Last Sunday I was stopped by a member of my congregation… someone from what I call my church family. She mentioned THIS is why I cannot, will not, comply, written after I explained to my son that I would probably (or not) be arrested on the National Day of Non-Compliance.
After confiding that she’d been thinking about that blog entry ever since, she started to talk about all the different classifications of Americans… Mexican, African, Native, Chinese etc.
I have to confess that I got a little nervous. Because the only thing harder than talking about race with people who are not white, in my experience, is talking about race with people who are. And I felt my shield go up, because I’ve heard one or two profoundly stupid things said in my church home, and I wasn’t sure what was coming. I was afraid it would be some argument about how all those prefixes should be dropped, and my mind was racing because I hadn’t been mentally prepared for a “that thing you said” conversation. But then she asked, “But what am I? Am I Caucasian or European American?” And I responded cautiously, still not sure where we were headed, “Well, there would be Italian, German, and Irish American…”
And then she asked the million dollar question. What can she do, in her day-to-day interactions, to challenge the assumption that Americans are of European descent by default, and everything else is “other.”
I wish I’d had a better answer. I’m a unusal case (in more ways than one, I know…) in that outside of work and church on Sunday, very few people who I see on a daily or weekly basis are white. I shared with her that I make it a point (with people who tend to use race or ethnicity to describe others when it is not relevant to the conversation), to mention EVERYONE’S race (aka, my “this white lady at walgreens” story), I don’t have those kinds of conversations often.
Tonight I was at a volunteer meeting for the Community Posada and someone (not white) mentioned Euro-Americans in a conversation, which was the motivation I needed to write this post and not table it until after I get all the other drafts in my head published. Most of the discussion on what I write happens in the link comments on my Facebook wall, but for the sake of centralizing feedback and hopefully providing some ideas and resources for others, I’d like to ask people to comment here and not on FB. You don’t need to sign up for an account to comment.
I want to hear from my Anglo/Euro/Caucasian American readers. Do you consciously use language to counteract the assumption that Americans are white by default? What does that sound like? How and when do you use it? What kind of reactions do you get? If you don’t, what kind of ideas do you have?
Thanks to all of you in advance, and a very special thanks to my sister. You renewed my faith last Sunday, as well as my commitment to continue witnessing, LOUDLY, about the costs of racism to white people. As proud as we may be to fight for justice, we need to acknowledge that we are also fighting for our own humanity.
A PS… This was written as a call for reflection & discussion to white/euro/anglo/gring@ people because I feel strongly we need to take more responsibility in creating equality and justice for all. People of privilege shouldn’t be looking to the people who are being oppressed to show us the light when we’re holding the matches and candles. That said, if you don’t fall into the targeted demographic and you have a suggestion about how we can do better or want to point out something we may do with the best of intentions that we really shouldn’t, jump right in.
- Own Your Beauty: On Being Multi-Racial in the Racist, Rural South (blogher.com)
- Why Racial Profiling Persists in Medical Research (time.com)
- All Are Alike Unto God: A Reaction to Margaret Blair Young and Darius Aidan Gray’s _Standing On the Promises_ Series (motleyvision.org)
There is an attitude among many parent-peers of mine in the DC metro area that frequently astounds me – parents I meet feel that by being “color blind” themselves, that somehow (magically?) their children will be open-minded, accepting, and capable of navigating complicated racial situations.
There really is no other way to say it…it’s a huge parenting failure. Maybe in an Utopian society we could all have the privilege of being “color blind,” but we live in the real world and only a fool thinks that color doesn’t matter on this planet.
A recent study by the Children’s Research Lab at the University of Texas backs up my POV on the subject. Austin area families participated in a study in which the goal was to determine “if typical children’s videos with multicultural story lines have a beneficial effect on children’s racial attitudes” (Newsweek).
There were three groups of families involved in the study. The first was group was sent home with just videos, the second group with videos and talking points, and the third group of families were given only the talking points. The last two groups were told to have conversations about race with their children every night for five nights.
At this point, something interesting happened. Five families in the last group abruptly quit the study. Two directly told Vittrup, “We don’t want to have these conversations with our child. We don’t want to point out skin color.”
Vittrup was taken aback—these families volunteered knowing full well it was a study of children’s racial attitudes. Yet once they were aware that the study required talking openly about race, they started dropping out.
“We don’t want to point out skin color.” Does that stop anyone from noticing skin color? Does that stop children from forming opinions on their own? In the absence of a guiding influence, children will substitute their own poor judgments, or worse, the hate-filled judgments of someone else.
The study went on to say:
It was no surprise that in a liberal city like Austin, every parent was a welcoming multiculturalist, embracing diversity. But according to Vittrup’s entry surveys, hardly any of these white parents had ever talked to their children directly about race. They might have asserted vague principles—like “Everybody’s equal” or “God made all of us” or “Under the skin, we’re all the same”—but they’d almost never called attention to racial differences.
