Raising white men in America

I mentioned in passing yesterday that I think there’s a special responsibility when you’re raising white boys to be men in America. (Maybe in other countries, too, but I can only speak to America as here and Mexico are the only places I’ve ever lived.) A couple people asked in the comments and by email for me to expound on my thoughts.

As with everything, I’m not an expert. But when my first child came out and was a boy, I started thinking about what my job was in raising him. I’d been prepared to raise a strong girl, but hadn’t put as much thought into how to raise a truly strong boy. Once I started thinking about that, it occurred to me that I also had the responsibility to raise a child who was going to have some understanding of race and ethinitcity in America and wasn’t going to take undue advantage of the system.

The first part of this is raising kids who are happy with who they are, who know what makes them special, and who are willing to work hard but also know their own areas of competence. If you really know who you are, then you don’t need to think less of anyone else. You all have seen it on the internet–the people who attack (obviously or passively) are the ones who aren’t sure about themselves.

With the next step, I have a huge advantage. We live in New York City, so we bump into (literally) people of all races and ethnicities all day long every day. We ride the subway and bus, and interact with people wherever we are. When you have the chance to see people who look different from you and from each other, it’s easy to show your kids that people are people. Knowing people of other ethnicities is the best way to lessen interpersonal racism, because you know they are people, not just  categories.

I’m not sure how I’d work it if I lived in a place in which there wasn’t as much opportunity for one-on-one interaction with people who didn’t look like my kids. I grew up in a neighborhood that was overwhelmingly white but my parents had a variety of friends from different backgrounds. And they had the idea that we should know about more places and people than just the ones on our street. That openness informed the way they chose books and toys and TV shows for us to watch and helped us navigate things later on.

I think the bigger challenge than helping your kids avoid interpersonal racism is dealing with institutional racism. In my opinion, institutional racism is far more evil and hard to fight. The biggest problem is that, for white people at least, it’s invisible. It just looks like The Way It Is, and unless someone talks about it with you, it can be hard to understand that the status quo isn’t necessarily fair or just, and is putting some people in a position of superiority to others. Then once you know that, it’s even harder to figure out what you can do not to reinforce that system.

So, what’s the best way to smoke something out? Talk about it. And talk and talk and talk. In an age-appropriate way, of course, but when you see any kind of bias going on, talk about it with your kids. This election cycle is a bonus of teachable moments if your kids are 5 or older. (Both on women’s history and on race and ethnicity in America.) The news (at least here in NYC) is also an unfortunate object lesson if you’re willing to talk about why a kid with a candy bar gets shot for being in the “wrong” neighborhood.

I sometimes worry about saying the wrong thing. But then I think, as long as I’m keeping my eyes open and listening to what’s going on and helping my kids learn to distinguish appearances from reality, whatever we say is part of the process. It’s not like you can just swallow a Don’t Be Part Of The Problem pill and everything’s fixed. Human beings are born to make classifications and divisions, and unpacking that takes a long time and a willingness to keep up the conversation even when it’s not happy.

I learned a heck of a lot about institutional racism from reading blogs of people who write a lot about race (some of them are about transracial adoption):

Anti-Racist Parent

American Family (and her entire blogroll)



Peter’s Cross Station

If you start with any one of these blogs and start reading and following links, you will read some important stuff by some thoughtful people. And if you’re white like me and my kids, you will probably read somethings that make you feel uncomfortable at best. That’s part of the process. You need to know. So do your kids. I know they have more practical suggestions than I do, but then, I’m still trying to find a path through it myself.


0 thoughts on “Raising white men in America”

