I didn’t know what was wrong, but as I spoke to him he shouted back – we were communicating with each other. He turned to me, twisted his little chest, reached out his hand and grabbed my pinky finger. And as we spoke thus, her skin warmed from that frightening blue to the color of a heart in a stained glass window filled with light.
Almost two and a half years later, he’s still reaching out to me, he’s still listening to me – although now it’s very different. He watches me; he watches how I react to the world, and he imitates me. He learns from me in everything I say.
He also inherits a heritage and a racial identity from me, and I will tell him about the Irish and German heritages of his parents, but also, since we live in America, how he will be seen, identified as and grow up as “White.”
And when his observations turn into questions, and one day he asks me, “What does it mean to be ‘White?’ », I wonder what I communicate to him? How can I, as a white parent, discuss race with my white child?
Unanswered questions still need to be asked
I certainly do not have all the answers to these questions. But what’s also clear is how vital it is for me to prioritize them now so that we have a basis for this conversation as it evolves – which will be the case.
He’s a toddler now, and the way we communicate about race will change over the years, but it seems imperative to make discussions about race, racism, and privilege as basic and routine as the ones we have on. compassion, empathy and community.
When we are given a language for fairness and justice, we can act with more care and commitment in working towards it with those who have been doing it for so long already. This is why it is absolutely essential that as white parents of a white child we should talk about our white privilege as a family as often as possible about how it plays a role in our lives.
Many of my friends who are Black, Native, East or South Asian, or Latinx, have shared with me the conversations they have had with their parents and their own children about their racial identity and how to manage the impacts of racism in their lives with as clear an understanding as possible.
My parents and I also talked about racism, yes, but only about other people, like it’s a story about other people and it doesn’t play a role in my own life. We never spoke directly of our own racial identity, of “being white”.
And maybe that was part of the problem. If we were talking about what “it means to be white” we should be talking about white privilege, which is the specific impact of racism on my life. While many people who are not white experience the personal pain and denial of the right to vote of racism, whites like me benefit both directly and indirectly from this advantage so deeply rooted in our society. And that’s what I need to talk to my son about.
How did being white at age 12 affect my hiring as a model for magazine ads because, as the casting director said, “I looked like the All- boy. American? ” How did being white at the age of 17 affect my interactions with law enforcement, when I broke the law more than once, but got me immediately given the benefit of the doubt and was told to “come home, be safe and keep my friends safe”? ”
Because while the bill itself may not have included specific language of exclusion by race, the racist practices of many VA officials, realtors, and college admissions administrators in the setting The bill’s benefits were deeply exclusive by race, unfairly privileging white veterans with access to upward mobility opportunities and the ability to pass subsequent financial and educational opportunities to future generations.
Where does the discomfort come from?
My wife who, like me, identifies as white, and I want to raise a child who will value and prioritize efforts to dismantle racism in her community, and in order to do that we need to be as specific as families of color are. on the relationship between their own racial identity and how racism affects their community. In our case, that means we need to talk with our son about the impact his own white privilege will have on his life and the lives of others around him.
I’m the first to admit that I’m not used to talking about my racial identity as a white person. I think a lot of white parents are in a similar situation. I want to talk to my son about race and racism – but if I don’t talk to him about white privilege as well, I’m afraid I’m ignoring much of the conversation about racism, especially for him and me.
Part of discussing racism with my son deals with the impact of white privilege on his life. We need to talk about it clearly and honestly, at whatever level he is able to process and understand based on his age, so that we can help him better understand how he can participate more effectively in dismantling inequalities than privilege. and racism create.
It’s difficult, in part because there aren’t many role models for white families, but one way for me to start having these conversations about race, racism, and white privilege with my son is to tell the stories of my life and be specific about how my racial identity played a role in each of those stories.
I won’t always succeed. Its good
Part of how my son and I communicate with each other is what he also sees me doing – or not doing. And this is the kind of communication that I think is so vital to start while still a toddler.
Because, ultimately, no matter how much I tell him about systemic racism, interpersonal racism, the legacy of colonialism and white privilege – whatever language I use when we talk about it – it will only be recorded from the end. lips if he also doesn’t see me acting in a way that somehow tries to deal with the reality of this injustice. And that’s something that I can start trying to communicate to her through my actions today.
In order for him to witness it, I have to try to mold it: whether it’s listening to people who know a lot more about racism and privilege than I do, or acknowledging my privilege when I speak with others. ‘others, or put it in to fight racial injustice in my community. If I don’t, how can I expect him to believe that working against racial injustice is one of my values and one that I want him to stand up for as well?
Of course, it is also inevitable that by listening to me and looking at me, my son will also see me fail. He will hear me stumble through uncomfortable conversations and see me make mistakes when trying to remedy a racial injustice in our community.
But I hope these failures will be part of our conversation as well – he and I learn from my mistakes together so he and I can do better next time around as we try to live with these values in our minds.
While he is young my son always turns to me, yells at me, communicates with me and although I may not have the answers to his questions about why the world is the way it is, I promise him, as I did in the first moments of his life, that I will continue to talk with him and show myself, so that in the future he and I can act in the way that corresponds to our values together.