Raising White Kids to Be Allies

My son’s friend was over at our house playing about a month ago. Unprompted he stopped the game they had created, walked over to me and said “You know, some people treat me bad because of the color of my skin” (he’s African American). It knocked the wind out of me to hear this 8-year old child say these words. I said, “I’m so sorry, dear. You don’t deserve that. Have people in our neighborhood treated you that way?” He said yes, but they didn’t live close by and then went back to playing. I wanted to run out and find the people who were treating this child that way. I felt helpless. I wanted to fix it but knew it was a much bigger problem than our neighborhood. After I’d had some time to sit with what he said, I stopped him on his way home. I told him that we love having him come over to play and he is welcome any time, and if any one treats him badly again because of his skin color, to let the closest trusted adult know and to remember that he is valued and loved.

After he left I asked my son if he had heard what his friend said. He hadn’t so I talked with him about it and we discussed ways that he could support his friends of color if he heard anyone saying something mean about them because of their skin color or if they told him about something that had happened. We agreed that he would speak up and say something like “that’s not right/nice/cool”, check in with that friend to see if they were okay and ask how he could help, and let the closest trusted adult know.

That was over a month ago but it has stuck with me. Now the events in Charlottesville have happened where hate came out hoods-off to the streets. How can I help change the hearts and minds of those spewing hate and committing violence, or even those who stay silent and let it happen? African Americans have been facing this hatred for so long. As a white ally, it is my responsibility to talk to other white people about ending racism in all its forms and to listen to and support people of color in my community.

Being that I am the parent of two white boys, it is also my responsibility, and the responsibility of other parents of white children, to teach them to treat all humans with dignity and respect, no matter their skin color, gender, religion, sexual orientation, ability, socio-economic status, or other identities. I have been doing this with my two kids since they could speak, but mostly in theory or “what if” scenarios. I see now more than ever that it’s important that my kids are ready and able to speak out against injustice when they see it, and support their friends and peers.

They’ll be starting school soon. I’ve seen a couple confederate flags in the neighborhood. Will the children of the families with those flags, or others who aren’t as obvious about it, treat their peers of colors with the same hatred that we just saw in the streets of Charlottesville? Will the school administration and/or teachers say something at the beginning of class reminding all students to treat each other with respect? My son has had some wonderful teachers so I don’t doubt their commitment to supporting all the students. However, I’ll be searching for ways, such as joining the PTA and volunteering, that I can get involved and help create a supportive learning environment for all our kids.

So, for those of you who like lists, here are a few things you can do as the parent of white children:

