A week ago, my son had his last day of kindergarten. I was there as the final school bell of the year rang and watched as his teacher hugged each and every student on their way out of the building. Once outside, he was handed a popsicles from the fantastic classroom parent to celebrate the start of summer vacation. I was overcome by just how fortunate I am to raise my children in our beautiful, safe community where the resources are abundant and the future is full of possibility.
The following night, there was another mass shooting in our Country, and this time it was directed against black Americans who were peacefully gathered in prayer.
My children are still young enough that I can protect them from this news. In fact they know nothing about the pervasive racism and sexism that plagues our country or that mass shootings are happening with greater frequency. But, my son is rapidly gaining independence and intelligence and I won’t be able to keep him from this reality much longer.
After receiving his popsicle and playing on the playground, I did what any good working mom does, I multitasked. I picked up my son’s medical form for camp from the doctor, got a second coffee and another treat (for my son), and took my son back to work with me. I tied up a few loose ends while he wrote birthday thank you notes before taking off on our epic walk to get my daughter from childcare. Our walk takes us through Connecticut’s State Capitol and Legislative Office buildings. There is a lot to see and many, many escalators to ride. It’s a kid’s wonderland.
I suppose the walk got my son thinking and on the drive home he asked me (for the second time in life) what I do for work. I explained that I try to pass laws, which are like the rules we have at home and at school, to make life better for women. As I was saying it I knew what he must be thinking and before I could say anything more he asked why I didn’t work on laws for men. I chose my words carefully because both he and my daughter were listening. I told them that, believe it or not, some people actually passed laws that let men do things that women aren’t allowed, and so I work with lawmakers to try to make things equal so women and men get to do the same things and have the same protections.
And do you know what that boy of mine said, … “what happens when it’s equal, mommy?” I paused for a moment, taken aback by the sincerity of his question, and then answered, “we’ll celebrate!” I want to be able to celebrate with my son. And, I want so desperately to believe that we will achieve equality and create a country free from senseless violence.
After the Grand Jury decided there was no “probable cause” to charge Darren Wilson in Michael Brown’s death I wrote a blog about my experience attending a training on race and discrimination and my realization that having hard conversations together, being willing to share and discuss through the discomfort, is the only way we can change our culture and the systems that perpetuate racism and discrimination.
It is in the vain, and in an attempt to fully embrace this idea that ‘silence is compliance’ that I share a few ways racism is present in my life and what we are and aren’t doing to address it. I welcome conversation.
By the mere virtue of his being born my son has more privilege in his pinky finger than I’ve accumulated during my entire life. I actually got nervous in the hospital because so many people–staff, patients, visitors–told me how lucky I was to have a baby boy with blonde hair and blue eyes. I was worried someone might steal him. My son won’t have to worry about getting expelled from school for misbehavior, or forced out of the car by the police during a traffic stop, and if he does by some chance get into trouble with the law (not my boy), his father and I will hire a lawyer who will most likely be able to get the charges dropped. I know this because he is a white boy from an upper, middle class town. I also know that isn’t fair.
So, while I want my children, and in particular my son, to grow up learning to respect others and to see skin color and gender like he sees hair color, eye color or height, as mere differences and not less than, I also want my children to understand their role and responsibility to use their privilege to challenge racism and sexism. That isn’t easy, especially when I’m not the only one influencing my children. Which brings me to my husband. He and I were raised in different households and in different communities and so our experiences of racism and sexism are different. I have also spent my entire adult life learning about and working on issues of inequality, and as I mentioned earlier have participated in four anti-racism trainings. He has not.
So, he and I must have conversations too and challenge each other and the things we were raised saying and thinking. For example, why is it that when describing another person, we are both so quick to describe someone as black but when it’s a white person we use a variety of descriptors such as eye color, hair style, height, clothing, weight, etc. After a few discussions, we are both now mindful of the way we describe people to our children, both of whom have yet to describe a friend of theirs based on the color of their skin.
Finally, and maybe most difficult to acknowledge and address is the institutional racism that is woven throughout my story above. It is no coincidence that my son and daughter are growing up in a picturesque community. My husband and I made the conscious decision to buy our home in a community with good schools, not less than 2 miles away from a predominantly African American and Hispanic community with some of the nation’s highest rates of poverty. We are not the only ones to make that decision. I know this because it is an extremely common conversation for white Americans to have and is the reality in communities across this Country. When deciding where to buy a house, the majority of my friends and the parents of my children’s friends chose to move out of whatever city they were renting in, and to buy a home in a suburb where the schools are good. After all, it makes no sense buying in a city only to have to pay for private schools…
My flippant attitude isn’t to condone this decision, it’s done to highlight just how absurd it is to accept this reasoning, especially by those of us who work on issues of equality. It is one thing to discuss systems of oppression, but when it comes to our own families, we take part in the very systems we seek to change.
As a policy practitioner, I look to public policies as a means of improving social conditions. And, while I applaud South Carolina’s leaders for taking a stand and calling for the removal of the confederate flag from the state Capitol, it should be viewed as a symbolic indication that the work of the legislature, and legislatures across this Country, to address racial inequities has just begun. I also can’t help but wonder if other, political forces were at play in that decision, as they are in most public policy decisions. Like with guns. Even though the majority of this country supports responsible gun reforms, the political capitol of the NRA trumps public opinion and any substantial policy reform.
In order to have effective conversations that move us toward equality, we need to be honest and willing to call out the bullshit, make mistakes, and own our part in the problem. We are not going to get it right every time and we’re not always going to say the right things, but it is incumbent on us to say something. Then, maybe our kids or our kid’s kids will get to celebrate.