White People, what are you doing to raise your children to ensure they don't grow up and kill mine?
This is a question I saw posted on a friend's wall on Facebook. He was commenting on how many African Americans on his wall had posted this question. It struck me for a variety of reasons. First, how fucking heartbreaking and infuriating it is for those of us with children who are not white to fear for the lives of our children from the moment we bring them into this world. Secondly, no one on my wall had posted this question and so it hadn't been raised to my consciousness yet. Third, how conflicted I feel about asking this question as a white person myself with children who may pass for white in a lot of circumstances, but do not identify as such.
As we continue into the unknown with the COVID pandemic, I am saddened, but also very encouraged to see that the unwarranted and unjust deaths of Black people are continuing to make headlines. No matter what else is going on in the United States, racism is alive and well in this country. And White people owe people of color in this country an answer to this question. What are we doing to make sure that our children don't grow up seeing Black bodies as unworthy of the care and benefit of the doubt that we afford White bodies.
While I am raising biracial children, my children have blonde hair and blue eyes and my husband has been asked more than once "Are they yours?" And even if they didn't, I am still White and I still have a responsibility to model racial justice to my children, validating their worth and the worth of the black and brown children who surround them.
Talking about race as a White person can be very hard. Many of us have been taught that you don't acknowledge race. You describe people by what they're wearing or some other descriptor that doesn't include race, as if pointing out someone's race, a part of who they are and how they are seen, is a bad thing. And if you do HAVE to mention race, you do it in a whisper so that no one around you can hear what you're saying. If you say race out loud, people may look at you like you're a racist and you've been raised in a good family who doesn't us the "n" word and you're not a racist.
The intent of this messaging comes from a good place typically. But it doesn't come from a critical place. Nor does it come from a place that has been informed by the people that it's about. The impact of this messaging leaves White people in the position of erasing identity. Whitewashing the meaning and history of race in this country. And protecting only themselves in the process. Not acknowledging race doesn't make racism go away. It doesn't change the way our institutions have been built and continue to perpetuate disadvantage based on how much melanin you have in your skin.
So, I charge the White people reading this to talk about race with your children. Seek out information from Black and Brown people about how they want you to talk to your children about them. This is an interesting article to start, but search around and see what reliable sources you can find. Inform your decisions from a position of wanting to reduce community harm, not protecting yourself from the end all, be all worst insult for most White people, being called racist. It is inevitable that you will make mistakes. You will say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing and you will hurt someone. When you are called out in uncomfortable ways, do not get defensive and say "But that's not what I meant." What you meant doesn't matter. What matters is how it landed for the person telling you they are hurt. Instead, say "I'm sorry. Thank you for caring enough to let me know that was hurtful so that I can learn and be better."
In our house, we talk about race openly and I try to answer my son's questions as honestly as I can. He's in a complicated position because his skin tone doesn't match with what society says he should look like as a biracial African American. At four years old he came home and told me that he got into a disagreement with a little girl at his school because she said he was White and he said, "No, I'm African." And she said, "You're not African, you're White." To which he replied, "I am African. And I'm peach!" I'm proud that he stood up for himself and his identity, but he was only four and already facing challenges from White people about who he is and what that means.
My husband and I talk openly about race too. What have his experiences been as a Black man, what have my experiences been as a White woman. How do the intersections of our identities (gender, race, ethnicity, country of origin) impact the ways in which we see certain situations? This is a hugely complex and painful issue. But the transformation of our society and the safety of future generations of Black and Brown people depend on us taking these issues seriously. The lives and deaths of people like Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor illustrate this profoundly.
So, I'm echoing the post from Facebook here. White people, what are you doing to raise your children to ensure they don't grow up and kill mine?