I feel compelled and obligated to write about race and racism because I have had unique experiences and opportunities for growth, compassion, and access to information that most people do not get. I grew up in a homogenous community of White, straight, Christian people but along the way my life has unfolded to include a broader perspective.
I have had the privilege to teach diverse groups of students, including from the Arapaho and Shoshone Native American tribes. I have lived in five different states, engaged in countless conversations with people of color about race, and continue to attend workshops and classes about politics, diversity, and race. I have learned and explored freely with friends, boyfriends, and family members. I have dated people of color and been welcomed into Black, Hispanic, and Filipino families. My best friend is an immigrant from Argentina. I have a longtime friend and former roommate from the Ivory Coast, a country in West Africa.
I spent one year teaching in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. At the time I had a Black boyfriend and was welcomed into his family and community with open arms. They taught me how to love without judgment, eat without shame, stay in my lane, and praise God for the life I have been given, oh and of course; cook with Tony’s. If you do not know what Tony’s is look it up! You will thank me later. Fast forward to my current life and I am married to a Filipino man raising two bi-racial boys.
See what I mean? What other White woman do you know who has had such a journey? I must speak. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” I must participate in this work. These experiences are bursting out of me like fireworks and I fear I will explode if I do not share what I have learned. Especially when so many, right NOW are struggling to comprehend the atrocities of police brutality, the grief inside the Black Lives Matter movement, and the human rights violations of our immigrant families.
Race and racism are complicated. Everyone can be racist, and everyone can experience racism. Ibram X Kendi, author of “How to be an Anti-Racist” writes, “The good news is that racist and antiracist are not fixed identities. We can be a racist one minute and an antiracist the next. What we say about race, what we do about race, in each moment, determines what -- not who -- we are.” Really, I should be writing in terms of people of color, but in honor of Black History Month, and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement I am writing with the terms “White” and “Black”. The truth is overall, you can (and should) substitute “Black and White” for the words “me, and anyone different than me”.
Beyond that, I want to share things I’ve learned about bias against Black people because I have discovered all groups of people seem to have a problem with this. White, Asian, Hispanic, (and even Black people) have a hard time finding Black joy, Black success, and appreciating Black culture for what it is: Vibrant, dynamic, powerful, elusive, engaging, and sacred.
Now that you know a little about me, it is time to move on to the steps that have worked for us in becoming a more racially conscious and antiracist family. I believe these steps, accompanied with your own research, conversations, and friendships will be powerful in creating an antiracist home for your kids. We must persist in this work because, as Dr. King also said, “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.” So protest we shall.
Step 1: Reflect on your own identity
If you have not given much thought to your own identity before, chances are it is because you fall into an identity that holds power and influence. Often, (not always) this comes when you are part of the majority in your community, state, or county. This does not mean YOU are powerful or influential. This means people who dress, talk, eat, worship, and look like you are.
As a White, straight, female, who was raised Christian; the people with power and influence over my life were just like me. They had my same opinions, goals, and values. In turn that meant my opinions, goals, and values were protected inside of the culture, communities, and policies I lived with. I did not need to reflect on my identity because my identity was the “default”, the “mainstream”, the “normal”. My identity did not matter because I never risked losing a job, apartment, friend, or my life over it. It never brought me difficulty, hate, judgment, or loss. In the words of Ibram X. Kendi, “Like fighting an addiction, being an antiracist requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination.”
For the record, when I say difficulty, hate, judgement, or loss; I am not talking about from an individual. I am talking about experiencing these things from the systems that have power and influence over your life. Too often White people say, “Yeah well, I’ve had people discriminate, hate, and judge me too!” Sure! Of course, it’s inevitable. Individuals do that to each other. The difference is if you are White, you have never had the dominant culture that has power and influence over your life harm you in this way.
Here is what I suggest:
Identify what gender, religion, race, sexual orientation, and economic group you belong to. Then ask yourself what parts of belonging to these groups have benefited or hurt you? I was unsure about this at first. I did not attribute these parts of my identity as being helpful or hurtful in my life. I had to have open conversations with people who hold a different identity to understand. Eventually I realized so many parts of myself, even small parts I never thought of, like my accent or hair texture have in fact benefited me.
