My husband and I are raising three white, middle class, native English speaking, American boys. They will be the most privileged when they grow up. We talk about how privilege and responsibility go hand in hand; you can’t have one without the other.
The question I often ask myself is: “If their voices will be heard the loudest, what do I want them to say?”
Here’s what I’ve been doing with my white boys since George Floyd’s death:
Witness George Floyd’s death. We watched the video with our two older boys, 9 and almost 6. Black kids don’t have the luxury of ignoring that video. That’s been made clear again with the shooting of Jacob Blake. When I imagine my three boys being in our car, and my husband being shot before their eyes, my stomach churns and my chest hurts.
Share stories. We do Family Meeting once a week for 10-20 minutes. We’ve gone from reading a Bible story to sharing our own stories and reading books about people of color (POC). One story my husband shared was when a black man was getting verbally assaulted on the el, and not one person stood up for him, including my husband. We all have a story like this. Our goal is to share these stories, and guide our kids to become allies, not silent accomplices.
Walk in solidarity. My three boys and I attended a rally and peaceful walk back in June. I thought they would complain and be annoyed, but I could not believe all that they absorbed. Later that day, as they jumped on the trampoline, I heard them chanting, “Say his name! George Floyd! Say her name! Breonna Taylor!” And while rallies and protests are good, my biggest goal is to…
Start talking about race, like…at all. Prior to George Floyd’s death, we’d talk about Martin Luther King Jr. on his birthday. Maybe I’d check out some books in February with POC, but that was about it. We’ve started pointing out the shades of people’s skin, noticing that, even without our family, our shades can be different. It’s working, because a few weeks ago, we went to check into our rental in Michigan, and the security guard greeted us at the gate. I started talking to him, asked the kids to say hi, and my middle stated, all matter-of-fact, “You’re a black person.” Was it a little awkward? Yes. But it was an ice breaker, and we talked to him for 10 minutes. A wall came down, not up.
Study a new person of color (POC). Starting with Ruby Bridges, we spend a few meetings/weeks focusing on the same POC. Our resources include mostly books and YouTube. After Ruby, we learned about John Lewis, and now: Kamala Harris.
Search for books and media with POC. First, I gathered a bunch of books, DVDs, and video games from around our house. At one family meeting, we counted how many white characters there were vs. POC. The boys were surprised to see how few there were. We discussed how that would feel if we read books, watched movies, and played video games with characters who looked nothing like us.
Luckily, our elementary school sent out several book lists (Bluestem, New York Public Library, etc). The majority of the suggestions were written by and/or about POC. We read the picture books at family meeting, and my oldest read the chapter books on his own, even recommending one to me.
Discuss white privilege. This was our 4th of July family meeting topic. I thought it was appropriate to talk about the freedoms and privileges we have that others do not. The kids were shocked to hear about Tamir Rice, the young boy who was playing with a toy water gun and shot by police. *(Scroll down for the list.)*
Watch programs about race. Sesame Street and Nickelodeon put out thoughtful programming as a response after George Floyd died. We watched as a family, and this was something even the two year old could be a part of. Even TikTok has some good content (watched with an adult who can quickly swipe up, of course). My nine year old couldn’t believe what black kids had to do when they go into stores: don’t touch unless you plan on buying, always keep the receipt and keep your purchase in a bag.
Some might wonder what the impact is of these small actions. What are they really accomplishing?
About a month ago, we were eating outside at Culver’s. Three middle school aged kids showed up and chose a table next to us. A black employee came out, gave the table a thorough wipe down, and started walking away. One of the tweens said, “Thanks, Tyrone” just loud enough for his friends and us to hear. Then he giggled and followed up with, “Dude- what if that was really his name?” My husband and I exchanged glances that said, “Did he just…choose a random black name?”
“Hey guys,” I called out. “Do you know that employee? You know for sure that’s his name?”
Immediately, the kid’s face flushed red, and he started sputtering, “I…uh…well…no. I don’t.”
“Maybe next time, don’t do that?” He nodded to my suggestion, and they walked in to order.
Our boys asked why we said that, and we explained that we both just got really uncomfortable, and that was our clue to speak up. Bringing it full circle, my husband reminded them about the time he saw something, but didn’t say anything.
“I think the worst part for that guy on the el,” he told them, “wasn’t even the guys being mean. It was the train full of people who remained silent and said nothing to defend him.”
We’re not doing anything earth-shattering with our boys. The is our response to feeling helpless and wondering what we can actually do. We can’t erase hundreds of years of racism or deconstruct our racist society.
But we can do small things at home, in our own family. We are doing more than we did three months ago. Now that we know better, we must do better. And we hope that if our white boys see something, they will use their voice to say something.
* July 4th Family Meeting: White Privilege discussion*
Being around people who mostly look like me.
Owning a house…with a hot tub!
Shopping without being followed.
Reading books/watching tv/ playing video games with people who look like me.
Protecting my children/family easily, with few worries.
Wearing a hoodie sweatshirt.
Putting on a band aid that matches my skin.
Not worrying about my daddy driving alone, running alone, etc.
Playing with a toy water gun without being shot by police.
Being trusted by other people.