  1. Talk with your kids about racism. Tell them what it is. Tell them why it’s wrong. Brainstorm ideas with them of what they can do if they see it.
  2. Lead by example. Check your own privilege and make sure you’re treating everyone with dignity and respect. Kids are like sponges and they learn from everything you do, whether you want them to or not.
  3. Get involved in your community. Whether it’s the PTA, neighborhood civic league, or local group of like-minded activists working to make your community a more inclusive and harmonious place. Tell your kids about what you’re doing. They’ll remember that when they grow up and be more inclined to get active themselves.
  4. Talk with your friends, family, and acquaintances and let them know where you stand. If they post hateful things on social media, don’t just unfollow them, tell them what you think and feel about their post. Try to help them see the error of their ways. It won’t be easy and it may not work (nobody likes to be told they’re wrong). But as white allies, it is our job to talk with other white people and help them open their eyes and hearts. Doing what is right is more important that maintaining a relationship with someone who spews hate. Let them know that if this is how they feel and they can’t or won’t be reasoned with, that you no longer want them in your life. This will be hard, but not as hard as a person of color has it when they are met with racist comments, actions or violence because of their skin. This will send them the message that you’re serious and hopefully help them question their hatred and come around. Let them know that you care for them, but will not stand for their hatred. Again, it may not work with everybody, but it’s better to surround yourself and your community with supportive and inclusive people to help create a better world for all. Your kids will learn to do the same.
  5. Practice self-care. It is important that we speak out against injustice. We can’t do a good job of that if we don’t take care of ourselves. You will get frustrated and overwhelmed by this work because it’s not going to be easy. Some people may even respond to you with violence. It is important to vent with like-minded white friends (don’t put all your hurt feeling on your friends of color, they have enough to deal with) and empathize and brainstorm what you can do moving forward to better create change. It is also important to keep safe, but remember that as white people, that is a privilege that our friends of color don’t always have. We can step out of the protest march when we need to and be fine. But African Americans can’t change their skin color and will always be seen as a target by racists. They can’t get away from that until we change our country. Until then, take care of yourself and stay safe, but also check your privilege. Also, self-care for activists of color will be different than yours and you shouldn’t try to impose your practices on them. That would be making the problem worse.
  6. Talk with and listen to people of color in your community. Look for opportunities to support them and call out injustice alongside them, but be careful not to overshadow or silence them. Use your resources and abilities to highlight their voices and give credit where credit is due. They are the ones directly affected by racism. We can, and should, talk to our white friends, family and neighbors who are being racist or complicit and possibly get them to listen to reason. Again, this is a way to lead by example for your kids.
  7. The time is now. Our country has hit another high point of crisis of race relations. Don’t wait until something happens in your front yard. Get involved. Speak up. Sitting back and doing nothing but being shocked and appalled is being complicit. Show your kids how it’s done.
  8. You’re probably going to stumble or even fall flat on your face when trying to be a good ally, but it’s important to pick yourself back up and keep going. The fight has been long and hard before our generation arrived. Progress has been made, but we still have a long way to go. Your pride may take some hits, but process it and keep the long-term goal in mind. Don’t get defensive. Listen if people of color or other white allies call you out. Learn from your mistakes and move forward. Let your kids see you make mistakes and learn and grow from them.

These are a few of the many things you could do to participate in the work of social justice. Just be sure that you are talking with your kids about these issues and how you’re responding to them. This will teach them resiliency, problem-solving, and respect for others. No one is perfect, but by showing them that you are committed to doing what is right and fair, they will learn to do the same. Remember that you’re raising the next generation and what they learn as a child will stay with them through adulthood and effect what we are able to accomplish as a nation. You may not live to see us get to a point of equality and respect for all, but maybe your kids will.

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Teaching equality through everyday language

Language is very important (Hello, understatement). It’s how we communicate who we are, what we know, what we see, what we want, our intentions, etc… It’s especially important when raising kids. They are learning about the world as well as your family’s values through every conversation (I know, it’s exhausting to think about). Stereotypes are something that kids use to help learn about and navigate the world. Stereotypes can be harmful if left unchecked. That is why it is very important to ask them the right questions when moments arise where they’re potentially learning a new stereotype. Here are a few examples of moments that I use to have these conversations with my fellas about language and equality.

