“As soon as you’re a parent, you have this fear that you’re going to f*ck it all up.”
—Dax Shepard, Armchair Expert, episode 215
Boy, do I feel this every. darn. day. Parenthood is humbling because it is actually impossible to do it perfectly. It’s such a good reminder that mistakes are inherent in our work as humans and that grace is necessary.
When we look at the current status of racial justice in our country, it is painfully obvious that mistakes are pervasive and that purposeful wrong-doing is abhorrently prevalent. So, as parents, how do we engage in this work with our kids?
We aren’t going to do the work of striving toward racial justice perfectly. What we can do is apologize for missteps and try again. Our kids see that humility. It doesn’t feel good to mess up. I personally HATE it. But, as it turns out, it’s not about me and my feelings. It’s about those who need to be lifted up because they have been shoved down by racist policies and racist ideas… ideas that are so subversive that many of us don’t even realize they’re there because they don’t hurt us directly.
Bridging this divide between what is true and necessary and what my children experience is where I’m. really. stuck. We’ve made decisions that we felt built a foundation where their world and bookshelves reflect the make-up of their actual communities. Our boys have attended schools since they were six weeks old where, as white kids, less than 50% of the student population looks like them. Both boys have had more teachers, coaches, and administrators who were Black, Hispanic, or biracial than white educators in their lives.
They’re used to a diverse family of their own and families around us. They’re learning that people dress differently, observe conflicting habits and rules, experience God in lots of ways, and value things differently. But now it is time to explicitly talk about how we experience things differently than our friends who look different from us. And we’re kind of at a loss. We have answered questions when they come up, but we hadn’t initiated the subject much until recently because we thought the foundation we had built was pretty solid.
“Well, if police try to fight me. I’m going to fight them back,” said my ten-year-old while we were watching the Mass Poor People’s Assembly and Moral March on Washington last month. My head has never whipped around so fast. I probed a little deeper. And we talked about how we talk to grown-ups (despite what you deem unfair) and why, when you’re running around the neighborhood period, but ESPECIALLY when your core friend group includes two boys who are Black, you need an attitude adjustment. Like, yesterday.
And then we had to break it alllll down. Hatred in people’s hearts. Our obligation and desire to take care of our friends. How the color of people’s skin certainly doesn’t affect our relationship with them, but it does affect their experience in this world, and we need to not only be aware, but be alert for how to push back and fight for what we know to be right. So the conversation that started with, “We don’t fight,” ended with new words like advocate, stand up, truth-teller, and voice.
We thought we could set things up so we don’t raise racist kids, and maybe if we’re lucky, they’ll even speak up to friends and peers who say or do ignorant things. Rule number one in our house is “Be kind and helpful,” and rule number three is “Be truthful.” Seems like not being racist is inherent in there. But this ongoing work has taught me that just because we don’t have little white supremecists running around doesn’t mean we are finished with this work. There is no end, no online badge of accomplishment, no resting easy in the knowledge that our kids are, for the most part, kind. So begins the work of raising anti-racists.