I have been wanting to come back to this topic for a while now, but since my first go-round with it cost me a couple virtual relationships and apparently painted me as a closet racist, I have been shy to return to it.
Halfway through the school year, the fifth graders completed a huge project for their Heritage Day celebration. Each child had to choose a country that had something to do with their bloodlines and research it. Their findings were to be presented on tri-fold display boards accompanied by a speech the child wrote and would deliver to whoever stopped to view their project. Family and friends were invited to the cafeteria for a show and to eat foods we all brought representing our child’s country. As the kids entered the cafeteria waving the flags of their countries the song, Coming to America by Neil Diamond blared over the loudspeakers. I was horrified. Afterward, I shared my concerns with my son’s teacher. I asked her if they had considered that not everyone came to America willingly; that not everyone came here to be free? She looked a little sheepish and told me they had not covered slavery yet. I suggested that they find a different song for next year.
My children go to a predominantly white school. There is only one person of color who works there and she is a TA (there are also only two men who work there, a custodian and a gym teacher.) My children’s doctors are all white. Their bus driver is white. My son’s competitive soccer team at least has Latino coaches, but that’s it. I can’t think of one person of authority in my children’s lives who is black. (This is not true for me though as I have had bosses, doctors, police officers, school teachers, college professors, and other authority figures of color in my life.) But while I am not feeling good about this overall, I would not go looking for new dentist based on skin color. I will write a letter to our school board and superintendent letting them know that it would be nice if they hired with diversity in mind, and why that matters to me and how that will benefit our children.
Despite the lack of diversity in our school, my son has friends who do not look like him. After his moving up ceremony I asked him to go get his best friends for group shot:
One thing I learned in my quest for figuring out if White Privilege is more prevalent and predictable than just Privilege is that those boys all have a pretty much equal chance at success. That is what social scientist, Annette Lareau, author of Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life. determined after studying several New York City families who had huge discrepancies in income and resources. She learned that income and class had a lot to do with parenting styles, or perhaps it is the other way around, and that parenting styles have a lot to do with the future success of child. While she carefully points out the positives and negatives of both the concerted cultivation and the natural growth parenting methods, what she makes most clear is how the system is set up to better accommodate and reward children raised under concerted cultivation. As you probably already imagined, it takes money and know-how to participate in concerted cultivation parenting, but what you probably would not guess or even believe is that black children raised that way have a better shot than white children raised under natural growth at becoming professionals and staying in or entering the middle class.
Turns out though, it has more to do with than just plenty of money (which is what I thought creates privilege.) It has a lot to do with teaching your children how to view themselves as equals and able to speak to adults in authority; how to advocate for themselves, and how to ask for privileges. Parents who practice natural growth parenting were especially weak themselves in questioning authoritative figures (asking a doctor why she is prescribing a particular medication for example) and tended to accept a professional opinion as the way it is (the teacher said it so it must be true.)
It is all tumbling around in my head. I can already see where I am teaching my children through concerted cultivation to speak for themselves, to view themselves as an equal part of a mutually respectful relationship between teacher/child, doctor/patient, etc. What is missing though are the opportunities for them to participate in this relationship development with people of color.
I also still really have no good ideas for how to talk to my sons about color. Yeah, I read the articles and blog posts on it, and no, I did not find them particularly helpful. I don’t want to plant ideas in the Gecko’s head about his friends; that they have been historically victimized and oppressed, and are still not treated equally due to long-held stereotypes. Why not? Because I don’t know how to do it without lessening who they are now and how he looks up to them exactly as he sees them now. And, secondly, because his friends (according to Lareau) have about the same shot as him at succeeding in life (that’s broad, isn’t it?) so how would I explain that in terms of color?
So I think for now, I am going to continue to talk with them about poverty & lack of opportunity, and how that affects growing children; both black and white.