Seeing Race

Photo of Kilodavis family via MyPrincessBoy.com

Photo of Kilodavis family via MyPrincessBoy.com

This past Sunday, my friend Cheryl Kilodavis, author of My Princess Boy posted this to her personal Facebook wall (reposted with permission):

“I am so F’in tired of people racial profiling my son! Last week a white man said, “Move blackie” as he was walking home alone from the store. The week before that as my son was weeding our street traffic circle (just because), another man stared at him and said “hey boy, you better live by here.” And today after scanning my items, the white cashier asked him “where is the candy bar?” I told her he put it back. She said, “I saw him grab it and walk around the store with it.” I said …AND he put it back. She looked at him and said with a smirk, “where is it!” I told her my son is not a thief and it’s my job to parent him. She said, “apparently it’s my job.” I asked for the supervisor, who said the cashier was wrong and apologized to me and said the woman would be talked to. In the car Dko said, “you handled that well mom.” I said, “that’s all you can do.” Once home I told Dean what happened and shed tears of frustration feeling there really isn’t anything we can do except address the wrong doings of others and hope for growth. Be pre-warned, I am not in any mood to entertain this isn’t racially motivated. So if you feel like going there, do me a favor first—unfriend me!”

How could anyone read what Cheryl posted and think it wasn’t racially motivated?

No matter the color of our president, we simply do not live in a “post-racial” society. Cheryl’s status update is proof positive of that. Need more? Trayvon Martin comes to mind. Or just this past weekend when a Maryland movie theater used armed guards for an opening of The Butler.

So what now? How do we progress in a way so that Cheryl’s son (and all young children of color) can grow up without being treated in demeaning, demoralizing, and (subtle and not so subtle) racist ways?

The same day I read Cheryl’s status update, this HuffPo post came across my screen: For Whites (like Me): On White Kids. Jennifer Harvey wrote about striking the following platitudes from our parenting lexicon:

1. “Everybody is equal.”

2. “We’re all the same underneath our skin.”

[…]

Turns out our kids, literally, don’t know what “everybody is equal” means. It’s an empty phrase. A numbed out flourish. (Sugar.)

Meanwhile, they are daily assailed by a relentless barrage of anti-black imagery, Native American stereotypes, slurs against dark-skinned non-native English speakers and on and on.

Our happy equality and shared humanity platitudes just don’t stand a chance. It’s sort of like putting your kid in front of a 30-minute television show. The first 28 minutes show children bullying and generally treating each other like crap. The last two resolve into a nice, moral lesson on kindness. Guess which part of the show kids absorb and imitate? (Another amazing study reported in Nurture Shock.)

I agree with Harvey, and while we’re at it, can we please strike “I don’t see race” from our vocabulary. Not only does it fail to address the issues inherent with systemic racism, but it erases people’s identities as well. Fail all around. So please. Stop with your “I don’t see color” or “I don’t see race” shtick. Different races exist! Let’s acknowledge and move forward.

We can certainly tell our children that everybody should be equal, but the unfortunate reality is that – right now – not everyone is treated equally. My son, on his end, gets it to a degree. He has learned about the history of the Jewish people, so he knows that people can be treated poorly for being different. He has also learned about the struggle for Civil Rights, and has started connecting the dots. He still struggles to understand why anyone would treat one of his best friends (a mixed race boy) any different, because according to EZ, “Q is the coolest.” But just because my son has friends of various races and treats them the same as he treats all of his friends (that’s to say he’ll forget to share with everyone equally on occasion), doesn’t mean my job as a parent is done.

My son still needs to understand how race and racism work in the world overall. We’re lucky that we live in a happy, liberal bubble, but I feel like I have to work twice as hard to let my son know that the rest of the world doesn’t necessarily jive with his neighborhood.

Harvey brings it home for me in the end:

If we want our white children to live in a world with more racial justice than the one we live in now, we need to figure out how to have conversations with them as real, thick, painful, resilient, strategic and authentic as the conversations those parents had to have. So that our kids can help build that world.

So, let’s have these conversations. And let’s stand up and cry out against despicable, racist behavior like the kind Cheryl and Dko were exposed to. Let’s teach our kids that behavior like this happens because of a person’s skin color and that is not okay. Refuse to hide behind platitudes that are not effective at creating true change.

(side note: while there are many in support of Harvey’s piece, many of the comments only prove my point. I know. I know. Never read the comments. sigh.)

7 thoughts on “Seeing Race

  1. I think the permanent welfare state and the gaps between inner city and suburbs have had a large contribution to the inequality. It’s easy for people to look at a person’s skin color and say (or think) “You don’t belong in this neighborhood.” because there IS such huge segregation. White people going into certain neighborhoods experience the same thing. Until we can get rid of cradle to the grave poverty and the welfare programs that actually promote poverty, it will be difficult to erase those lines. Try reading Roll Away The Stone. It was a real eye opener for me and changed the way I think about a lot of things. http://www.amazon.com/Roll-Away-Stone-Americas-Children/dp/1882480155

  2. Nurture Shock is such a big help in understanding WHY and being able to explain why avoiding racial discussions is such a bad idea for my white family. I can pull up that chapter on the Kindle app on my phone and read passages. Yes, it’s comfortable for you; that’s quite for adult whites. No, it’s not uncomfortable or strange for a kid; we will be talking about race with our child(ren). I’m planting the seeds of this idea while he’s still in his first year, so that by the time the discussions begin in earnest, they are less shocked. I am so determined that my son understand, when it’s age appropriate to talk about it, that his light eyes and hair and pale skin mean getting free candy instead of being accused of stealing it! >_<

  3. Post racial is a joke. We’re not there yet and “I don’t see race” has done a disservice to everyone — even if, let’s pretend, it began with good intentions. Hell was also paved the same way. I feel for this mother and her family and I have an enormous amount of empathy.

  4. Pingback: Naming Privilege | The Mamafesto

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