This was a hard post to write. I wrote and re-wrote it many times in my head before ever committing anything to paper. And then I re-wrote it another 100 times.
Why? Because I'm scared I'm going to screw it up. That I will, with the best of intentions, say something that offends and in doing so I will not be the ally I believe myself to be. I have seen this sentiment over and over again from many white people trying to do and say the right thing. We're terrified we're going to say the wrong thing. But that, in itself, is privilege; I can choose whether or not to say something. I can choose whether to stay silent or stand up. Not everyone has that privilege and so I write and I beg forgiveness and ask you to gently tell me if I get it wrong and how I can get it right.
I struggle with how to tell my daughters about the atrocities committed against the BIPOC community. They are young and curious and sensitive. They live in a Mr. Roger's world where, when things go horribly wrong, we say "look for the helpers" and they look for the paramedics and the firefighters and, yeah, the police. They have been taught to look for someone in uniform if they need help, so how do I explain to them that not everyone in uniform always does the right thing? That some people in uniform believe that there is hierarchy amongst people, a hierarchy predicated on colour and gender? That these people may not even really know that they hold these beliefs? That these beliefs are embedded in the very systems that support our communities? How do I tell them that some people are not safe, even when, - especially when - the police are there?
"How do I tell them" is my privilege. I can choose if I tell my girls about the hate and racism and violence in the world. I can choose how much or how little to tell them. And I can continue to tell them that the police will help them if they are lost or hurt or scared, because they will. It is a privilege that I have but that many mothers do not. It is a privilege that breaks my heart just thinking about it. It is because of this privilege that I have to say something, that I have to actively educate myself and my children on being anti-racist.
I have been actively educating myself about being an anti-racist for a while now, although I just learned the term not long ago while listening to Stamped by Jason Reynolds & Ibram X. Kendi. But I haven't been actively educating my kids. Why? Honestly, because I haven't had to. We, as a family, have not been forced to confront racism head on and therefore we haven't. It's a difficult, complex problem with many unanswerable questions. It unearths some of the ugliest parts of humanity that I'm not sure I want my kids to know about yet. I don't have a clue how to explain any of it to my children and so I don't, kind of like some parents shying away from conversations about sex and body parts. It makes me uncomfortable to talk about, so I don't. That, I realize, is a problem. I am not a racist but I'm not an anti-racist either. It's hard to be an anti-racist and yet never say anything to your children. Once again, my privilege rears it's ugly head.
I don't think that my situation is unique. I think there are many moms and dads out there just like me - white, in a predominantly white town. Wanting to do the right thing, to be an ally, to be an anti-racist, but not knowing how. Sure, we've talked about residential schools around the dinner table when my daughter began learning about them in school. We expressly value diversity in the way we talk about others. We encourage our kids to examine their own biases and the biases of others. But nothing has forced us into a conversation about being an anti-racist; at no point have we ever been confronted with overt racism that forced us to talk about it with our kids. Privilege.
How in the hell do you broach the subject of systemic racism with kids who have almost zero context for it? Yet again, privilege.
We work hard to raise our kids to appreciate that human diversity- in skin tone, in sexuality, in beliefs, in interests, in life choices - is beautiful as long as it doesn't hurt yourself, other people or the planet. The absence of overt racism in their young lives, my friends, is my children's privilege. Racism isn't a thing in their world (yet) because it doesn't have to be (yet). I wish it wouldn't ever have to be but I know now that in order to be an ally, to be an anti-racist, it isn't enough to just teach my kids to be good, kind, people with wide-open minds and hearts. I must actively point out where the systems are flawed, where people fall through the cracks nobody even knew were there, where society holds up mirrors and doors for some and walls for others.