  1. One of the things I do to try to teach my fellas about equality is to ask “where are all the girls” whenever we’re looking at books, TV, movies, toys, etc… (ex: media that are more traditionally masculine, like superheros). This gets them thinking about why spaces have mostly one gender and whether or not that’s fair or good. It goes both ways. I also ask “where are all the boys” when we’re viewing more traditionally feminine media. This usually leads to them counting girls and boys and we’ll have a conversation including a little history of how it got that way and how we can change it (if it’s not fair/good). Recently my oldest was playing a building game app and asked “Why are they all girls in this game?”. Being that this type of game is usually associated with the masculine, I responded “The default is not always male”. This was an opportunity to talk further about encouraging kids to pursue non-traditional fields as well as challenging stereotypes.
  2.  Being from the South we say “y’all” when referring to a group of people. My friends from the North and West say “you guys”. This is not a debate about which region’s term is better or who “wins” (I have much love for my Northern and Western friends). What I do when my kids say “those guys” is ask “are they all guys?”. This keeps them from using male as the default and being more inclusive in their language.
  3. Kids will inevitably ask “Is that a boy or a girl?”. I usually respond “Does it matter?”. Typically they’re asking to try to figure out if what that person is doing is something a boy or a girl would do. In that case, by me asking “does it matter”, I’m trying to help them see that what someone does or could do, is not dependent on their sex. Recently my youngest said “Those guys are so funny” and my oldest responded “You know that could be a girl”. We’ve talked about this so much that he automatically questions these phrases, and that’s the point. I am giving him the tools he needs to create positive change.
  4. I’m also trying to teach them about gender identity so if they ask the “is that a boy or a girl” question we talk about respect, empathy, cisgender and transgender. That is not something you should run up and ask someone. If they want you to know how they identify they’ll tell you, otherwise, they’re just another human deserving of your respect. And again, does it really matter to you? I understand their need to understand the world, but as I keep telling them, not everything is either/or and fits neatly in a little box. If someone where to ask you “are you a boy or a girl” how would that make you feel, especially if you were transgender? For those of us who are cisgender getting that question is a completely different experience. The key is to be respectful and asking that question is inappropriate.

Empathy and respect will go a long way in dealing with these and other questions that arise while raising kids. Having to constantly address issues like these that come up a lot is exhausting, but it’s one very important way that we can start to create change in our society. How we talk to and about each other and the assumptions we make about who can and can’t do jobs and activities affects who we get to know, who we hire, who we elect, and ultimately who we value. Parenting ain’t no joke. It’s probably the hardest job you’ll ever have to do, but so important.

How do you teach kids about equality through everyday language?

Snapshot: A Pitcher, A Batter and a Cheerleader

With the weather starting to warm up, we’ve been venturing outside more with the fellas. Today they wanted to play with their T-ball set we got them last year. Without any prompting from us, the fellas took turns pitching and batting (hooray for sharing). They did pretty well considering they haven’t had much practice and with a few batting tips from us they were able to hit a few. I played softball from age 5 to 17 and had some of my most memorable and glorious childhood memories while playing ball so I was happy to get out there and play ball.

Jackson’s “friend” from down the street who told him boys don’t like pink or nail polish came over and she did pretty well pitching and batting. At some point in all the hoopla, Jackson said, “okay, now I’m gonna be the cheerleader” and started saying “Go Myles! Go Myles!” while he watched his brother take a few swings. Then Jackson said, “Okay Myles, it’s your turn to be the cheerleader and I’ll be the pitcher.”. Myles moved over but didn’t do any cheers. He was actually a little too close for comfort to the bat that was being swung and I was busy telling him to move back so no cheering occurred. But then they switched again and Jackson started cheering for the neighbor girl. He kept this up the rest of the time we played and the neighbor girl didn’t say anything to him about it. I was pleasantly surprised. Maybe she’s starting to understand that boys and girls can do and be anything they want.

My point in sharing this snapshot with you is to show you some of the progress we’ve made. Jackson didn’t think twice about being the cheerleader (I’ve shown him pictures of male cheerleaders at college games) and the little girl that has sassed him so much about liking pink, princesses, and nail polish did not take that opportunity to make a mean comment. I didn’t say anything to them in the moment. I just caught my husband’s eye and smiled. It was a small moment, but it’s those moments that keep me going in the work I’m trying to do to raise my sons to be good men and be who they want to be.

#ThrowbackThursday: The Lego Debate

(Why #ThrowbackThursday? Because this piece originally appeared on my previous blog www.grrrlwithboys.blogspot.com on March 10, 2013.)

