There was boy in my son’s kindergarten class that had just moved to North Carolina from Africa. He spoke not a word of English in a classroom that taught in only that language. He sat near my son and for weeks I would hear Caleb complain about how mean he was. But as time went by and this (more than likely terrified) kid started to adjust and learn the language- a hard won friendship started to emerge between them. One day my son came home and told me, “I am so glad I don’t live in Africa.” Here it is, I thought, the day my son starts thinking racially. I thought I had more time before he saw color as a dividing line. More than a little scared, I asked my sweet boy why he would say that. “ Because my friend told me there are leopards there. And I do NOT want to get eaten by a leopard.”
The difference he saw between himself and this other kid was not the color of their skin, but the fact that he was from somewhere else and spoke another language. Oh and leopards. All the damn leopards. So now I keep waiting. I hold my breath; waiting to find out when the racial innocence my children were born with will be ripped from their little souls. When we have talked about race in the past it’s always as a simple descriptor. The way someone would say – she has red hair. I have never once heard my 6 year old say someone is “black” or “white” but often will hear- that girl with the skin darker than mine, or that boy with the yellow skin like me. There’s none of the baggage we attach to it, yet. But there will be. I’m raising a white, southern, protestant, middle class male.
I believe that checks every box in Privilege Bingo.
I don’t say this as someone ashamed of my heritage. I love my family and where we have come from. We have some great Scottish, Irish, and Norwegian names in the family tree. I say this as a white woman just now being awakened to the idea of racial privilege. For years it’s been easy for me to ignore racial issues. To roll my eyes at the idea of “white privilege.” I’m not wealthy, I’ve worked to get where I am, I worry about money and the future like everyone else. But with everything going on in my beloved country right now, I’m starting to see I was missing the point entirely.
My children will not grow up feeling threatened in their own country because of the color of their skin. They will not have flags thrown in their faces that represent the enslavement and torture of their people. They will not have people telling them to go back to where they came from- whatever that means. My children will grow up seeing themselves in movies, magazines, advertisements, and media. They will not be the “token” anything. It has taken me 31 years to grasp the fact that when it comes to race, I know nothing.
So I reached out to my white sister-in-law whose husband is black. Their school aged children often joke about “which box to check” on demographic forms. She says her children don’t fully understand what is happening in Virginia. That when she explained the KKK they didn’t seem too shocked. But that in itself concerned her, “Is it because this is becoming the norm in our daily lives to hear and see such things? I hope not.” She feels helpless and worries daily about “what my kids may endure [being biracial} and even what I could endure someday for being married to a black man and having children of a mixed race.” Y’all it is 2017 in this country that I love and my sister is worried about being openly hated for her biracial children and “mixed-race” marriage.
Congratulations America, we have achieved time travel.
I’ve got no answers for this one. Only questions. All I can do is teach and model love to my children, even love of our enemies and those we wholeheartedly disagree with. I can create an open dialogue with them and hope they come to me with these issues so we can try and sort through them together. I will not allow hateful speech or imagery in my home. I will fight to be an example of Christ’s love to my children, and I will fail every day. But I will keep fighting.