  1. I have the same concern. Since one of my degrees is in Human Geography, race, ethnicity, and human systems (institutions, culture, etc.) are all part of my consciousness. Being Quaker and UU as a family also means that’s a very central topic to our ethics and theology. Once you get to ‘there is that of God in everyone’ you have a position on race relations. And then what?We talk about it, as you do. The kids went for a while to a school that is significantly diverse (for our area, in particular), with a lot of kids whose parents were professionals on short-term contracts in the US – one year I realized that there were I think four ‘typical white-bread American’ kids in the class, and everyone else was from somewhere else or was mixed race with one parent from far away. Mine was one of the white bread ones.
    So, we talk about it. And I have some background in how to talk about it. And I have some experience in discrimination, as I made the mistake of mentioning (and that statement alone is sad) that I’m part Native American to a teacher (in grad school, at that), and suddenly I was THE EXPERT, the representative of my ethnicity, I was called on in class to provide a ‘different’ perspective. This even though we don’t even know what nation we’re from, as it was my dad’s grandmother who was full-blood, and one didn’t TALK about it, back then. It gave me a very interesting perspective on being white, as I was and am still pretty white – but got to experience for a short time what it was like to just be ‘different and noticed as different’. Not even in a negative way. It still was horrible.
    I also hung with a grad student who is African-American, married to a man from Ghana, so she had a lot of interesting observations about being black and being African, and the differences and similarities, the areas of culture that suddenly stood out to her, the areas of discrimination that made her even angrier (her husband was automatically much more respected than her brother was by some people, as he was, um, AFRICAN – not African-American. Exotics were okay, though still ‘different’, but native-and-non-white, NOT okay…).
    Anyway, there’s a lot of content from our conversations that leaks out in conversation. A lot about the assumptions that there is one culture in the US, about assumptions about motivations, actions, choices. That’s part of my parenting of my white males.
    Another part is the whole male thing, on its own. What does it mean to be masculine, how do you define your role and identity, etc. Those are also my responsibility to teach as open lessons, not covert or assumed. If they’re gonna be typical white boys, I want that to be a conscious choice, not just something that happens to them. But I doubt they’ll be typical anything but themselves, as it stands.

  2. “And if you’re white like me and my kids, you will probably read somethings that make you feel uncomfortable at best. That’s part of the process.”One of the things I would always say to the teachers I was coaching (and my students too) was that if you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not learning and growing. The goal is to always be in a state that is just outside your comfort level. Then you know you’re moving forward.

  3. I’m looking forward to the discussion. My step-son is multi-racial (similar background to Tiger Woods). My husband and daughters are multi-racial also, but not as visibly. Mostly, it’s a hard to pronounce last name that’s the obvious difference from the people around us, and if you go to certain neighborhoods here, the name blends in, but the appearance doesn’t.It has been important to me for my step-son to have some awareness of his heritage and that “things were not always this way.” – Fifty years ago (in Florida), things sure would have been different for him and his parents. It’s also been important to me (not sure if it is for him) to notice other kids who look like him – as he’s frequently the only one at school or Scout events that looks like him. It’s reassuring to me for some reason that there are more and more multi-ethnic kids here (at least in our circle).
    So, this might not be germane to today’s discussion, but I’m interested in how do you give your multi-ethnic child a balanced upbringing so that he/she is aware of all of the cultures that he has a foot in? Here is the twist in our family, his mother (who, I’m sure would have much more insight into race issues and the history of the civil rights movement) seems to be only tangentially involved in his life. I’m not sure that they’re covering any of this in their occasional phone conversations. :^S

  4. I’ve spent my whole life in very white environments (I am white myself) — grew up in WV, went to an engineering school (OK, white and Asian), live in a very white area, taught in a prep school. (Which actually had a fair amount of linguistic and cultural diversity, but one of the uncomfortable secret messages was “black people are poor” — they were very, very disproportionately the scholarship kids, which meant in addition they were very disproportionately academically underprepared…there’s a chance my daughter will end up in this prep school world as well, and I’m concerned about those kinds of messages.)As you say, the most helpful thing is talking to people. Some environments don’t make this easy and you have to go out of your way to do it, which might involve going into spaces you’re not comfortable in (though this might be a problem the internet can help with).
    The thing I’ve found most helpful is reading biographies, because it’s a similar value to getting to know people firsthand. You get to see how genuinely different people’s lives are, the different obstacles and opportunities other people have, and the different assumptions (sometimes very different) that can run through their culture. That’s the sort of thing you can’t just *tell* people (at least, not without having them roll their eyes or not really understand you); people have to experience it, or see others experience it up-close, to understand.
    So I would talk to your friendly local children’s librarians and see what kind of age-appropriate books they can recommend that center on the lives and cultures of people from very different backgrounds. Fiction would work too, I think, as long as it’s of the “taking for granted that this is the world the characters inhabit” variety rather than the “hitting people over the head with it to be PC” variety (which kids see right through anyway).

