Thursday, January 16, 2014

Why TUC, Why?

Why did you have to go and write about White Privilege?

"Now we know you are a closet racist."

"You don’t have the right to talk about racism. You are white. You can’t understand."

"People like you are the reason why inequality continues in this country."

I’ll tell you why I am writing about it. It’s because I am thinking about it. It’s because I have two sons born with the original sin of White Privilege upon them.

A while ago I read a blog post, When You Carry Your Difference on Your Skin, that included a story about how the author had to explain to her non-white son that he could not take toy guns to the local park,
"There was a day when I had to talk to him about how it wasn't okay to play with realistic looking guns at the park, and had to tell him why the white boys he was playing with likely didn't have to worry about that kind of thing."

The post was good and worth a read. But, while reading that post, it dawned on me for the first time that people proactively teach their children that their experiences in identical situations will be different than my children’s because of their skin color. She was teaching them that my sons have White Privilege.

Ok, so I am going to be real honest here... my first thought was, "OMG, her children are going to grow up resenting my children. She is implanting a chip on the shoulder."

I understand why she needs to educate her children about the discrimination they might face and the risks it imposes on them. (Read that sentence again before leaving me a comment ripping me on this.) But I am pretty confident that telling your kids negative stuff about whole other groups of people can lead to their mistrust and even hatred of that group.

The author and I had a, tenuous at best, FB relationship based on us both being the mother of a child with Down syndrome. I could have kept my mouth shut, but people who do that never learn anything. So I asked about it. Lots of people answered, and I learned that raising my kids to be color-blind is not the right way to work toward racial harmony. I also learned that trying to talk about difficult stuff with people who barely know you ends budding friendships and cultivates silence.

But I am not going to be silent. I am going to talk about race, and say that I do not know the right way to talk to my children if teaching them to see people as individuals & colorless is wrong. I do know that my children were born innocent blank slates, and regardless of the systems they were born into, they are still as yet, innocent. And they are still very much blank slates. I not only have a right to talk about race, it would seem that I also have an obligation to do so with them.

And now this has become a very sticky thing because I am not clear on or convinced about White Privilege and how just my existing within our current systems is somehow perpetuating racial inequality. And I am not going to tell my sons that they are, because of their original sin, privileged oppressors. I am guessing I am not alone in this. That said, I am in search of the right words, the right narrative... one that will grow them into caring people guided by a belief in truth, equal opportunity, and justice for all people, regardless of gender, physical ability, skin color, nationality, sexual orientation, weight, attractiveness, or intellectual ability.

My next step is reading Chip Smith’s The Cost of Privilege: Taking On the System of White Supremacy and Racism.Perhaps he will explain to me what my role as an individual and a parent is if I want to be a part of ensuring that all Americans have the baseline existence that I have.

I’ll let you know what I learn.

9 comments:

Ginger Stickney said...

Well since my post is being referenced I feel I have to respond a bit. First, I think you misunderstand me. My children are white. They are also Latino/a. Teaching them about white privilege is not about teaching resentment. I think that one can feel angry at a system without feeling resentment directed at individual people. I think resent comes in when there is a denial of one's experience and I get this. Second, the post was meant as a wake up call to examine a system that seeks to eradicate difference and that frankly goes across color lines, yes? Third, the reasons for our relationship or lack of it has nothing to do with this post. But that's something I think that warrants a private conversation not a blog throw out:)

Let me be clear. Two young Hispanic men have been killed recently by white police so I think my concern for my son is quite justified. I have to protect my children but that doesn't mean I teach them to hate their white selves or white others. It means I teach them to hate a system that is built to hold them and others down (including white others).

This article really summed things up for me: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jennifer-harvey/dear-parents-of-white-children_b_3719818.html

TUC said...

I understand what you are saying Ginger, but systems are made up of people, individual people. How can we blame systems without blaming the people who operate in them? To change systems, we need to change people. It was a good post, and clearly it is having a positive effect. While this post singularly and specifically may not be the reason we no longer cross paths much, I do believe it was the act of trying to talk about hard things that has closed conversational doors.

Your concern for your son is justified. My concern for my sons is justified. I want a country where your son and my son don't view each other the way their grandfathers might have. I want them to see each other as people first, not as privileged or disenfranchised members of separate groups.

