. It wasn’t fair, and it wasn’t your fault” you are helping our collective future
We truly are in this together. What other suggestions do you have for raising all our children to believe in fairness, justice, respect and love?
Editor’s note: Sharlene’s wife Natacha also wrote a recent blog post about race – read her perspective.