  5. This issue means a lot to me. Although I’m “white” (I do like to point out that my heritage is a mixture of Italian, Swedish, Irish and English, which historically would have been a big deal), many of my relatives have married people from Asian countries and have multi-racial children. Also, growing up around DC (like NYC) makes it feel normal to be around people of many races and cultures.Hubby and I talk a lot about moving South again. But I worry mainly about how non-diverse or segregated certain areas are. I’m sure we will someday, and I plan to keep talking about these things, pointing out how not everyone looks or thinks the same, and making sure TV, movies and books contain diversity. Most importantly, I want to travel with the child(ren) a lot so they can experience what other cultures are like and learn respect for other cultures.
    My main worry is about how certain family members (*cough*inlaws*cough*) are not used to diversity and do not understand how to say things politically correctly. In fact, many of them scoff at having to be so “PC.” This includes not only outright sexism but that underlying belief in stereotypical gender and racial differences. (This is fresh in my mind, having just witnessed someone talking to my daughter about what a girl will do and like as opposed to a boy just this morning.) Thank goodness my daughter is only 16 months, but how do I counter act this as she gets older and understands?
    They really come from a different culture within the US than I do, and it’s such a pervasive underlying given, that I don’t even know how to begin to talk to them about how what they say can affect my daughter in ways I don’t want. They won’t even get the differences I’m talking about. Anyone got ideas?

  6. I’m so glad you’re addressing this, Moxie, as it’s very important to me. I still remember finding out in the ultrasound that I was having a boy and thinking, “Oh my goodness, I’m raising The Man!” I was raised in an almost entirely white environment and it’s not something I want for my children (both boys). Raising boys that see beyond the color barrier that has long stood in this country (but don’t ignore the cultural differences) is one of the ways I hope to raise good humans. I can’t wait to see everyone’s suggestions. Our solution was to live in a diverse neighborhood (thus staying in the city and out of the burbs) and to choose a diverse daycare.

  7. I’ll admit this isn’t something I’ve given a lot of thought to. We used to live in a very not-diverse part of the world (eastern Washington) and I, who was brought up in the city, caught myself almost doing a double-take when I SAW a black person at the grocery store near my home. That was an eye-opener for me, and one of the things that made us choose to move back to a more diversely populated area before we started a family.The Munchkin got a fabulous book for her birthday this year — People by Peter Spier. It’s filled with great, detailed illustrations and talks about (and celebrates) all the ways in which people are different from each other, physically and culturally. We’ve had some good talks while looking at it — differentiating her hair color (blond), for example, with that of a friend at daycare (black — she’s asian).
    I’m going to check out those blogs (my employer really thanks you Moxie for enabling my blog-addiction!) and work on getting a better understanding for myself so that as my kids age, I’ll be better prepared to model the attitudes I hope they’ll choose.
    Also, I’ve not read it yet, but my SIL, who has three boys, strongly recommends Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson. (This book isn’t about the responsibility to society so much as to the boys themselves.)

  8. I think we really need to think about how we’re raising boys to be men too. I was shocked when the ultrasound revealed I was having a boy — I was so focused on raising a strong, self-confident daughter, I never even imagined I’d be raising a boy. The recent events surrounding Hillary Clinton (the attacks on her character/dress/behavior that reaked of sexism) made it all hit home for me — so many people failed to see the sexism in the attacks on her, because it is still so a part of the everyday landscape. Please let us all work hard to raise men who see their privileges and fight misogyny.

  9. @caramama, I remember a conversation I had with my mother when I was maybe 4? 5? It was a different situation, but might work for you, too.My mom had an aunt who never married, was in the air force and was prone to using language of which let’s just say my mother did not approve. (My mother, the woman to whom ‘butt’ is a bad word.) I was kind of unfazed by it, but after spending time with the aunt one day, my mom talked to me about how we love auntie so-and-so and she is an adult who gets to make her own decisions, but that we don’t necessarily agree with her choice to use that kind of language.
    It was a good lesson for me in how you can love and support the person while still disagreeing with the behavior.
    I would think, particularly if diversity/racism/sexism was something you were open and talked about with the Pumpkin, your in-laws (or whoever) words and attitudes might be a great opening for you to have this sort of discussion. There’s real value in understanding that you can disagree with someone’s beliefs and still love and value that person.

