This isn’t a direction that I pictured taking my blog, but there has been something weighing heavily for me lately and I feel like I need to write about it.
I think Chris Rock made an excellent point in his opening monologue at The Academy Awards, that I can relate to my own environment: Hollywood isn’t “burning-cross racist” or “fetch-me-some-lemonade racist” and neither is my world. But passive, marginalizing comments are too frequent. There are lots of marginalized people, but what I have seen in my news feed lately and the casual statements I’ve heard are specifically toward African-Americans. I’ve seen Facebook debates over the “offensiveness” of Beyoncé’s Formation video and Super Bowl performance; debates over the validity of the Black Lives Matter movement; debates over the second consecutive Oscar whiteout; debates over whether or not we are living in a post-racial world. The fact that these debates are taking place at all illustrates that we are most definitely not living in post-racial society.
All of this has me thinking a lot about the types of things that will influence my two young kiddos. I can’t handle the idea of them growing up to become adults who perpetuate this status quo. As a parent to two white boys, how do I begin to make sure that they are raised in a mindful way? Mindful of their inherent privilege and the dynamics within our society and history. Mindful so that they can be part of change. This keeps me up at night. I find myself bringing this issue up in conversation a lot lately. I don’t know why I keep broaching a subject that makes people so uncomfortable, but I think it’s because I’m searching for the light in a dark room.
The reality of inequality, privilege, bias and prejudice is an uncomfortable reality for my fellow white folks. The way I see it, there are two ways that we can process that discomfort: 1. We can pretend the issue is not there because it doesn’t have a direct negative impact on our lives. OR 2. We can acknowledge it and be part of the change. As ugly as a truth as it is, if we default to choice #1 then we are part of the problem. Choice #1 just perpetuates the situation, but it’s the easy choice; it doesn’t ruffle any feathers. As I write this, I’m not sure if I’ll hit the publish button for that very reason.
Upworthy posted an great piece regarding two sets of white girls who were given black dolls. The original video that spawned the article is quite disturbing and eye opening about just how early children pick up on racial bias and unfortunately, I’ve seen it first hand. These children will grow up to be adults that will perpetuate these issues and this type of climate we’re living in now. A mom and blogger with Rage Against The Minivan also posted a response video to the original, featuring her two daughters and their dolls. The fallout is heartbreaking.
During the Cabbage Patch craze of the 80’s, my Cabbage Patch doll was Harmony Anna and we were inseparable. I even insisted on bringing her our formal Olin Mills family photos. This picture has been the source of to-my-face jokes, behind-the-back laughter over the years. Apparently it was hilarious that my favorite doll didn’t look like me. Fast forward to the 2010’s… I know a little girl who was in a store and picked out a doll, a Black doll, and an adult with her put the doll back on the shelf and replaced it with a White one. A few years later, that same little girl was playing a game of Guess Who and she commented on not liking any of the “brown faces.” This story shatters me. My oldest little guy is at the age where he is picking up on everything, even nuance, and I know that these observations will shape the person he grows into. It’s our job, as parents, to be aware of any kind of influence in our children’s environment, especially our own influence of modeling behavior. I want my sons to be the type of people who will stick up for the kid being bullied at school or fight for causes that aren’t necessarily their own. Harmony Anna is one of the few treasures of childhood that I still have, and my boys often snuggle with her for naps.
I believe people tend to approach things with negativity when it’s something they don’t understand or can’t relate to. So, if the latest from Beyoncé and her dancers makes you feel offended or uncomfortable, shouldn’t you consider WHY you are offended and uncomfortable? Is it possible that she is acknowledging a societal reality that has not impacted you a negative way, so it’s just not a reality that you can imagine? Is it because when faced with these realities, we white people, have to think about how the structure of society has benefitted us? It’s uncomfortable. It’s icky. But it’s also just fact. I’ve learned that there is still a lot of confusion about our nation’s history and questions about why racial tension is still a talking point.
I heard a great explanation of the Black Lives Matter movement, in relation to people responding with “All Lives Matter.” The Black Lives Matter movement isn’t saying that black lives are more important than any other lives, it is just calling attention to a specific issue; much like going to a fundraiser for breast cancer awareness. Responding with all lives matter is like going to that breast cancer event and proclaiming that all cancer matters. That would be ridiculous. This movement doesn’t diminish White lives or Asian lives or Hispanic lives. It is just calling attention to a very specific plight of a group of our fellow citizens who continue to be marginalized, treated unfairly and even killed.
Regarding the Academy Awards: A few friends have mentioned confusion at the dust storm surrounding the whiteout. More than one friend stated that the roles are just not there, to which I suggested this read that points out notable times the roles have been there and have still gone to white actors. The Economist noted that a “statistical glitch” leading to a whiteout would be “hugely unlikely.”
“The chances of no single person of colour being nominated across two ceremonies would be exceptionally small—even during a 15-year span, the odds of seeing at least one sequence of back-to-back whiteouts are around one in 100,000.”
It’s easy to look the other way, but once you start paying attention, it becomes a screaming chorus of disturbing beliefs and comments. You might not see burning crosses, but even just hearing the words THEY and THEM is unsettling, as though anything other is unsavory.
I’m certainly not an expert in this subject and I don’t have a solution. I have more questions than answers, but I think that acknowledging the issue(s) and not being okay with the status quo is a good start. I just want to do right by others and most importantly, do right by my children. I want to raise them to be the light in a dark room.
Chicago Now: Talking about race with young children
Do Something: Important facts
Rage Against The Minivan: White Privilege
More Rage Against The Minivan: 7 action steps