We Need to Talk About Race: Epiblogue

I wasn't clear in yesterday's post and felt the need to clarify, especially after a sort of onslaught of comments that I felt misunderstood my post, so let me try this again. Frankly, I feel sick that anyone would think Archer is ashamed of who he is. That was not the point of my post at all.

His comments weren't in response to the Trayvon Martin case (which we did not share with him, full disclosure) but in response to learning about Civil Rights and MLK in school. We had never had a conversation about race before because we wanted to keep him in the "love and acceptance" bubble that many of you mentioned in yesterday's comments.

As most of you know, we live in Los Angeles. Our friends are a melting pot of different cultures and religions and races and sexual orientations. Archer's included. He had no idea that segregation occurred, that there was a time (in very recent history!) when he would have attended a different school than his best friends because of his/their difference in skin color. That blew his mind and broke his heart because of course it did. Of course!

I shared Archer's commentary in yesterday's post because like many of our conversations these last few days, his words were coming from a place of concern, empathy, frustration and disenchantment. Feelings I can certainly relate to at the moment and I thought, perhaps you guys could, too.

As I said in the comments of yesterday's post, children say aloud the things we often feel but refuse to say. And what he said (as it so often is) was a wake-up call to me that we needed to have a conversation, not only about racial injustice but about how far we've come as a society and how far we still must go. 

Sometimes it IS an embarrassment of riches to be on the privileged side of society. We are taught that everyone is equal but is everyone TRULY treated equally? (This is a great post by my friend Kristen if you haven't already read it.)

Just because race is a non-issue in your household, doesn't mean it isn't an issue. Just because racism isn't your problem, doesn't mean it isn't OUR problem.

Anyway, I wanted to include some of your comments, which I thought might be helpful for those of you trying to navigate this topic with your kids. Because we HAVE NO CHOICE but to navigate this topic with our kids. Racial injustice is a large part of our history (and present, unfortunately). It's taught in school (as well it should be) and we must know how to to respectfully broach these issues/topics/truths with our children.

Something I think might be a wonderful resource to you is the material that's out there on how to be an ally (googling that phrase and the word racism for gobs of resources). I think that, especially with children, we have to talk not only about what's hard in the world, but about the ways that we can help work to make it better. And white children need to learn how to be allies to people of color (POC) in the struggle against structural, institutionalized racism, because oppressed people should not carry that burden alone. Learning to be an ally is a process of learning when to speak out, learning not to expect POC to educate you on issues of racism, and learning how to not make something about you. - Amelia

I grew up going to probably about 90% African American public schools in Detroit as a middle class, shy white girl, and I often felt excluded, sometimes based on race (not maliciously usually so much as kids tendency to stick to the familiar) - sometimes not based on race, of course. Nevertheless, I never once was made to feel that I was in any way inferior or that there was a single reason that I wouldn't be able to do anything in the world I set my mind to, which is partially about great parenting, but I really believe is in large part ingrained in all Americans from early childhood, that white people have all the doors open to them, where other groups need to try busting the door down. Reading the part of Malcolm Gladwell's Blink about racial priming and how African American students would perform significantly more poorly on tests when simply asked what their race is was a real eye opener. It's not that I feel like white people should go around feeling guilty all the time, but making a real effort to stare privilege in the face, acknowledging that it exists, and keeping it in the front of one's mind when making all the little decisions and having the individual conversations that make up one's interactions with society seems to me a civic duty.  - Emily 

This is super dorky, but I have a Harry Potter quote that (for me) speaks to this. Because I'm a white girl too...and it's hard to explain these nuances. In one of the books Harry is struggling with some things he's learned about his past and his potential legacy to an evil group. While he's turned down a chance to work with them, he's stressed by the fact that he's technically associated with them. He shares this with Dumbledore (the head master) and Dumbledores response is "It is our CHOICES that make us who we are." To me this is very profound. And perhaps the beginning of how you explain the past we are linked to as white people (or any other race really...we all have our crap to deal with I suppose). We've done some lame things as a race. But we as individuals aren't defined by that. - AE

...We talk about the differences in the way people are treated. I tell them that some people are more likely to be targeted by police or arrested because of their colour. I tell them they won't likely have those problems because they are white, and that THIS IS NOT OKAY. Sometimes when we watch TV or films, we talk about how many non-white or non-female characters there were, and what they think about that. - Marjane
I took my daughters- Lola and Ever- to the Balboa Park vigil for Trayvon Martin. And one of the speakers at one point talked about 'white suppression' with such rage that on the way home, my daughter asked me about it, with the same kind of sadness and shame. Is this 'white guilt'? I don't know. I do know that my response to her was that, basically, we cannot understand what it feels like to have a lifetime of being afraid or feeling less than for the color of our skin, and that those kinds of feelings make people very angry. I told her that she has done nothing wrong and that racism is something passed on by family or picked up by the choice of someone who feels small and unimportant and full of self-hate, as a way to feel bigger, better. And then .... the conversation went on for a half hour. In the end I was so glad we had it. And we will keep talking. -Maggie May
...I have always tried to be open and allow the conversations to flow. I think when a parent bristles at a certain topic, a child can sense the uneasiness and is left more confused. - ndrcortez
I can't tell you how much i have appreciated loveisntenough.com ("raising a family in a colorstruck world") when it comes to thinking/talking about these issues. The website is primarily aimed at adoptive white parents raising children of color, but the focus on children (of all ages) and the lessons we teach them both verbally and by example are totally invaluable. - Andrea 
Ask Moxie has put together two incredibly thoughtful posts this week that say it way better than I can...super practical tips on talking to your kids about race, and good conversations in the comments as well. - Megan
Try the PBS doc "Race: The Power of an Illusion" to get started, and then maybe read Tim Wise's blog (he tackles white privilege head-on.) - lizzilu
I think we as parents have an incredibly difficult time confronting the topic of racism with our children because it makes us uncomfortable. Not a novel thought, but important to note. We fear we might shatter the perfect world image our children hold, perhaps we might destroy their innocence, or confuse them. We tip-toe around the subject instead of producing empirical evidence and frank conversation, and in the process, we create the problem all over again. When we refuse to be up-front and factual with our children about why racism exists, we create ignorant individuals who move forward without change in thought. Children are insatiably curious, so when we don’t provide real answers and instead say such vague statements like "Everyone is different, and that's ok! Love everyone!", we leave them unsatisfied. Realizing there's more to the story (kid's aren't fooled by this talk), our children turn to other sources, such as music, the media, and their friends. I don’t think anyone needs reminded that the reason racism exists is because it's been embedded in every facet of our society, so why do we leave our children's opinions (which will feel like facts to them) up to a racist society?...  -sparrowsky

Thanks to everyone for participating in this conversation.

With respect,