Participating in this work allowed me to explore compassion and empathy for people different than me. It’s important to note, this is not about feeling guilty about my accent or hair texture. This is about understanding how it has impacted me and how someone else is impacted by theirs. Once we recognize how another person might be impacted unjustly, we are more willing to support them in fighting against it.
Step 2: Find your biases
A bias is an inclination in favor of, or against a thing, a person, or a group. Negative biases often come from stereotypes. I had to identify what stereotypes I believed in and ask, “Where did they come from? Why do I still believe in them?” Don’t know the stereotypes you’re holding? Sometimes if I talk to, or just be around someone different from me, things come up. I had to answer those questions to realize negative stereotypes typically have unfair, inaccurate sources.
Here are some common reasons why we have negative stereotypes for Black Americans:
-Negative media and news criminalizing Black people. There have been studies about the number of crimes committed and the number of crimes reported in the news. Crimes committed by Black people, especially Black males, get reported at a significantly higher rate. That means crimes were committed by people of all races, but we are watching far more Black people get punished and shamed on the news.
-Negative and judgmental response to Black culture, especially Black American culture. How absurd that we judge Black slang, fashion, music, food, and family dynamics. It is simply culture. It is creative, dynamic, energy, evolving and dancing between people and communities. Culture is not to be judged. It is to be observed, appreciated, and experienced.
“Hotel California” by the Eagles might be quite provocative, sloppy, immoral, lacking in virtue if we judged it as harsh as we judge Black culture, but no one seems to see “White” songs through this lens. If you do not like Black culture, great! Fine! Don’t participate, but PLEASE stop judging so harshly.
It is possible that you have a truly valid experience or know an individual or group that “proves” the negative stereotypes. To this point, I had to realize that individuals do not get to speak for whole races of people. I do not want the whole White race scorned because of my mistakes. Oh boy, if we judged the White race on the behavior in my teens and young twenties it would be pitiful! Also, I had to take another hint from Dr. King on this one, “Any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them, and the social conditions that cripple them is a spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial.” B-O-O-M *Mike Drop* We can move on now.
Step 3: Discover Black Joy
I was welcomed into the loving arms of a Black family, lived in a Black community, taught at wonderful school with a 98% Black student population and I still must consciously practice this step. That goes to show how far this world has gone to stifle the narrative of Black joy out of everyday life.
Find movies and TV shows with Black characters (Black-ish, Hamilton, Black Panther). Listen to music created by Black people (Gospel, Jazz, Rap, Hip-Hop, Motown, Funk). Make friends with and eat foods prepared by Black people. Follow Black artist on Social Media (@mrchazz, @dr.annlouise.lockhart, @ibramxk, @lyric_laughter_learning) Still struggling to find the joy? Participate in vulnerable, open conversations about it with people who think differently than you.
Here are some examples you can try with your family:
I am Every Good Thing
Full Full Full of Love
Step 4: Notice how these steps have nothing to do with your child. This is about you.
It is so hard not to fall into the trap of “teachable moments”, lectures, and history lessons. A lot of voices are telling us that is the road we must walk. I am offering a different road. A road with more respect and compassion for, and trust in your child. If you are doing the work on yourself, you will be modeling an antiracist lifestyle. Your kids will follow suit and hopefully improve on it in their future. Here is an example:
Your child points at a person who is homeless and declares, “Black people are poor!”. This is not a time to say, “Hey! That’s racist! We don’t talk like that and here’s why!” This is a time to say to YOURSELF, “Uh-oh! I must not have exposed her to enough Black joy if she associates homelessness with Black people. I better fix that. Tonight, we are going to watch a show with positive Black characters, listen to music created by Black people, or read books featuring Black families.” Now, climb out of your embarrassment, apologize to the person your daughter offended, and get to work!
One last thing before I go. I want to stress again; this work is for EVERYONE. We all, including people of color, need to reflect on our own identities and biases. I do it because I know it will have a powerful, meaningful, and positive impact on my children and home. Plus, “The time is always right to do what is right.”- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.