  10. I think my husband would likely have some interesting things to say about this but, unlike me, he does not have a cushy office job with air conditioning and access to a computer and is instead working outside in the unbelievable heat and humidity. But I thought about this issue with him in mind (he is white) and have this to say, which is only my limited perspective: DH was raised by a feminist Mom (she is one of my closest friends) and one thing she did spectacularly well is that she provided/taught DH an emotional vocabulary. This gives him the ability to articulate his emotions. I think this can be rare in males (of most colors). That we tend to overlook their need to have an emotional vocabulary. They need it. It helps them. There is one thing, however, that she did with the best of intentions that didn’t work so well, and DH has mentioned this to me several times—in her striving to teach him to respect women (sexually, in particular) what she inadvertently taught is that women, inherently, do not like sex. So DH had to struggle through this as a young man, having guilty or not great feelings in regard to his sexual life. It took work for him to understand that women do, indeed, often enjoy sex in a similar way that men do. And it was an enormous relief to him to realize this.I have two little girls, and I love them completely and feel lucky to have them, but DH and I have spoken about feeling regret that we don’t have the chance to raise a white male in this society. That to do so is a tremendous opportunity and responsibility. Although having just written that, I suppose raising two girls to be women is no less work! There is no easy way.

  11. Very interesting Moxie. You did a great job of addressing race/ethnicity issues, but I kept waiting though as a I read for you to address the “men” part of the equation.My son is lucky to have a SAHD as a role model. He will grow up in an environment where men and women are equal and where we choose our roles based on our abilities, qualities and respect for each other, rather than on pre-determined gender roles.
    But I also wonder about how society is starting to perceive boys and think that they are starting to get the short end of the stick in a number of circumstances. I think we have a responsibility to raise boys that will overcome some of society’s stereotypes about men and boys. I wrote more about this on my blog in a post called “Bias Against Boys”: http://phdinparenting.wordpress.com/2008/07/12/bias-against-boys/

  12. You know, “the way it is” is a powerful message not just for white people, but for other folks, too.In our family, my kids both look very light and are part latino, part jewish, and part WASP. We have some good “internalized racism” stories from our family, which we try to use as teaching moments. My four year old recently asked why her grandfather (a pioneer in many ways as a successful professional of Puerto Rican descent) did not teach DH to speak Spanish.
    I think this is part about being willing to talk openly about racism and other similar forms of oppression in history. Starting with the questions like “do you think it was fair that the teacher treated your friend that way?” and NOT always having (or immediately sharing) your canned PC answers for everything.
    And I think this is also about encouraging the skill of empathy from a young age…which certainly does not come naturally to my kids in any context!
    And finally, we are trying to teach our kids about social justice, that you insist on being treated with respect and you insist on others being treated with respect. That you do this even when your friends aren’t. When I think about my son as a growing “white” boy…I see this mostly as an issue of resisting peer pressure. But beyond that, I don’t think we have a VERY different approach between our son and our daughter…in part because I’m not big into the white-guilt trip nonsense (…and, DS, you’ll be THE MAN too if you don’t spend 20 hours a week meditating on diversity…).
    It does bear mentioning that we live in and love a diverse group of people, activities, foods, etc…so I am *hopeful* that my kids will view some amount of cultural difference as natural.

  13. I grew up in a small town (pop. 200) in Ohio, went to school with all white kids, etc. The summer after I was in the fifth grade, my parents drove us to a parking lot near downtown Cleveland, where we met a bus and the organizers from a group called Friendly Town. An inner-city girl my age, the first black person I can remember speaking to in my life, was coming to our house to stay for a few days.Although I didn’t realize it at the time, that visit had a huge, far- reaching impact on my attitude toward race. The things that I remember most were making fun of each other’s accents, being confused that she didn’t wash her hair when she showered, goofing off and hanging out in my room, and making quite a splash at the community swimming pool. When we took her home, we had dinner with her family, and made arrangements later on for her to come for another visit during the school year, to come to school with me for a few days.
    I wished then, and still wish now, that I’d been allowed to go visit her school with her for a few days, and stay with her family in the city. That would have prepared me a little more, perhaps, for my college experience at the University of Cincinnati, but I’m sure my mom feared too much for my safety to allow that to happen at that point. (And honestly, as a mom, I would probably make the same decision for my kids now.)
    That experience left me with an impression that people are people, no matter what their skin color, and I’ve had quite a few surprises since then, when other people more accustomed to seeing race first have had different expectations. When I first enrolled at UC, they were proud to be an Affirmative Action institution, and I expected to be in a culturally diverse environment with other students who were as interested and open- minded as I was. Instead, I found self- segregation and willingness only to socialize within races, not across them. The black students, even in the dorm room next to mine, didn’t even acknowledge me when I’d greet them in the hallway.
    Now, I’m not sure how to present racial issues to my kids. I want them to grow up seeing people of different colors, not ‘different’ colored people. But I want them to be prepared for how they’re going to be seen by other people, too.
    In ‘The Art of Happiness’, about the Dalai Lama, the author was struck by the ease with which the Dalai Lama, the head of one of the world’s major religions, could easily identify with and strike up conversations with the housekeeping staff in any given hotel, making them feel a real connection with him, person to person. That’s what I try to remember whenever I meet someone new, of any race or background, and what I’d like to impart in my children, as well.

