Raising Children with a Deeper Understanding of Human Difference

 

It is a common saying that raising children doesn’t come with instructions. We may know this all too well as we try our best to negotiate potty training, deescalate temper tantrums and establish a weekend curfew. The challenges of child rearing seem daunting as we desperately seek guidance from family, friends and many, many books. This all worked well for me, until I realized that I had to talk with my children about human differences and specifically race. As a white woman raising mixed race children (my husband identifies as Black) it wasn’t an option not to have these conversations with my young boys. As young as three years old, my sons engaged me in conversations about skin color differences, stereotypes and feeling marginalized. It was challenging on many fronts and not ever having these conversations before, made it difficult to engage family and friends. I began reading and reading a lot. What I learned almost immediately, is that most white people don’t talk to their children about race and most people of color do or what I then understood, have to. It is true, we are all born with bias (defined by Howard Ross, author of “Everyday Bias” as a tendency or inclination that results in judgment without question) and it’s a survival mechanism that we can never get rid of, only work hard to manage. Also, research has found that “infants are non-verbally able to categorize people by race and gender at six months of age.”1 “Three to five year olds not only categorize people by race but express bias based on race”2 and thankfully, “explicit conversations….about interracial friendships (helped) children dramatically improve their racial attitudes in a single week.3 This research was eye-opening, as I had believed children were colorblind. I know understand, young children do see skin color  and we can do a lot of good if we talk to them about their skin and all human difference. This knowledge led me to write my first children’s book, “The Skin on My Chin.” I hoped a rhyming picture book about skin might be one way to actively engage in a conversation about human skin colors, with children. I believe that we should talk to our children consistently, as young as six months old, about human difference and literally point it out and name it. In my parent and teacher workshops, I make the analogy of talking to children about sex to talking about race. The research finds that kids who have good conversations with their parents about sex are more likely to delay sexual activity, have fewer partners, and use contraceptives when they do have sex.4 Using that logic, it only makes sense that kids who have good conversations with their parents about race are more likely to have comfort with human diversity, skills for social interaction, accurate language and recognize unfairness and skills to act against racism. If this sounds difficult, it is and you can do it.  Over the years, I have immersed myself in understanding race, racism and other forms of oppression and have realized there is not a right way or one way to educate children. What I have learned, is if there were instructions for raising kids, having a deeper understanding of human difference would be in chapter 1.

 

 

https://www4dev.uwm.edu/letsci/africology/faculty/upload/children_colorblind.pdf

1 Katz, P. A., & Kofkin, J. A. (1997). Race, gender, and young

children. In S. S. Luthar & J. A. Burack (Eds.), Developmental

psychopathology: Perspectives on adjustment, risk, and

disorder (pp. 51–74). New York, NY: Cambridge University

Press.

2 (Aboud  2008; Hirschfeld 2008; Katz 2003; Patterson & Bigler 2006)

Aboud, F. E. (2008). A social-cognitive developmental

theory of prejudice. In S. M. Quintana & C. McKown (Eds.),

Handbook of race, racism, and the developing child (pp.

55–71). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

3 Hirschfeld, L. A. (2008). Children’s developing conceptions

of race. In S. M. Quintana & C. McKown (Eds.), Handbook

of race, racism, and the developing child (pp. 37–54).

Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Katz, P. A. (2003). Racists or tolerant multiculturalists? How do

they begin? American Psychologist, 58(11), 897–909

http://www.plannedparenthood.org/parents/talking-to-kids-about-sex-and-sexuality#sthash.xTaByfus.dpuf

I’m Afraid of White Women

Again, another white woman was afraid of a Black person. Her fear almost got a 14-year-old boy killed. The child had come to her house looking for help, directions to his high school, only to be met by her fear, a force more powerful than her desire to help. This white woman expressed her fear, abruptly and loudly accusing him of an attempted break-in, and then stood by as her white husband shot at the child, running for his life out of her yard.

I have heard this American story a thousand times, white women’s fears and the death and destruction it has caused Black and brown people. The history of the United States is teeming with stories of white women’s fears sparking and justifying Black men’s lynchings, Black men’s murders, Black neighborhood’s massacres. White women’s fictional stories of being raped or touched or even looked at by a Black man have caused some of the United States’ most horrific acts of racial terrorism.

We all know, or should know, of the 14-year-old Black child, Emmett Till who was brutally murdered because of the fear of a white woman, Carolyn Bryant Donham, who recently, just before she died, admitted that she lied. Or Sarah Page, whose fear, in 1921, sparked the most horrific race massacre in Tulsa, OK when white rioters destroyed “Black Wall Street,” killing more than 300 Black people. White women’s fears and false accusations have been a catalyst to the justification of terrorism and murder of Black people in this country for over four hundred years and continues to this day.

White women: Is death a deserved consequence for our fears? Is that the price Black and brown people must pay for our ill-conceived ideas about who is and is not safe?

The time is now for white women to look deep into our history as “white” women and cleanse our souls of the irrational fears that live deep within us. What will it take for white women to come to grips with this history and the inevitable truth that there is blood on our hands? Though we didn’t hold the rope or wear the robe, we are responsible for much of the racial violence, hatred, and death in this country.