Thanks for the link, and I hope people reading this blog do go on to read the article. I have already read it. It is one of the reasons I know that the "color-blind" approach is not working. However, she, like most people out there, doesn't have the answers either, "Unfortunately, I don't have a list of pat answers on what we should be teaching. But, that's not a cop out. That, in fact, is the point."

Far Above Rubies said...

Bravo!!

Meg said...

There is a difference between acknowledging that one is in a position of privilege, and saying that one is a privileged oppressor. Those of us living in the US are more privileged than those living in many other countries because, for example, we are not living in a war zone or in a place of famine. Those of us in the middle or upper middle class that live in decent homes in good school districts who don't worry about where the next paycheck is coming from are even more privileged. We did not cause those conditions (arguably in some cases) in other places, but we are still privileged to live here;

I believe there is a way to teach our children that they are children of privilege without causing resentment or fear of others. It is a fine line, but something to strive for. In the same way, it is possible to teach a child of color that there are extra precautions that have to be taken in certain circumstances, without making them resent all white people. As kids get older, they can certainly understand that they can be friends with others whose experiences differ from their own - kids of different races, different classes, different family circumstances. That doesn't mean the differences aren't real, but they should not be a barrier to friendship. My kids know they are privileged and that often their problems are "rich kid problems" (even though we aren't rich in any real sense of the word, they understand that there are many kids that don't have the luxury of choice).

TK said...

I was raised "colorblind" if you will, and I dont see anything wrong with it. As was said in the last post on this subject, I can recognise the unfair special treatment I get as an attractive young woman, and I get that I am probably not going to be subject to unreasonable police attention in bad ways, but I dont think that I should have been raised to see people of other ethnicities differently. -TK

TUC said...

Meg,

Thanks for the comment. That is a very good way to put things. Teaching privilege in the way you mean it shows how the word can be very fluid and situational.

The thing I am still stuck on is the relationship between the "privileged" and those who are not in any given situation. I think White Privilege is more than just a description of "having the rules work for you" or having an easier life. There is an inherent sense that those who are white privileged are directly connected to those who are not in a way that suggests responsibility. So for example, imagine the conversation with your kids about how there are starving children in famine-stricken countries and acknowledging that your well-fed children are contributing to the problem because of the way the global food production and economy work. Or maybe when we tell our children they are privileged to live in a land that is not a war zone, we also tell them that their freedom and dependency on foreign oil is the cause of those other children's lives being bombed apart. Both of those examples are as true and as false as white privilege being responsible for and perpetuating non-white disenfranchisement and discrimination.

So I guess I am saying that I *think* white privilege means being in a position of privilege that is oppressive by its very nature to those who are not. If there are any White Privilege critical theorists out there who can elucidate on this, that would be great.

Molly said...

I had a lot of thoughts on the matter. But then i saw that the writer of an awesome comic on White Privilege ( http://www.buzzfeed.com/aaronc13/this-comic-perfectly-explains-what-white-privilege-is) is getting death threats for deigning to imply that there's such a thing. And that pretty much summed up why I am thankful for people who are willing to admit white privilage exists. Because a great number of people are SO convinced it doesn't, their solution is to make death threats at someone who makes them uncomfortable by suggesting it exists and that they benefit in any way possible. That doesn't help anything.

There is a huge amount of defensiveness surrounding the ideas of privilege, but it doesn't have to be that way. The idea that black kids can't act the same way that white kids can isn't news to a single black kid out there. Their parents have been explaining it to them for years. This is not being done to make your white kids feel bad. It's being done to insure that their kids are safe in the world. It's NOT about the white people. It's really not. It's so their kid's heart is prepared when their Social Studies textbook writes mainly about important white men, and the few guys that look like them were the heads of rebellious slave uprisings (thanks 7th grade social studies curriculum). It's so they know what to do when the cops inevitably stop them, when they've seen their white friend do the same thing without consequence. Or in my friend's case, when the cops single them out FROM their group of white friends. Parents do this to protect and care for their child. I think you are making it about how their kid will act towards your kid (she's not saying that white people are bad, she's just saying the world works differently), but that's not the point here. The point is that the fact that parents of children of color even have to do this is proof of white privilage. They have to explain to their kid, how the world sees their kid differently to keep their kid SAFE. Doesn't that make you mad, that kids and adults aren't safe in the world because of their race? It makes me really mad. And if a kid of color gets mad that the world isn't fair, that's understandable. and that's OK! Anger can be a great motivator for change. A kid gets mad about a lot of things. Is the world going to end because they're mad at white people for being born into privilege? No. Let them be mad and understand WHY they're mad, and try to make the world a better place for them. Don't fear anger if it exists. There's something to be learned there.

