The events that occurred over the summer and on Monday night in Ferguson have been on my mind. A police officer kills an unarmed teenager and the case doesn’t even go to trial. I still can’t formulate the words to describe how unjust the situation is. The history, politics, media manipulation, institutional racism and utter horror as a mother. All of these thoughts stream through my mind and Twitter feed.
I would feel inauthentic if I just wrote a typical post today. But I don’t normally write political posts. But I’m not black. Is it my place to talk about it? I don’t have any answers, what would I even say?
If you’re reading this post, then I decided to put my self-doubt aside. Because I want to remind myself and others that it’s not okay to pretend that racism doesn’t exist. I don’t have the power to change the system, but I do have this small space. And I can choose to make ripples in the overwhelming sea of racism in our world today.
The big racial moment of my childhood was the police beating of Rodney King. Twenty years later, the technology has improved, but have we?
Our kids? They have to be better. As a mother (a mother, by the way, who has the privilege to not have to worry that my son will be targeted for the color of his skin) I have to hope that ignorance and racism can be shut out by generations to come. Call it blind optimism, but it’s all I have to go on. Here are a few ways we can make a ripple.
+ Acknowledge your own bias and privilege. Everyone has some level of bias in them. We are products of the society we live in and to deny that we have stereotypes and prejudice is part of the problem. We might not have control over all the social and media messages we have been fed, but we do have control over how we respond to them. Take a tough look at yourself and resolve to make changes. This is the only way we can keep ourselves from passing hatred down to the next generation. As an adult it’s your responsibility to educate yourself on your history. Here’s one start. (And yes it says how to teach kids, but I think all of the links would be enlightening for us adults as well.)
+ Listen to experiences of others. I think white people feel defensive when the topic of race comes up (if it does at all) and feel the need to prove that they aren’t racist. But really, they’ve missed the point. Because it’s not about me as a white lady. It’s about the experience of someone else. And the most basic thing I can do is listen to that experience and try to understand. This is a wonderful post written by a black mother. And here’s another perspective. And listen to this mother, who thought it wouldn’t happen to her son.
+ Talk about race. Again, talking about race can make people feel uncomfortable. Back in the 80s and 90s we were taught to be color-blind, right? We were told that race doesn’t matter. But merely stating that a problem doesn’t exist does not make it so. A better approach is embrace our diversity. We are different and that’s not a bad thing. Talking about race with you children is a good way to challenge stereotypes. Teaching Tolerance has some wonderful articles and ideas. Pinterest is actually a look place to look too. (I pin ideas on my Homeschool: Social Studies board.) If you’re wondering if your child is too young, psychology experts say children start to notice differences at around age 3, so you’re probably safe to start.
+ Diversify. Take a critical look at the books and other media your family consumes. What about dolls and other toys? These are powerful indicators to you children about what’s important. Who are the heroes? Who are the victims and villains? Do the images represent the diversity of our country? I wrote this post with a few suggestions to get started. Here’s much more.
+ Meet new people. If you are a white person, chances are you don’t have many friends who aren’t white. This is totally something you can change. Give your children the experience of playing with diverse playmates. Don’t live in a very diverse part of the world? There’s this amazing thing called the Internet…
+ Yes, I’m talking to you. This isn’t just an American problem or a white people problem. Racism, bigotry and intolerance reach far and wide. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people from other countries say that only Americans are racists. This is a societal problem, a systemic issue, but it also starts in our homes. Every home. Every parent. We must take a look at the messages we are sending to our children about people who are different from us. Teach them the history that schools won’t. Stop accepting the status quo of racism.
This isn’t the end, but only the start of the change we have to make. It’s not something we can just talk about this week or during ‘Black History Month.’ A celebration of diversity and rejection of prejudice must be a part of our daily life. Part of white privilege means that we don’t really have to think about race (because ours is the default), but I challenge you to reject the lazy ‘it’s not about race’ excuses. Be educated. Be aware. That’s our only option unless we want to live with ignorance and hate.