  14. We do a lot of “talking” around here. My older kids go to a fairly diverse private school (not as many African-Americans as Asian, South Asian, and Hispanic, but all in all, the minorities as a group about equal the white kids), and two years ago we moved to a very mixed neighborhood one block from a major inner-city university, so they have both black and white friends in their lives. The baby’s best playmate is the child of a lesbian couple down the street, so we’re more than just racially diverse in our friendships. I think my kids do a fairly good job of accepting people of different colors simply as people with different colored skin.Our real problem is teaching them about the socio-economic differences in the world. Because they go to a private school, they are surrounded by the children of professionals of decent means. It means that no matter the children’s skin color or country of origin, they talk like my kids, have similar home lives, etc. Same goes for our neighborhood–lots of academics who teach or are administrators at the university, lots of middle and high school teachers, a state-level politician, lawyers, doctors, etc. These people are all different colors… but they are all like us (or better off!) in their socio-economic means. But being in the inner-city means that we are surrounded by neighborhoods that are not as well off as ours. And here’s the catch. How do you explain to young children the differences in a way that is compassionate yet clear? I’ll give you an example:
    We passed a homeless man while driving the other day and my 8 y.o. son said (not in a nice voice), “That guy is either drunk, poor, or retarded!” Wow. So I asked him to explain why he would say such a thing. He began to answer that I had told him that homeless people were drunk, poor, and/or retarded. And then it came back to me. He asked once why someone was begging on the street, and I went into one of my long explanations about how the system frequently fails people with problems like mental ilnnesses and this can make it hard for them to hold a job and that they might turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism for their problems and that it was a big cycle of issues that were difficult to resolve. I was quite proud that I’d given him this non-judgmental explanation, but clearly all he heard was “blah, blah, blah, DRUNK, blah, blah, blah, POOR, blah, blah, blah, RETARDED.”
    In my defense, I don’t think it was the way it was explained for he seems to have grasped other of my lengthy explanations (like the lingering effects of slavery, the importance of treating people nicely despite their skin color, etc) quite well. But that’s stuff he gets to put into practice every day. What I really need to do is find a way to expose him to people of different socio-economic circumstances so he can develop a compassionate approach to them. I want him to be the kind of white man who wants to take care of others as opposed to the kind who says, “Well, they should have tried harder” which is the kind of white men I grew up around.
    Oh, and I should qualify the “White man” part… the older kids are only half white (their dad is Mexican), so while my son looks as white as I do, he has a Spanish name and will always struggle with his identity as a “white boy with a Spanish name who can’t speak Spanish.”
    Being a parent is a lot of work!

  15. I worry about this often. My son is only six months old, but since I discovered I was having a boy, I have thought about how to raise a “good man” in today’s society. His father definitely fits into that category and I think we’ll be just fine.I also have always been concerned about exposing him to as much diversity as possible; it’s very important to me. We live in Portland, OR which is a liberal and understanding oasis in a very “red” state and I appreciate that most here at least try to learn from people of different backgrounds. Portlanders like to tout themselves as diverse but the fact is that we are also very white here. I just read somewhere that we are the “whitest” medium to large sized city in the U.S. So, while my son will have more of an opportunity to see people of different colors and cultures than I did growing up (in a small logging town a few hours south of Portland) the majority of who he sees on a daily basis will look just like him, and have a (roughly) similar upbringing. I plan on reading with him a lot, watching educational programming, talking talking talking, and seeking out a variety of experiences wherever they’re available.