They wanted their children to grow up colorblind. But Vittrup’s first test of the kids revealed they weren’t colorblind at all. Asked how many white people are mean, these children commonly answered, “Almost none.” Asked how many blacks are mean, many answered, “Some,” or “A lot.” Even kids who attended diverse schools answered the questions this way.
More disturbing, Vittrup also asked all the kids a very blunt question: “Do your parents like black people?” Fourteen percent said outright, “No, my parents don’t like black people”; 38 percent of the kids answered, “I don’t know.” In this supposed race-free vacuum being created by parents, kids were left to improvise their own conclusions—many of which would be abhorrent to their parents.
Are these parents really surprised? If you have values to impart to your children about equality, it will take more than vague statements about everyone being “the same.” Kids are smart. They know very well that we are not all “the same.” What they need to hear is that we are all uniquely different, and they need reasons to value that uniqueness. You, parents, need to find ways to value people of color. Find ways to compliment and seek out positive statements to impart to your children. Have frequent, open conversations about race. Talk about slavery, talk about segregation, talk about miscegenation, talk about stereotypes and hurtful language…talk, talk, and then talk more! Kids need to know what is acceptable and they need to see with eyes that are wide open, not color blind.
At first glance, the study appears to be a dismal failure. Many of the families did not talk about race at all, or changed the talking points. However, there was a ray of hope:
Of all those Vittrup told to talk openly about interracial friendship, only six families managed to actually do so. And, for all six, their children dramatically improved their racial attitudes in a single week. Talking about race was clearly key. Reflecting later about the study, Vittrup said, “A lot of parents came to me afterwards and admitted they just didn’t know what to say to their kids, and they didn’t want the wrong thing coming out of the mouth of their kids.”
In ONE short week, all six of those families improved the racial attitudes of their children. By TALKING. Imagine that.
I understand that parents are hesitant to talk about race for fear of saying the wrong thing. I encourage you (beg, really) to try. Seek out some material if you need it. There are books, websites, and blogs with plenty of good advice. The simplest (and most obvious) thing to do, is to seek out some interracial friendships of your own, and then talk to your friends about how to discuss race. I guarantee they will be happy to help you have positive discussions about race with your children. Also, it’s worth saying that if you espouse a desire to have children who embrace multiculturalism, and you have no friends of color, then you should practice being what you desire your children to be. If your children never see you have a meaningful friendship with someone of another race, what does that really tell them? Just food for thought.
What I do know, is that doing nothing is the wrong answer. Clearly, not talking about race leaves children confused and unsure at best, and harboring racist thoughts at worst. It’s up to parents to guide our children through complicated racial issues. It’s time to embrace the task, rather than dread it. What could be more affirming than to teach your children how to walk in this world, not colorblind, but with an appreciation for diversity and a sense of value for all people.
originally posted at Golden Acorn Homeschool » Blog Archive » Why You Should Be Talking About Race.
- Is It OK to Point Out the Differences Among Races? (race.change.org)
- Colorblind parents could handicap their biracial kids (thegrio.com)
- Getting to Post-Post-Racial (theroot.com)
- Starting the conversation (psychologytoday.com)
- Wray Herbert: Colorblind? Or Just Blind to Justice? (huffingtonpost.com)
There’s not a whole lot more I can say that hasn’t already been said by Macon, so I won’t recreate the wheel, except to say this: any time you are tempted to ask someone whether they’re being hypersensitive about race (which is code for accusing them of playing the race card), ask yourself FIRST whether you’re being INsensitive about race (and put away your white privilege card).
So far, I would say it’s something like this — white people don’t have to think much about race; however, given the ongoing reality of racism, most non-white people do have to think about it, and analyze it, and figure out how it works. As a result, most white people know less about racism than most non-white people do. Nevertheless, a great, sad, and even tragic irony is that when non-white people take the time and effort to explain examples of racism, white people often doubt what they’re hearing, they often think they know more about a phenomenon with which they’ve had less direct experience, and they often want to talk about something else instead. They also commonly fail to understand how dismissive they’re being when they do those things.
- Dr. Laura Reveals 15 Ways to Pretend You’re Not Racist (race.change.org)
- You won’t have Dr. Laura to kick around anymore (pinkbananaworld.com)
- Dr. Laura’s N-bomb meltdown (salon.com)
- Dr. Laura’s Rhetoric More Offensive than her Words (psychologytoday.com)
- Dr. Laura’s n-word rant the latest in string of slurs (thegrio.com)
- 5 Ways White People Should Continue to Seek Justice for Oscar Grant (race.change.org)
I bookmarked this two years ago, and I can’t believe it seems more relevant now than it did then.
