There is no way to make this poetic, or pretty, or palatable to everyone. So I’ll just go ahead and say it: I’m not doing a good enough job teaching my children about racism.
When I start my day in the morning, racism isn’t on my “radar.” I’m a white woman living in a rural Arkansas town that is largely white. There isn’t much here in the way of children’s activities or centers where my children are introduced to many different kids. We start our day with a few tantrums, breakfast, and we go on about our day; some days, we go all day without even seeing anyone at all. Other days, we have playdates or normal interactions at a few stores or at the park. We hardly see anyone who speaks a different language or has a different skin tone. We rarely have encounters that warrant a talk about skin color, ethnicities, languages, or history. We just don’t talk about much that is different than us.
This is not great parenting on my part. I realized this when, at my preschooler’s open house, I saw so many different families and children who are different than us. Different skin tones, different ethnicities, religions, backgrounds. My mind raced, searching for some way I could easily rectify four years of not doing a good job at this. I drew blanks. I cringed as I thought about the rude, misunderstanding remarks my toddler might make to another child at school. I felt immeasurably guilty and angry with myself.
I’ve been thinking back to my own childhood, and I realize that I was not taught either. Besides the basics, like “the golden rule,” and “being different is okay,” there was no substance behind learning about different ethnicities, religions, skin tones, or the extent of racism in America. As a white woman who grew up in a white family, these topics “didn’t apply” to me, so it was easy to skip them. And it would be easy to skip them now, as I’m raising three white males in a white family.
But it’s not okay to skip them, and it’s not okay to skim them, either.
Many of us come from the “but I’m not a racist!” camp, which can easily snowball into a way to turn a blind eye to the racism that unfolds around us, whether we see it or read about it or hear it from our neighbors. Maybe we just don’t know how to confront how deeply uncomfortable it is to talk about this. Especially when we feel like we aren’t part of the problem.
Because I’m not racist, it’s my job to be more than anti-racist in sentiment. It’s not enough to simply tell my kids, “skin color doesn’t matter.” Raising a “color blind” child isn’t enough, because skin color does matter. It matters to the little boys and girls who have been teased because of it. It matters to the families that have endured prejudice comments in passing, or blatantly racist remarks on the streets. It matters to the children who have moms and dads with different religious and cultural backgrounds, different skin tones, and different traditions. It matters because racism is an undeniable part of American history, and it matters because it’s still an undeniable part of our society today. Teaching our children about this can start in the same way we might talk about bullying, but it will unfold into something more. As our children grow up, preparing them to be an ally for people who are systematically, historically, and culturally oppressed will make a difference as they grow up. It will make a difference as they might encounter laws and social movements–like many of the events that we have been seeing unfold in our world–and they decide to fight for the millions of amazing humans who deserve a voice and a place here.
Just like I’m not the perfect mother, I’m not the perfect ally. But I do know that I care about raising human beings who care about other human beings, on a level that goes beyond their zip code, skin color, religion, and ethnicity. I know that I want to be a better ally, just like how I want to be a better mother, always.
We are raising children who will lead the way into a new world. And when I envision that world, I hope that there will be much less hatred, and much more safety for all people here. That world starts with us, in our homes, in our towns, in our hearts.