I didn’t even understand or grasp that race was an issue until high school. There was a new English teacher who was black. And I never judged him, but he told me, I know what it’s like for you to wake up and come to school, but you have no idea what it’s like for me to wake up and come to school. Was it harsh? Probably. But did I understand him, not at the time. Now I do.
At the time I was so angry – how dare he judge me, he didn’t know anything about me, what I had been through or what kind of person I was. Now as an adult, I wish I could tell my younger self that’s what he felt every day, because every day he was judged and I wasn’t. Honestly, I wish he would have explained that part of it to me, that because I am white I don’t know the constant judgment, the constant looks and watchful eyes that he gets as a black man. The fact that he can’t go to the grocery store and grab a few things without being watched, without the eyes accusing before anything has happened. I never knew. I didn’t know he was treated as a guilty party before it happened and I didn’t know that it started when he was a child. I’m so ashamed and hurt that it still happens to this day.
So now that I’m an adult and have children, I know it’s very important that they learn about white privilege. My children are mixed races, and I’m sure people will know they are mixed, how do I teach them? I was so blinded, and I didn’t even realize I was getting white privilege because I didn’t know that every other race was judged and treated differently because of their skin, because they weren’t white. I could go to the store and not feel judged. I could see a police officer and not be scared I would be accused. I felt safe.
I wish I could explain this wrong to other white people. The fact that we don’t know, and we didn’t know, that everywhere someone of color went, they didn’t feel safe. They don’t feel protected. Will my kids be treated differently when they’re in the store with me versus just with their father, of course. Before I wouldn’t have even noticed, but now I do. Now I need to make sure I teach them that racism exists and what white privilege means.
It’s ignorance that white people say all lives matter, it’s ignorance that white people don’t believe there is systematic racism, it’s ignorance of not knowing a black child will get stared at like he will steal when at a store looking at the toys and a white kid gets cute remarks when he looks at the toys. Having white privilege doesn’t make me a bad person, but not acknowledging that I have it is the problem. We can begin to make change by talking about it and being aware that it happens. I need to be sure I talk about it with my children so that they can be aware that it exists and be the change.
The important message here it to start the dialogue with everyday things. A friend told me about a Sesame Street episode where Elmo shares that all the leaves on a tree are different but they’re all part of the tree and their differences make them beautiful. That is something a small child can relate to and start to grasp. I used to worry that if I had taught them to see color that they would become racist. Now I know just because they see color it isn’t bad. It is a beautiful thing!
There are many ways you can begin these conversations with your kids, and reading is a great place to start. Thankfully, there are many books you can check out so you can both learn together. I like to always remind myself, just because they’re a child doesn’t make them less intelligent. It’s ok for you to learn together. You don’t always have to know more than they do. I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to know or teach everything but is is important to tell our kids “I don’t know. Let’s learn together.” That is a great teaching moment in itself. Adults don’t know everything and that makes learning new things less intense for children. I hope that this sparks you to open up about race and make it a conversation about love and respect.