While I sit here at my local Starbucks pondering my next move in my discussion with my 3 1/2 year old, I’m reflecting on some of the other conversations I’ve had with Jackson since the Toys R’ Us incident. He and I were playing legos in his room and he said something about the little man sitting up in the lego tower. I asked him if he had a little woman that could sit up in his tower too. He said “I’m a boy and I only play with boys toys. Womens are girl toys and only girls play with girl toys.” Realizing my explanation to him in the toy store that “toys are for everybody” didn’t sink in, I continued down this path with my fingers crossed.
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#ThrowbackThursday: Girl Toys vs. Boy Toys

(Why #ThrowbackThursday? Because this post originally appeared on my previous blog www.grrrlwithboys.blogspot.com on March 3, 2013. It’s now December and we’re officially in the holiday shopping season. I imagine many other feminist parents are grappling with what to buy that won’t heap more of the same tired and oppressive stereotypes on their kids.)

Yesterday I took my oldest son Jackson who is almost 4 years old to Toys R’ Us.  I had promised him that if he was good all week that I would get him some “Mighty Beans” that he had seen on Youtube.  More on my Ok-ness with a little bribery every now and then later.  Jackson has gotten very good at using an iPad and we let him watch child-appropriate videos on Youtube.  He discovered these “Mighty Beans” while watching Toy Story videos.  In the store we walked around looking at all the toys trying to find these tiny beans in a sea of colors and catchy names.  Finally an employee asked me if we were finding everything ok.  I told him what we were looking for and he easily directed me to them.  The themes for these beans that they had in the store were Cars, Spider Man and Darth Vader.  I guess Mighty Beans aren’t advertised to girls.  The name should have been a dead give away.  When was the last time you saw a toy for girls that referred to it as “mighty”.   Keep Reading

#ThrowbackThursday: Pink For Boys

(Why #ThrowbackThursday? Because this piece originally appeared on my previous blog www.grrrlwithboys.blogspot.com on March 22, 2013.)

My 3 year old son’s favorite color is pink.  This naturally occurred with no prompting from me.  I introduced him to all the colors and he decided for himself that pink is what he likes best.  I personally don’t like pink because of all the stereotypes that go along with it for girls/women.  However, if a child, either male or female, likes chooses pink as their favorite color after always having access to all the colors then that is fine by me.  So, when Jackson said “PINK!” was his favorite I didn’t make a big deal of it.
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#ThrowbackThursday: Jackson & His Princess Friends

(Why #ThrowbackThursday? Because this post originally appeared on my former blog www.grrrlwithboys.blogspot.com on November 17, 2013.)
Ever since Jackson watched Shrek the Third he has been curious about princesses. There’s a scene in the movie where Fiona bands together with Snow White, Cinderella, Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty to escape from the jail they were put in by Prince Charming (subliminal feminist message, yes?).

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Why you should be watching Supergirl

The new TV show “Supergirl” has been on CBS for a couple weeks now, but I have just started watching it. It was definitely worth the wait though. While there were a few problematic spots, this show definitely has potential to empower girls, teach boys that girls are just as capable of being a badass superhero and provide some great social commentary. Keep Reading

Being A Toddler Is Hard, Y’all

The “terrible threes” is real y’all.  It’s tough being a three year old. You’re trying to figure out how the world works as well as potty training, sharing your toys, meeting new people and learning to do things for yourself. Sometimes that means you lose your shit. My son Myles has been dealing with these experiences by falling to the floor screaming and crying in a fit of emotions.  Keep Reading

#ThrowbackThursday: Mommy, Where Do Babies Come From

(Why #ThrowbackThursday? Because this post originally appeared on my previous blog www.grrrlwithboys.blogspot.com on April 11, 2013. Also, our good friends are about to have a baby and I’ve been getting this question from Jackson – age 6, and now Myles – age 3, a lot more lately. LOL)

Recently my three year old has been asking a lot of questions about my body.  He’s still young enough that when I get out of the shower I don’t hide if he’s in the room.  That may have to change soon though and I’m dreading giving up my little bit of freedom to be able to walk the 10 feet from my shower to my dresser sans clothing. I knew that eventually he would start asking me where babies come from, but I didn’t expect to have to have an answer this soon.
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