Parenting From Unearned Privilege
On raising anti-racists and allies.
Posted Jun 01, 2020
I really grappled with how to write this post, with what to say. Because it’s not about me. Any of it. My voice is not the one that should be centered, my words are not the ones with value. The voices of black, indigenous, and people of color (“BIPOC”) are the ones we need to honor. And yet, as a white woman with a platform, it feels irresponsible and tone-deaf to write about anything else. And so, first off, from my platform, I encourage you to educate yourself, as I am working to educate myself, by reading the words of BIPOC (for starters, Rachel Cargle, Monique Melton, Layla Said, and Ibram X. Kendi), and by taking action to become antiracist. Our children deserve a better world. And though it never should have been in the first place, silence is certainly no longer an option.
A few days ago, we celebrated my father-in-law’s 80th birthday, social distance style. My husband, our two boys, and I drove an hour to surprise him and my mother-in-law with a homemade “Happy Birthday” banner, framed family portrait, and cake in tow. We sat on their back deck, and as my husband inserted the candles into the cake, his brother and family attending via Zoom on a strategically placed laptop on the table, my 6-year-old became inpatient. “It’s taking too long,” he declared, through his face mask. I shot him a look. He shot one back, then grunted. My husband began lighting the candles. “I just want my piece of cake now!” my 6-year-old yelled, then stormed away, crying.
My 6-year-old is a super sweet kid, kind, generous, and thoughtful. The pandemic, though, has been hard on him. His little brain has been working overtime to make sense of his new and upside-down world, and the effort has, at times, taken its toll. When he has been more irritable than usual, or more defiant, I have chalked it up to the stress that he is under, that our world is under. I haven't excused it, but my primary goal has been to calm his nervous system, not to escalate the situation by coming down hard. After all, setting limits during quarantine involves being understanding, nurturing, prioritizing comfort over consequences, allowing our little ones to have—and show—their emotions. This approach is grounded in science.
But it’s also a privilege. When my 6-year-old stormed away from his grandfather’s birthday celebration in a moment of entitled impatience and anger, I felt frustrated, concerned, disappointed.
What I didn’t feel was soul-crushing fear, fear that my son’s inability to control his anger might someday get him killed (or that, even if he gained this ability, he could well be killed anyway). I didn’t look around, panicked, hoping no one who had seen my boy’s outburst would view him, even at such a young age, as a threat. I wasn’t hit with a wave of nausea as my brain scrolled through all of the horrific things that have happened to boys like my son who made the mistake of rebelling against rules or authority. I didn’t feel heartbroken that, even at age 6, my son is not allowed to be a child—an overwhelmed, imperfect child whose desire for instant gratification in the context of a global pandemic was momentarily overpowering and led him to lose his temper.
I didn’t feel any of those things because my son is white, and because I am white. And so I was able to parent him exactly the way I wanted in that moment, without any fear that my response could have long-term ramifications—ramifications that could mean the difference between life and death.
And because I can parent my sons exactly the way I want, I am going to parent them to be anti-racist, to express their righteous anger against injustice, and to use their positions of privilege to amplify those who have for too long been violently silenced. For help doing that, I’ll be starting with the resources I’ve pasted below (there are many, many more)—and paying BIPOC educators for their work. Because as I said, it’s not about me.