Race Revisited

I spend a lot of time talking about race.  I confess I talk about it more than invited.  Yet, somehow, it is likely still less often than needed.  Last week, while with professional colleagues, one asked if we are spending too much time talking about race, therefore making it an issue where it isn’t.  I wish that was the first, second, or fiftieth time that’s happened.  I am a social worker, and as such committing to seeing injustice and working to stop it is essentially a commitment we make by engaging in the profession.  We don’t get to pretend this stuff doesn’t exist.  Well, except when we do.

I have also been asked by a lot of moms of white children how to help their kids see difference, talk about it openly, and embrace it.  While I don’t have all the answers, I want to offer a couple of possibilities.   We live in a diverse community, and our children live with differences in race, abilities, sexual orientation and more surrounding them.  We consider that one of the richest parts of their upbringing.  My son’s current aspiration is to be a Power Ranger.  When asked what makes him want to be a Power Ranger, he answered, “I want to save the earth.”  He is a big believer in protecting the underdog, mostly animals, but also people being hurt.  While I believe some of it is just how he’s wired, some comes from constant exposure.  The gifts he has that I recommend to you: exposure and perspective-taking.  If you come from and live in fairly privileged surroundings, seek out as much diversity as possible.

While food and fun is nice, there is a greater purpose in surrounding yourself with diversity beyond simply exposing yourself and your children to different traditions.  The greatest gift, I believe, is perspective-taking.  My colleague’s mistake didn’t begin by an admission one day last week that she thinks that we keep creating problems by talking about them.  The mistake began years or decades before, when she wasn’t able to see that as the one with privilege, when talking about oppression, it isn’t her perspective that is relevant.

This is where I often get in hot water, but let me explain.  If I’m in the store with a black teenager, and she’s being followed, expected to steal, I can see that, or I can not.  I am white, I have privilege, and so I have the gift of turning away, explaining it away, or not noticing.  That young woman, however, has to face it every day.  She doesn’t get to turn it off.  She can’t turn away.  If I can stop and watch, listen to her stories, believe her, feel the sting of injustice for a bit, I might be changed.  I can only do that if I’m around to see (exposure).  I can only do that if I learn to take a leap outside of myself to see that my world is not everyone’s (perspective-taking).

The more we are around diversity and difference, the more opportunities we have to see not only the richness of varied culture in food, music and traditions, which is where we feel good, comfortable and safe, but we can also see the struggles, the pain and the insult.  Simply by exposing our children to a larger world, and asking, over and over, “what do you think she felt and thought”, we can begin to raise our children to “save the earth.”

7 thoughts on “Race Revisited

  1. Yes, Sharlene! One can never notice too much, and any of us who are white can never completely transcend our white privilege, but we can surely try. I so agree that we who are white need to enlarge our perspective. The only point that I would question is your comment that “it isn’t her [your colleague’s] perspective that is relevant.” Alas, I think it’s all too relevant, because it’s so common. It’s just limited. If we who are white can expand our perspective, let go of our privilege, counter it even when we’re in a store with a person of color and we notice that person is being followed by a clerk, we can open our mouths and wonder aloud why “my friend here is being followed and I’m not.” We can learn the lessons that you and your family teach us and stretch our minds and souls into a different space far larger than we possibly could if we stayed in the small box of white privilege. Thank you!


  2. From a pruoud Grandfarther;
    When you WCTM’s see ‘s photos of Moria,, Raymond or Kayla you see three loved children who are, amost, without racial bias. That may be a problem for others to accomidate, NOT THEM.


  3. What a great post, Sharlene ~ THANK YOU for making me think about this a little more. And I truly love that last sentence of yours. ♥


  4. I love you for this post! I will always looks for ways to see more clearly, to seek out diversity, to be open to the truth as painful as it may be and, most importantly, encourage the same honesty in my children. Love everything about this. LOVE IT. Thank you.


  5. I do not have the words to thank you for this very important and profound post. So many people choose to turn away or to dismiss these disparate treatments in the so-called “post-racial” era. The first, most important step is for white people to admit they are inherently prejudiced (not deliberately, but just by the nature of how racial differences play out in this country) and can’t begin to understand what non-whites encounter on a daily basis. The next step is for people to understand we are all the same inside. That is easy to say but hard to do.

    Just because people of color have achieved prominence and honor in the white world does not erase the fact that our President has heard car door locks click due to his presence. My hope is that families like yours, where colors are melded and the sharp visual distinctions begin to blur, will end this type of instant judgment. But I fear that if it isn’t skin color, it will be something else — height, toe length, or anything that will allow people to take the shortcut to an opinion without engaging their brain cells. I fear it is human nature but I truly hope I am wrong.

    Anyway, thanks for making all of us think about this.


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