- How to tell someone they’re Racist (pinkbananaworld.com)
I touched on issues surrounding the term illegal alien* a couple weeks ago in Walking the (color)Line, when I mentioned a couple ways I suspected this term has affected my children’s perceptions of the Latino community. There was a part of me that wondered whether I was reading too much into things… but let’s just say that’s no longer a concern. Within the last week or two, I read a blog or article about multiracial girls being asked what color their husbands would be. I wondered if Halle had ever heard or been asked something like this. I made a little note to self to bring it up, but Thursday night in the car, she raised the subject. She was talking about how she was going to date a boy for one year when she grew up, and asked if that was too long. I told her it depended on the boy; with some boys, a year might be too long, with another, a year may not be long enough. She suddenly started talking about whether this boy might be white or black and something about so and so… I interrupted and asked if people asked her that, and she confirmed. Then I asked, “Do you guys talk about that?” and she responds matter of factly, “Oh, yeah.” I asked if that was something that had just come up this year, and she said no, it was last year too. I asked how it came up, and she said, just when they talk about who they think is cute. She continued with her story…
“Anyway, so and so asked me once, and I said he would probably be Black or White, but not Mexican, but then I met Tristan, and I like him and I think he’s cute, and he’s Mexican…”
Her voice trailed off.
I asked why she hadn’t thought she would date someone who was Mexican before Tristan.
“Well, cuz they do a lot of bad things. I mean, they’re always on the news cuz they’re criminals… and stuff.”
cue my breaking (anti-racist) heart.
Needless to say, we had an immediate conversation about perception, stereotypes, racism, media bias, and Bull Connor Jr. Nickel Bag Joe Sherrif Arpaio. And we will continue to have these conversations (and others, like how there are a lot more people in the world than just Black, White or Hispanic), because this IS a big problem. And it’s not because this flies in the face of what I believe personally, but because the seed of racism is finding roothold in the heart of THIS child.
This is my UU, social justice, civil action child. This is the child who drew the line with her peers over the n-word. This is the child who has volunteered to mentor special needs kids or served in student government or both for three of the four years she’s been attending her current school. This is the child whose teacher has made it a point to contact me no less than three times so far this school year to express his gratitude to and praise the way Halle had befriended a new ESL student, which makes me wonder that my daughter’s unreserved offer of friendship is already rare by the age of 10. This is the child who took the initiative, unsolicited, and went to a Spanish-speaking teacher to get a “cheat sheet” of basic conversational phrases, and carried two spanish english dictionaries with her every day for the first two months of school.
“Now think carefully about what I’m saying, and why it matters. Here was a woman who no longer could recognize her own children; a woman who had no idea who her husband had been; no clue where she was, what her name was, what year it was; and yet, knew what she had been taught at a very early age to call black people. Once she was no longer capable of resisting this demon, tucked away like a ticking time bomb in the far corners of her mind, it would reassert itself and explode with a vengeance. She could not remember how to feed herself. She could not go to the bathroom by herself. She could not recognize a glass of water for what it was. But she could recognize a nigger. America had seen to that, and no disease would strip her of that memory. Indeed, it would be one of the last words I would hear her say, before finally she stopped talking at all. “ ~Tim Wise, White Like Me
When one refers to an immigrant as an “illegal alien,” they are using the term as a noun. They are effectively saying that the individual, as opposed to any actions that the individual has taken, is illegal. The term “illegal alien” implies that a person’s existence is criminal. I’m not aware of any other circumstance in our common vernacular where a crime is considered to render the individual – as opposed to the individual’s actions – as being illegal. We don’t even refer to our most dangerous and vile criminals as being “illegal.”
Think About the Children
When Bardwell said interracial children “suffer” and are not accepted by blacks or whites, he was simply looking out for the couple’s best interest, Steve Benen sarcastically assures his readers at The Washington Monthly. “What a good point. The societal stigma on kids from mixed-race couples is so overwhelming, those kids would never have an opportunity to, say, grow up and someday seek the presidency of the United States.”
So unless you’ve been under a rock (or at least, if you haven’t read my blog this week, which is really the same thing, right?), you know that a Justice of the Peace refused to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple. A lot of people are expressing shock and awe… I’ve seen several comments to the effect, “this is 2009, not 1967.”
Ummm… peeps… I hate to point out the obvious, but Loving vs. Virginia didn’t make us any more post-racial than the 2008 elections. You may not have caught it, but in an article I posted last week, Gallup surveys were cited that indicate only 48 percent of Americans approved of marriage between blacks and whites in 1994, up 77 percent by 2007.
It’s 2009. 1994 was only 15 years ago. My oldest was born in 1996. Read more…