As a white mom of two preschool age white boys, I don’t want to talk so much about #altonsterling and #philandocastile that I drown out black voices. White people need to be amplifying black voices talking about THEIR experiences.
On the other hand, it’s important that white people express outrage so that we wake up. Decades of black anger hasn’t resulted in significant enough change. Even if we disagree with some of what is being said, it’s our job to listen.
The day Alton Sterling was killed, I decided to do something provocative and unusual. I asked my two boys to come hop on the couch with me because mommy had to explain what racism is. They are 4 and 2.5. We talked about what slavery means. How a long time ago, people with black skin were forced to mow the lawn and clean houses for people with white skin. They weren’t paid money, they couldn’t leave to play mini golf or go to Target, and they were treated in a mean way. I explained how this was wrong, but it took a long time for our leaders to fix it and make slavery forbidden.
I explained that today, people with black skin and white skin are “equal.” And that because slavery was stopped, Kelsey and Sky are allowed to be in his class and Logan is allowed to live in our neighborhood. Then I explained how people die: getting hurt in a car, being very sick, or by weapons like guns. I explained that police officers use guns as a part of their job to keep people safe.
Then we talked about how white people and black people are still not treated equally even though the laws say we should be. I told them that the police came to help a store and they thought Alton was doing something wrong. I told them that he didn’t have a chance to explain himself and that the police officers may have thought he was scary because he was black. And they they hurt him with a gun. I explained that sometimes, white people don’t give black people the same chances and that it’s not fair. Yes, this is a gross oversimplification with details that have yet to be confirmed.
Then, I asked my older son about his water gun, a gift I wasn’t particularly thrilled with at the time. I asked him if he’d ever thought to take it to the pool. “Yes,” he said. I told him we couldn’t. That little boys with black skin aren’t safe taking water guns to the pool and even though he is, it’s not fair so we won’t be either. Again, there is so much nuance I can’t even touch yet because they are so little–but Tamir Rice was killed for having a toy gun while playing so it’s not exactly a stretch to suggest this.
I asked him if he had any questions and he shook his head. “No. Can I have some goldfish now?” and probably understood 5% of what I said. Fine. I opened a door though.
We need to ensure our children challenge the biases society will teach them and that they actively fight racism in our country. We have to do something. We have to start somewhere. And the dialogue begins now because my children already see differences in skin color. It’s scary but just buying books for them with brown and black protagonists doesn’t seem like enough anymore. Racism and death are hardly topics for preschoolers. It feels cruel to introduce them so early because it robs them of their childhood innocence. You know what would be better?
Eradicating racism so we can limit it’s discussion to history class. Philando Castile’s girlfriend’s daughter (possibly as young as 4) watched him die in the driver seat of their vehicle as he bleed profusely through his white t-shirt. If she and the children of Alton Sterling have to accept the reality of their dead parents, it doesn’t seem unreasonable that I begin to educate my white children by presenting a sterilized version of what racism is and how we need to keep our eyes open for unfairness.
It’s time, white folks, that we look deeply and acknowledge that our upbringings are very different than those of even our “black friends” for the very reason that WE AREN’T BLACK. There is a chronic deficient of empathy in our country and it results in mommy shaming, invalidating the experiences of LGBT community, and yes, racism. But it’s so much more subtle than that.
The problem with racism in this country is that no single incident can ever be 100% attributed to race. But race cannot be excluded as a contributor either. The whole concept of racism is that it consists of biases we are both aware and unaware of. Few will admit to conscious ones. But to completely dismiss that unconscious ones exist is a problem that is going to catch up to us eventually. Like in the repeated deaths of black people at the hand of white people with power.
To admit that these killings could have been racially-fueled means that we all have to admit that we each are a teeny tiny part of the problem–that we harbor subtle racially motivated biases. Minds quickly round that up to “BUT I’M NOT RACIST BECAUSE THAT’S SUPER BAD.” People panic so they just write it off quickly without examining their own minds, upbringings, experiences and comparing them to others’. It’s understandable but it’s not acceptable.
I beg and plead with you to put your ego aside and just consider your personal biases (this tool is a great start), however vanishingly small they may be, especially if you have said any of the following lately:
- “but did you see his rap sheet?”
- “if he had just followed the officer’s directions”
- “but what about all the babies who are being murdered by abortion, don’t you care about them?”
- “if they would just protest politely, violence doesn’t solve anything”
- “but police lives matter too and so do white lives”
- “but what about that time that black person was mean to me?”
This doesn’t come down to any occupation because frankly, teachers and school administrators should also be held to higher standards when it comes to racial inequality. We can’t make excuses anymore–even for those whose jobs are inherently difficult or dangerous. We are all contributing a tiny bit and most of us don’t even realize it which is exactly why we still have a problem. We have to hold ourselves to a higher personal and professional standard. Discovering out own biases may uncover some uncomfortable realizations but it’s the least we can do. Literally, the very least we can do.
Black people are not responsible for their own oppression. It’s not on them to comfort or inform us. It’s on us to bear witness to their pain and advocate for justice and equality and it begins when we, as white people, take a step back for self-reflection. It’s time to think much more deeply than we ever have because if we don’t, people will die.
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