I grew up in a white, upper middle class family in a neighborhood in a community where we didn’t talk about race. In our area, it was easy to pretend race wasn’t an issue. We’re in a diverse suburb of a metropolis that, at least at the time, didn’t have any blatant issues with racism. Kids I went to school with got bullied and made fun of for all sorts of reasons, but even with adult hindsight, never for race that I was aware of. I grew up thinking all people were equal and that everyone treated them that way.
It wasn’t until I started seeing things in my job like the We Need Diverse Books movement that I realized that how things appeared in my little life is not at all how things are strategically. I started making a point to read more diversely, about race, gender, sexuality, religion, everything.
Then I happened across Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell. While not specifically about antiracism, it does talk a lot about unconscious bias, which for me was a comfortable way to ease into looking at the way I look at the world from my privileged lens without feeling attacked or terribly exposed. If you’re just finding that you, too, maybe didn’t realize your own privilege and want to explore it, this book is an excellent starting point.
As for racism and antiracism specifically, I was fortunate to get to see a panel where Jason Reynolds and Ibram Kendi discussed Stamped, the young adult adaptation of Mr. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning, and get an ARC of it. I’m sure the adult text is excellent, but the YA adaptation was written in language it was easy for my adult brain that wanted to resist the idea that I had been benefiting from racism regardless of my personal beliefs to grasp. It’s about the not speaking up, the not seeking out, and the refusing to see.
I am not a racist. But I also have not done anything in my life about racism. I have not protested, or written to politicians, or reached out to Black community members when I know they’re hurting over another egregious reminder that America is not safe for them like it is for me. I am trying to do better, and I am starting at home.
Right now is a scary time for a lot of reasons, and I feel like I’ve been talking to my boys about a lot of heavy things in a rapidly changing reality. But I am raising little white men, and I do not want them to grow up to be the men Black parents have to warn their children about.
I had another conversation yesterday with Big Brother about how unfair it is that we never had to have a talk with him about how to address police officers so that they don’t maybe kill you, that the two of us, prior to the last two boys’ births, used to walk a neighborhood we didn’t even technically live in at night with no fear at all, that when he was young and I was a single mom on welfare, I was embarrassed because I’d grown up in a family that didn’t need it, but wasn’t the least bit worried that my family would be used as a statistic to say that our race was somehow less than another because I needed the help.
Antiracist Baby, also by Ibram Kendi, releases in June, and I’ve preordered it as a way to introduce the subject to my littler sons.
I know it’s not enough. It will never be enough. But I am doing my best to do better, and that’s the input place I know to start.
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