Dear White Parents:

My darling, fellow well-intentioned white folks, we need to talk. It's about a big ass fail that happened around here last Spring centering around the conversation about race. It's uncomfortable for me because I, probably like you, consider myself to be racially aware and abreast of sensitive topics. But you know what? Those things don't count for much unless you're being active about what you believe... and that counts in big and small ways, as I learned. 

One unassuming Sunday,  I was playing with my daughter and she suggested that we make a list of "playdates" she would like to have over the upcoming summer. She loves to make lists, and I thought that this was adorable, so immediately said, "yes!" Then she dropped my jaw when she added, "We can only put white skin people on the list because white skin people can only play with other white skin people, not brown skin people." I was crushed. Utterly crushed.

This is hard for me to admit--that she said this. My reaction went to immediate white-hot rage, with an over-the-top, "WHO SAID THIS TO YOU?" Which immediately clammed her up because she didn't know that what she was saying was bad, but she got the message real quick. Let me repeat: she didn't know what she was saying was bad. 

Firstly, she was only four at the time. Additionally, my child has some social deficits. Given those things, this language coming from her devastated me.  I knew immediately that I was now going to have to work to undo a thing and get it out of her... why? Because I didn't do the work on the front end. 

After I pulled it back a little, my daughter and I were able to talk a bit and she told me a classmate of hers had said it. We had a big talk about how brown is beautiful, and we talked about all the friends and family members we have who are racially different than us, and how we love them. We parlayed this into reading books that include diversity and furthered the conversation, which, honestly, I should have been doing all along. I also told her that what that student (whoever it was) said was really bad--"worse than the F word"--and that next time she should tell the teacher right away. But the reality of this happening was only slight because The Bird has trouble with asserting these types of things to her teachers. I'm honestly grateful that she told me about it at all...

The next day when I told her caregiver at daycare, she was amazing. She immediately said she would address this to the whole class, and we agreed that I would bring in some books on diversity to read to the class. She also said she would have a one-on-one with my child about being able to tell the teacher when someone says something like that. Those things were all wonderful, and I'm glad that the daycare responded strongly and swiftly to my concerns.

The thing is, though, that as mad as I was about what that kid said to my daughter, I also have to take some personal responsibility here. I'm just as mad about what I didn't say to her when I had the chance.... this was a deep failure on my part, as a parent. In that moment between my daughter and I, I was working to undo something someone else said, when all along, I should have been proactive in talking about race and diversity in personally meaningful ways. I lost the luxury of being able to talk to her in our own time about diversity in the ways that are fundamental and important to me. As a person who considers myself to be an ally to Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC), I did a piss poor job of living into the values that I believe about race. It's embarrassing, but frankly, I would rather be embarrassed and honest with myself than ignorant. 

I learned:

Maybe this should have been apparent to me. Maybe this should have be clear, but you know, it wasn't. I mistakenly figured that she would pick up on our values because ...we have lots of diverse dolls... we have friends of different races or.... we talk about the true story of Thanksgiving... or because we just believe in equality and talk about it *some.* Or even because I have taken Layla F. Saad's White Supremacy and Me program (which you can now purchase!)  

I was wrong. 

As I was feverishly ordering children's books from Amazon about diversity to read with my daughter, it occurred to me that while I was busy not talking about race with my child, some other asshole was busy imparting to their child that races can't play together AT FUCKING PRESCHOOL. I was literally facepalming myself. Because, of course they were. And this is exactly why we--as white parents-- NEED to be talking about race with our children in age-appropriate and comprehensive ways... because if we don't, then Jonny at preschool will be telling your kid exactly what his parents believe, and your kid won't be armed with the tools he or she needs to combat that message. So they absorb it somewhere in their minds with all the confusion that a four or five year old possesses. Maybe you will hear about it from them, and maybe you won't.

When there is an issue of safety like with pools or crossing the street, we tend toward being explicit with our children and honest about the impacts. I believe this is the same, and the stakes are just as high. These are PEOPLE we are talking about, and the issue of race could not be of more timely importance. We have to do better and stop consenting with our silence or resting on our apathy, and I see that differently now. We have got to be proactive and open and educated about these things. 

Maybe you have heard the phrase "White Silence = White Consent." This kept ringing in my head. The sum total of this situation is what happens when white privilege (ie- not thinking about talking openly about race with my child) collides with clear cut white supremacy (the kid in the daycare parroting racist values). And why is it white privilege? Because Black, Native American, Hispanic, Muslim, and Jewish people do NOT have the luxury of "opting out" of these conversations with their kids. But this time, I want to rise up with more awareness, and I don't want other parents to make the same mistakes that I made in either their assumptions or their actions. Because awareness just isn't enough. We have to be active about these things. Lesson learned.

All the love,

Bossy Italian Wife 

1 comment:

  1. Nice language. Do you teach that to your 4 year old also? I’ll raise my kids with respect and morals but I will not let them think that being white is bad. Good day!