Here’s the Thing…Posted: November 25, 2014
I hate that my Ferguson post has to be short. You may hate that I’m writing one at all. So we’ll call it even.
A lot of things break my heart about the fact that an eighteen-year-old young man was killed by a police officer, and that said officer doesn’t even have to stand trial for his death.
But this is, for better for worse, mostly a mom blog. So I’m going to look at this as a mom. A mom whose heart broke for Trayvon Martin, for Eric Garner, for Tamir Rice, and of course for Michael Brown. And for so many more. And for their mothers.
Because here’s the thing. We all worry about our children. A lot. I may even worry about my son more than most (and it’s not a contest, but I can tell you that I worry more about him than I do about my full-term daughter. His start was scary, and I may never get over it.).
Of the five women with whom I became close while Das Big Boy was in the NICU, four were women of color. Two of those women have sons. I know they poured every ounce of worry and love into their sons just as I did into mine. I know they worry to this day. But they have a worry I don’t. Because their sons are black. And that’s an injustice that really, really pains me. They have to worry that some people may respond to their sons with fear or aggression just because they are black. And that sucks, because we moms, especially we preemie moms, have enough to worry about.
I’ve broken some laws in my day. I needn’t detail them here. But if you went to college with me, you know what I mean. And my sole brush with law enforcement illustrates perfectly the concept of white privilege, that unearned privilege that my children will inherit from me unless our world changes.
I was twenty-two, recently graduated from college. A friend from high school and another friend’s ex-boyfriend and I took a cab home from a Boston bar to a Wellesley street in an effort to find the first friend’s ex-boyfriend. My friend may have vomited in the cab. I may have offered, in the ultimate act of lady chivalry, to wear her pukey shirt so we could spread out the stink. We may have changed clothes in the street. Someone (wisely) called the police. Surprise! The police did not even chide us. They drove us home to our parents’ respective mansions with friendly banter the whole way. Not a word about keeping it down at 2 am, nary a suggestion to lay off the booze, not even an allusion to any puke stink. How do you think that would have gone down if we’d been three black young adults in Wellesley, (a town where for every 1000 residents, 110.3 black people are arrested while only 9.4 white people are arrested)? And that, people, is white privilege. It doesn’t mean that all white people are overtly racist (although some of them are). It means our social structures benefit white people.
So what can a mad white mom from the suburbs do? How do we raise children who will work for justice and equality, who will reject their privilege or extend it to everyone?
I don’t have big or great ideas. I have little ones. But I’m going to try them and hope they help. And I hope you’ll share your ideas for teaching our children as well.
1) Read children’s books with black protagonists. My community is pretty white. My son has one black classmate. My daughter thinks the African-American baby on the diaper box is Rudy (daughter of our friends the Huxtables, who are South and East Asian). But I’m a big believer in familiarity being possible through art, too, and in that familiarity building understanding. So I’m going to get my children five books for the holidays that feature black protagonists. When I’ve chosen them, I’ll share the titles.
2) Give money to an organization that advances racial and social justice. It’s holiday time, when we all pick our charities. I’m always nagging you to give to preemies and lungs and hearts. This year, I also gave to The Southern Poverty Law Center.
3) Start talking about race and justice with my children early. Earlier than may be comfortable. I heard on NPR once that the average age at which black families start discussing race with their children is three, whereas in white families it’s thirteen. Because for black children it’s a fact of life and experience, but for white children, it’s an external, even intellectual exercise. It’s why kids can describe black culture but not white culture. White privilege again. But clearly the hippie love stuff–we’re all the same, yada yada–that we white liberals (or me white liberal) have always been fond of doesn’t work so well. We need to have conversations about race from an earlier age. I’m going to research this one, too. But if you have ideas, let me know.
4. Don’t stay quiet. I’m not saying I plan to get in a flame war on Facebook or a throw down at Thanksgiving dinner. But I do have to say that most of the people responding to Ferguson with dismay on my FB feed last night were either a) people of color b) sociology graduate students/professors or c) superpolitical people (and I DON’T think this is a political issue). But I know more of us care. We can share our thoughts without getting into fights. I’m going to try to do so.
5. Put more love into the universe in general. This is a goal toward which I’m always striving. Be kinder. Less gossipy. More tolerant. More patient. I’m trying to teach this kindness and generosity to my children, too. I’ll write about those strategies on another day, because I don’t want to detract from today’s goal of doing something about racism, however small, in my own white suburban mom way, in my own white suburban family.
Peace. Really, I mean it. Peace.