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)
Don’t need a trip to the beauty shop. ‘Cause I love what I got on top. It’s curly and it’s brown and it’s right up there! You know what I love? That’s right, my hair! I really love my hair!
While I was talking with various people about SB1070 over the last week or two, I noticed looks of surprise and confusion from white and brown people alike when I talked about the cost of laws like this to Whites. I’ve added an additional link to my page of Anti Racist White Allies (no, that doesn’t HAVE to be an oxyoron) that speaks more directly to those costs.
I think it’s important not to set ourselves up on too high a pedestal or delude ourselves into thinking that we are in this fight for people of color. While the effects of SB1070 and other forms of institutional racism are clearly more devastating to minority groups, they hurt white people to, and we have a vested interest in this fight.
WE TEND TO THINK OF RACISM as a problem for people of color and something we should be concerned about for their sake. It is true that racism is devastating to them, and if we believe in justice, quality, and equal opportunity for all, then we should be trying to end it. As we saw in the last sections, racism does produce material benefits for white people. However, the costs of racism to white people are devastating, especially to those of us without the money and power to buffer their effects. They are not the same costs as the day-to-day violence, discrimination, and harassment that people of color have to deal with. Nevertheless, they are significant costs that we have been trained to ignore, deny, or rationalize away. They are costs that other white people, particularly those with wealth, make us pay in our daily lives. It is sobering for us as white people to talk together about what it really costs to maintain such a system of division and exploitation in our society. We may even find it difficult to recognize some of the core costs of being white in our society.
The title is a little misleading; while this was day one for many who stood on the side of love that day, my community has been living under SB1070 for two years this coming February… under 287(g). Please note that when I say my community, I don’t mean my county or even my city. I mean, MY NEIGHBORHOOD. The student body at my son’s high school is 71% Hispanic, 22% Black. 4% White, 2% Native American, and .6% Asian. When Sheriff Joe “Bull” Arpaio does an immigration sweep, it’s not in Scottsdale or Paradise Valley, it’s in neighborhoods like mine that are going to give him the biggest bang for his buck… the highest numbers of “suspected” illegal immigrants for his media whoring.
Unlike PurpleCrayon, friend and member of my church fam, I was neither shocked nor surprised by the show of force from the good Sheriff. It’s funny to me that the Sheriff’s Posse always seems to strike in the hours just before & after dawn or dusk, but there’s nary a Posse to be found in the wee hours of the morning as I lie in bed listing to what I hope is random, rather than intentional, gunfire. Don’t worry about those gangs of urban terrorists Joe… you go on and russle up some landscapers and day laborers instead, cowboy.
I have been trying for a couple days now to sort through everything that happened during the National Day of Non-Compliance and throughout the weekend. How do I summarize all that I witnessed, everything I felt? There are so many different facets that I’m struggling to organize them, and I’m starting to think this might be a multi post series. Read more…