  16. On the MEN issue, I think the main thing is teaching them to be whole human beings.If they are, then they’ll be humans first, and everything else second.
    That means teching emotional language and literacy, ensuring they have good “EQ”s.
    That also means teaching them to be confident of their choices, whether those choices are in line with or not in line with cultural norms.
    It means teaching them to be *aware* of their choices and actions, to think about themselves in action and to wonder and question their own motives.
    It also means teaching them to think about thinking – metacognition, being aware of the method and manner of one’s own thought process. It’s a good ‘habit of mind’ to have, regardless, but it helps keep one attuned to assumptions and bias.
    Any of the skills that allow them to be fully human first, and whatever gender and ethnicity they may be second, will go miles toward having them not be encumbered by that gender and ethnicity.
    I am not sure how to do that if the men in their lives don’t do that, though. Modeling is incredibly important in this.
    Modeling self-awareness, being comfortable with social and personal behavior that is not gender-typical (like, oh, DH is the laundry guy), and being willing to make choices that are difficult to implement but are right for oneself – that’s important stuff. Not at ALL sure how to proceed if there isn’t a good model.
    Thoughts? How does one teach without a model for what the goal is? (And thanks for the biography idea.)
    (Oh, and caramama, my kids often point out to each other when they’re watching something historical – ‘hey, our ancestors are fighting our other ancestors again!’ They’re very aware of their heritage, and the ironies involved in being in one person a descendant of both sides of so many divides.)

  17. This is so timely. I got together this past weekend with a great group of (mostly white) mamas and somehow the conversation turned to both religion and racism over the course of the evening. Could have been very uncomfortable but was actually great.We live in a really, really white area and one of the mamas was mortified because her 3-year-old had started saying, “hey, there’s Obama! Hi Obama!” every time she saw a black person (of either gender). Kids this age are just trying to make sense of the world and the differences they’re seeing, based on what they know. But of course the concept of race is so deeply embedded in American society that any discussion of difference which touches on this becomes immediately racially charged.
    I have no clue how to handle this. Just starting to think about it.

  18. I always feel like raising a white male is such a great opportunity to raise someone that’s going to be respectful of women. For one thing, I love that he’s seeing his dad play an equal role in taking care of him and the house. I hope his wife thanks me one day. Assuming he marries a woman, of course.

  19. I’ve been reading William Pollock’s “Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood” because I’m worried about this exact subject. My husband is prone to joking about “real men do X” (or don’t do X), and it drives me NUTS.We’re a white family with a very colorful extended family (African, Asian, & Hispanic), so my son knows and loves people of many races and ethnicities.
    I’m also glad that he loves so many books that show diversity, including “Everywhere Babies” and “More More More” and Ezra Jack Keats’ books and such. I grew up reading biographies of Harriet Tubman,Maxine Hong, Frederick Douglas, et al. and I fully intend to pass those along to my son.

  20. …oh and my husband is a SAHD, so I hope our son is getting ideas about gender balance, too. I’m eagerly awaiting others’ thoughts on the subject!

  21. I wanted to say how thoughtful this discussion is to read–thank you. We think a lot about these things at our house, though we look pretty white-bread, as it were, from the outside. We are an atheist-Jew/culturally Catholic (non-practicing) household, and it is a challenge to keep our kids aware of their heritage without actually having a religion to teach them. It seems like there should be a way to keep a connection to our histories and yet not be held hostage by them, if that makes sense. Religion and culture are so bound up in each other at times, and I am still often amazed at how our non-church-attending status, and my husband’s Jewishness, can cause such confusion when we meet new parents and kids. In the grand scheme of things, it is pretty mild, and it’s important to us to let the kids know there are all sorts of people and lives and priorities out there. I hope that, eventually, dealing with what we deal with can be a way for our kids to think about other people’s challenges when they do start to notice society’s flagging of people’s differences. But it’s hard to know when and if we are pulling it off. (I keep thinking all that’s in the past, but then there was an anti-Semitic rant as a letter to the editor last month in the paper, and my husband’s not surprised, and I wonder what world my kids will find waiting for them, and I think about all the other discrimination in the world, and my stomach hurts, and I hope the world gets to be a better place. I tried to think of a less-sappy way to say that, but I haven’t yet. We keep trying to right the wrongs, right? That’s how we get through?)Thanks for listening.

  22. moxie rocks.i know every poster agrees.
    i needed this dear beautiful Moxie (and posters).
    my MIL, whom i love beyond belief, was reading my DD a book and said-
    “Oh look, she is a chi-neeese girl”.
    and boy did i call her out!
    i hurt her tremendously (embarrassed?) and i couldn’t articulate well why that hurt my heart so…
    so thanks everyone for this affirming post.