It's hard to figure out how to broach this difficult conversation in an age-appropriate way (not nearly as hard, though, as having to explain to your black son what he needs to do to not get killed today. Not.Even.Close.). I started this morning, by sharing this video of a young black man singing with my 8 year old daughter. "Why is he singing that mom?" she asked, opening the door to the conversation. I gratefully stepped through that open door and began explaining; as she has little context for this kind of racism her attention span quickly waned but the conversation was started. And so, I share that video here, in case it helps you too start the conversation in your house. We can all be allies, sometimes we just need to know where to start.
I continued that conversation this evening, with my 10 year old, with a slightly different entry point. She overheard my husband and I talking about the riots and wanted to know more. She had a lot of difficulty wrapping her brain around why a man, any person really, would kneel on someone's neck for any reason whatsoever. She could not fathom how someone could cause another person deliberate pain and suffering, could not make sense of such a horrific act. She could not understand why people would stand by and film and not step in. And while I cannot help her make sense of this act (because it doesn't make sense), I can help her understand how people can be led to believe certain things about certain people or groups of people, often with even realizing it. I can help her understand that we must be actively aware of what we are being told and check it against our own beliefs. For this, I used something that Trevor Mackenzie, an author and educator, posted on Instagram. I googled "five white teens" and showed it to my daughter, asking her to describe what she saw and the emotions that the images portrayed. Then I googled "five black teens" and repeated the process. Try it yourself and see just how thought provoking it is. (For the record, I have also googled "five indigenous teens" just to see what came up. Again, food for thought.)
As teachers, we can have thought-provoking conversations using structures like Trevor Mackenzie's provocations. We can actively teach about truth and reconciliation. We can avoid the crafts and activities that unintentionally uphold the status quo. We can fill our classrooms with books that actively center BIPOC characters, even if our classrooms are filled with white faces. We can learn and unlearn, question our own beliefs, closely examine what we're teaching to be sure that it reflects the truth of history, not just our history. We can teach kids to be kind, caring and empathetic, to value diversity, to be allies, to spot injustice and do something about it. We can find colleagues who are also doing the work and support each other.
I plan to continue this conversation with, not surprisingly, books. There is a saying amongst educators that books can be mirrors to reflect yourself, windows to peek through to the lives of others and doors to step through into other worlds entirely. We need more books in our classrooms that allow all children to see their own lives and experiences reflected back at them while also allowing the opportunity for windows and doors in to lives that are different from their own. Imagine never having a read a book with a main character who had the same colour skin or was the same gender as you; imagine what you would internalize about your worth if you thought that no one had bothered to center your life and your experiences in literature, despite there being thousands of books on the shelf. We need to actively promote, at home and at school, books that center diverse experiences so that everyone feels seen and everyone gets a chance to see.
While the conversation about anti-racism may seem hard, the steps that you can take to begin the conversation are there. Take them. For the sake of the mothers and fathers and grandparents and friends who don't have the privilege of not taking them, take them. For the kids who need us to make the world a better place, take them. Own your privilege and then do something with it. It's not enough to say I am not a racist. We must become an anti-racist.
A ton of book lists have popped up on the internet over the last few days. A few are pictured above. I have linked a few more here:
EmbraceRace.org has a list of primarily non-fiction or historical fiction for kids. It includes many books about race issues in Canada as well as the U.S.
This list of teen books about social justice from the Seattle Public Library is a comprehensive look at not just racism but many other social justice issues as well.
These lists, from Kids Books in Vancouver, help you start and continue conversations about racism.
Check out these tips on how white parents can open the door to conversations about racism from CommonSenseMedia.org (easily one of my favourite sites on the internet).
Finally, follow BIPOC authors on social media. Buy their books. Read their books. Give their books to everyone you know, especially to kids. Follow the hashtags #ownvoices and #weneeddiversebooks and you will quickly find a community that centers and highlights stories that need to be told.
I'm Bryn, teacher, mom, book lover, athlete. I am passionate about living life with my family, teaching and learning something new all the time. I hope you find something that speaks to you here on my blog and would love to hear from you too!