We must begin to think deeply and understand this: the fear white women have of Black and brown people has served a purpose both deliberate and designed with our own oppression in mind. White women’s fears are used to justify powerful white men to act in our “honor” and as protectors of our “purity” in horrific acts of racial violence and injustice on Black and brown people. Our fear and complicity is eroding at our humanity.

While we’ve been busy buying into propaganda that we need to be protected and saved from the menacing Black male rapist and thug, we’ve missed the truth about white male mythmakers or the reality of who Black men really are.

This horrific history of white men stoking fear in white women, is rooted in white supremacy, among other things a tool to keep us in their beds. It has blinded us from learning from and connecting with Black women who have long modeled how strong, we as women, can be. We’ve turned a blind eye as Black women have fought off our white men’s pattern of terrorizing, raping, and brutalizing them. We’ve completely missed seeing the possibilities of who we could be together. We believe we are less than, weaker than, and powerless under white men. White women, unaware of the oppressive tactics used against us then wrongfully directed our power on Black men, women, and children via white male power. In search of what? What has this twisted privilege and power lever yielded us? 

Imagine the liberation possible by rejecting this oppressive state and shedding unfounded fears. The millions of Black and brown men, women, and children who have shared this country have paid a much deeper price in their ongoing pursuit of freedom than we have for our “safety.” Can we not trade out unfounded fears for educated truths in order to join in the pursuit of freedom, justice, and safety for all?

White women need to wake the hell up. This power we think we have is a tool of our ongoing oppression. The fear blinds us to the reality that we’re being used and tricked into seeing bravery where there is cowardliness, loyalty where there is selfishness, safety where there is fear mongering. I ask white women to join me in educating ourselves about the history of white supremacy in this country and how it is inextricably linked to our own oppression. It starts with asking ourselves this one question: Why do I fear Black people, and Black men specifically. 

I would love to ask the white woman who called the police on my 11-year-old Black son, who was sitting on the roof of his garage after school one day, “Why were you afraid that a “man” was breaking into my house? How did you look at a Black child and see a man? Why did you look at a Black child and become fearful? Why?”

My fear, anger, and demands are targeted to white women because I am one. I am oppressed the same way you are. As I increasingly see fear as an evil tool to distract me from the truth, and from my own humanity, I am longing for you to join me in refusing to comply. As a mother of Black sons, I need white women to honestly confront internalized fears of Black people, Black men, and especially Black boys. The idea of you, white women, seeing my son walking towards you and becoming fearful, moving to the other side of the street, locking your doors, calling the police, or siccing your white man on him terrifies me. The idea of you, white women,  telling your daughters to fear my son breaks my heart. I’m afraid of white women who have no idea why they fear Black people, yet know exactly the power it yields. I am afraid of you white women. I am afraid you will kill my Black son.

Liabilities of White Privilege –How White Privilege Hurts White People

Completely Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack:

How White Privilege Hurts White People 

  Michelle Chalmers, MSW

            In 1988-89, Peggy McIntosh published two papers on white privilege, the shorter of which is called “White Privilege:  Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” In it she listed many ways in which she benefits from a system of “unearned assets” she has as a white woman in a society that favors whites and gives them unearned advantages. She compared white privilege to “an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks.” As far as she could see her colleagues of color did not have these unearned assets.

I am a white woman who has been married to a Black man for 27 years. We have two sons. I have looked deeper into my knapsack. In addition to the seemingly endless list of advantages and benefits of white privilege are all the harmful disadvantages that white privilege empties onto me as a white person. These disadvantages are the unearned liabilities of white privilege. Unearned liabilities are the societal and cultural disadvantages that put white people in a state of blurred reality, separateness, and internal damage which in turn affects all the rest of humanity. I am ready to dive deeper into the concept of white privilege and examine it for the harm it does to the people who have it, and enable white people to see it is something we need to work against.

Some Liabilities of White Privilege –How White Privilege Hurts White People

  • White privilege racializes us to believe we are superior
  • White privilege tells us we are entitled and deserving
  • White privilege makes us believe things that are not real
  • White privilege allows us to deny things that are real
  • White privilege allows us to deny peoples lived reality
  • White privilege restricts us from really understanding the world of which we believe we are an exceptional part
  • White privilege tricks us into thinking the playing field is level
  • White privilege justifies us living in a false reality
  • White privilege hinders our ability to feel compassion and empathy for all humans
  • White privilege limits our ability to create equity
  • White privilege limits our ability to ask the question…. why?
  • White privilege restricts our ability to see and be comfortable with all of humanity
  • White privilege limits our ability to understand parts of our own identity
  • White privilege keeps us from seeing human differences as an amazing gift
  • White privilege closes us off from seeing people who are different as equally human
  • White privilege limits us in choosing the truest friend and true love
  • White privilege limits our awareness of how people really feel or what they think
  • White privilege deceives us into seeing beauty in only some places
  • White privilege limits our ability to have a true connection to many people of color
  • White privilege controls our judgment
  • White privilege allows us to rationalize injustice
  • White privilege stops us from working to create change in systems that are unjust and inequitable
  • White privilege has confined us to communities who are also hurting from all these same things
  • White privilege expects to have the same effect on white children

 

* Copyright 1989, Peggy McIntosh. Peace and Freedom magazine, July-August 1989, pp. 10-12. Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Phila, PA.

Thank you to Peggy McIntosh for your wisdom and grace.