  23. Thinking back – I read a lot of biographies as a child. I had a series that were illustrated, Louis Pasteur and Geronimo come to mind, and then in sixth grade my teacher had a shelf with biographies that you could check out one at a time and take home and read.I’m raising my son without a father. I’m going to teach him how to pee standing up even though I don’t do it myself. I want him to grow up to be the best person he can be first and foremost. I’m going to play catch with him and I’m going to cook for him until he’s old enough to cook with me (and even then I’ll still cook for him because feeding him seems like such a complete expression of love) and read to him and help him with his homework (math and science, too) and teach him how to ride a bike and explain to him that people and families come in all different colors, shapes and sizes and he’s probably always going to find fart jokes a lot more funny than I do – without me ever having to tell him to.

  24. This is a great, important conversation to have. I would like to emphasize the importance of teaching that diversity includes background. I am a fair-skinned, white woman, the last “image” of someone you’d think would be the victim of discrimination. But, we moved here from Germany when I was 5, and I was immediately nicknamed “Nazi,” “Commi,” or “Lobsterback” (don’t you love that one??? Courtesy of the kids who lumped the British during the Revolutionary War in with Nazis…all thanks to the red coat I had in 5th grade). The sad irony is that I DID have relatives on my mom’s side who were Nazi. My dad’s side, however, was Polish, and many of them (Jewish and otherwise) were killed during the war…how’s THAT for diversity. Not sure how they managed to find each other and get over all of that. How do you have that conversation–“Hey, your grandpa didn’t kill my uncle, did he?” Anyway, I think it’s easy to teach kids about the importance of appreciating people for all their differences, but that it goes beyond the physical and obvious ones.

  25. @jan – That is a really good point about how you can love and support people while disagreeing with what they are doing/saying. Great idea for a conversation. I will remember that.@hedra – Good point about being one person descendant of different sides. That can be true of ancenstors and direct relatives, can’t it?
    This is a great discussion! Thanks to Moxie and everyone contributing.

  26. @Kate–“Everywhere babies” is my absolute favorite! The illustrations of all the babies are soooo beautiful. I loved this book right away in part because it very subtly and naturally shows all sorts of different families… and, sadly, this is the very same reason why this book is often challenged and even pulled from library shelves. This book is my standard gift for the one-year birthday. I encourage everyone to buy or check this book out of their library.

  27. @rudyinparis – It’s part of my standard “baby library” gift (along with “More More More,” “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom,” “A Snowy Day,” “Charlie Parker Played Be-Bop,” and, er… the ones I’m forgetting). I bought it when someone wrote to an advice columnist about a recipient’s objection to it as lesbian propaganda (wtf?). I figured I had to check it out, and I LOVE it (as does my son). Beautiful book.

  28. I grew up in the forties and fifties in an ethnically and racially segregated neighborhood in New York City. I was incredibly lucky to have the parents I had who had absolutely no prejudices whatsoever and never talked the talk, always walked the walk. When I was under 10, my father had a bridge game at home every week. One of the regulars was an African American named Charlie (I didn’t know anyone’s last name) who came with the biggest dog I’d ever seen (a chow). He and the other men got along very well. And my mother served coffee and cake to all. It never occurred to me until I was well into adulthood that the reason the dog came with him was probably because he was coming into a white neighborhood alone.My parents loved and patronized (in a small bourgeois way) the arts all their lives and that brought artists and authors and books and shows and concerts and movies of all kinds into our lives. It was nothing unusual. So I grew up with a thirst for meeting people who weren’t like me. Again, none of this was discussed at the dinner table, it was just done. And exposure to the arts in the forties and fifties, contrary maybe to today’s conventional wisdom, was chockful of lessons and examples of tolerance. The horrors of World War 2 made the country ready to hear those messages. Raise your kids with South Pacific on the cd player. It will do wonders. Show the movie to them once a year, along with It’s a Wonderful Life which celebrates white small town life. If I had to cite only one thing my parents and mainly my father did for me was to imprint on me the vibrant American culture prior to 1960. It made me happy to accept the civil rights struggle the country needed to engage in. After that, the culture became more violent and cynical. Rodgers and Hammerstein taught me more tnan Stephen Sondheim. As Oscar Hammerstein said in South Pacific, “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear, it’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear, you’ve got to be carefully taught…”
    Women and Men? Not so easy and perhaps another post, not so positive.