You talk a little bit about your sons. Did you know that even if they go to jail, they're more likely to get a job than a black man who has never been to jail? And if they crash their cars and go to a local home for help, they're probably not going to be shot and killed for knocking on the door while seriously injured. When they do get a job, people won't assume it's because of their race, or that a quota was being filled. It's not their fault that any of these things are happening though. And they do NOT have any need to feel guilty. I mean that.

You speak of feeling directly connected to those who are not privileged in a way that suggests responsibility. I don't feel that's the case. I don't think that acknowledging white privilage means that I am personally responsible for the oppression of black people. I think it simply means that I realize the ways in which I benefit from institutionalized racism, and I should work towards making the world a more balanced place.

Molly said...

Part II: Clearly I have a lot of thoughts on this. Hopefully this comes off as a dialogue with you based on some of your other comments. Wrote it this morning but didn't get a chance to actually post the comment until now.

I'm super glad Jay Z, Beyonce, Mrs. Obama, and the President are all successful role models for children everywhere. But at the same time, the actor Rob Brown, from Treme, got handcuffed and held at a Macy's in June after he purchased a $1,300 watch as a gift for his mom. He kept telling cops to check his ID with his credit card, but all they said is "your card is a fake, you're going to jail". He's got money. He's an actor on a hit show, but because he's black, he's become part of "shop n frisk". His class didn't trump his race, unfortunately. Being black and being able to buy nice things is still not the norm and is seen as suspicious.

Here's the thing. Your sons might be privileged in some ways because they are white but they don't have to be oppressors. I'm not saying it's their "fault" or that they should feel guilty. I don't think I feel guilty for being white (just like I don't feel guilty for being straight), but I do recognize that I benefit from it, and as a result I try to use my privilage for good. It's why I try to educate myself about white privilage, and make sure i'm not accidentally doing things that oppress my friends. Sometimes I do something that I later realize is oppressive. And then I learn from it and do better.
That's why I'm an ally, and I speak out against homophobia. That's why I'm an advocate for kids with special needs.

Your sons don't have to feel guilty. They don't have to be oppressors. Of course not all white people are oppressive towards black people. But some are, and most often, the best way to stop those jerks is to be another white person who speaks up. Being a white male means you get a lot of say, and people listen to you. That's awesome, because that can be used for GOOD. Your kids can be allies, who speak up when they see bad things happening. Not just to people of another race, but anything they see that smacks of sexism, or ableism when people say things about people with DS. If you are interested in hearing what white privilege critical theorists say about this stuff, I would start researching it.

TUC said...

Molly,
Thank you so much for taking the time to comment in such detail. You make me wish we could sit down for a coffee somewhere and chat.

"White privilege is the privilege to be ignorant of the world around us." - from the comic

I think I need to write another post at some point because I have not been clear enough so far. Racial issues are important to me. I am one of those white people who speaks up.

I am not ignorant of the world around me. I know that some groups of non-whites have to struggle to reach baseline, and often cannot get there. But, that does not change the dictionary definition of privilege. So when I say that I don't feel that I have had white privilege in my life, I mean I don't think that I have been given anything above and beyond the baseline delineated by our constitution and laws. I don't mean that to be a denial of the existance of disenfranchised groups, or a denial of any of the statistics. "Privilege" is a divisive word that I feel is being misused to describe the issues of inequality. I wish social & critical theorists had chosen something different, or just made a new word like they often do.

I also think that there must be ways to have conversations about race differences that can bring awareness and positive change without planting negative seeds that might sprout another generation of racism. That is why I am researching these topics, because I want to do right by my kids, and all kids.

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