  29. Yeah, this is a really timely post. There are just so many choices available to many of us, as white people, to either make diversity a priority for our children, or to focus on something else that might be important to us. In my town, it’s all about the schools. The public schools are diverse, but…parents have, over the years, managed to make it as segregated as possible. We have a population that is about half white, with many of those folks being well-off, university-types, and a population that is about half African-American, among whom many work in low-wage jobs at that same university. As a teacher in the public school system, I can tell you there is a huge discrepancy between how those 2 populations enter our schools, and mainly white parents have been hard at work for decades keeping those 2 populations separate in their classes using tracking, etc. So I know I’ll be sending my children to the public schools, because I don’t want them to grow up missing out on interacting with so many different kinds of people, but I know I will still have to battle to make sure they actually get to interact with them. Before the same thing happens to my kids that happens to other white kids in our system- they start to see all black children as poor, not very smart, and not interested in school. It is heartbreaking and so so wrong. It is a tiring process, loaded with personal and professional battles, and with white privilege, it would be easy to take the easy way out, and not challenge the system, or send my kids to the very cool-seeming Waldorf school instead.And don’t get me started on how much I’ve been questioning myself as a teacher when it comes to boys. I’ve always been working so hard to promote the idea in the classroom that women can do science, and girls do much better in my classes (and other classes at the HS level) than the boys do. I feel like I have a lot of learning to do, and refining of my teaching to figure this out. On one hand, I love that the girls are empowered to do well, and achieve in science despite all the things that are STILL being said and done to inhibit them, but my boys… I need to learn what to do better for them.

  30. Can I also mention that we are about to go visit my in-laws, who without reservation say all kinds of racist and terrible things, qualifying it all with, “Well, that’s been MY experience….” I’m so tired of all the fights, now I just say, “As you know, that is not at all what my experience has been,” or, “I completely disagree with you.” Let me also get ready for all the “you’re not going to breastfeed her until kindergarten, are you?” because I am still nursing my 9 month old.

  31. Another really interesting conversation. I also have a son (he’s only 9.5 months old now) and think often about how I want to raise him to be a sensitive, thoughtful young man….Luckily he’ll grow up in a VERY multicultural environment since I’m Australian (half white/half Chinese) and my husband is white American and we live in Japan…so he’s the odd one out here!! I love the idea to read books, but I also thought another fun way to introduce other cultures is to eat different types of food from all around the world. Since I grew up in a multi-racial family, my father was really great about introducing us to new foods – you always have to try something once, but if you don’t like it then you don’t have to have it again. I’m looking forward to reading everyone else’s comments!!!

  32. we were one of a few white families growing up in an all black (and very poor) neighborhood in the 70’s. i cannot explain how grateful i am now for that experience. it gave me the chance to SEE people as people – not just intellectually see us all as equals. that’s the problem (IMO) – we’re not all equals. we should be, and i wish every day we were, but we’re just not. i was lucky enough to realize that some black (fill in any race) people are fabulous, and some are not – but their worth as a person isn’t color dependent. i honestly believe that experience with, and exposure to, human beings of every everything is what keeps us aware. talking about equality with our kids on the couch doesn’t cut it. until kids see that people are still not treated equally in this country, until they see these things happening, and hear what that feels like to another human being, i don’t think kids will feel it.i absolutely agree that pointing discrimination out to your children, and subsequently allowing them to dialogue about it, is essential. more importantly, i think we need to teach children to speak OUT against it. as a white person especially, i think we need to teach our kids to be able to tell an adult when they’re uncomfortable with their disrespectful language. is that hard and scary?-yes. as a kid, i grew up in a family where 1) children were supposed to be seen and not heard, and 2)horribly racist language was perfectly normal. my mom (a quiet, wonderful woman) never stood up to her parents around this type of language, but she always supported me when i did. i had no qualms about saying, “that word is not okay with me. and ________ is why.” they teased me and gave me a hard time, but i honestly think it gave them pause many times.
    and also, model the behavior. books, music, and all art are great ways to expose children to things and people that don’t look/live/talk/walk like them, but when your children see YOU speak/touch/laugh with people respectfully, they feel that. and that’s hopefully what will carry them when they’re exposed to all the other ugliness… one other thing (i promise!) – in high school and college, i was a part of “racial awareness” programs put together by students both within our school, and from other local schools. the oppportunity to dialogue about misunderstandings/fears/concerns honestly was priceless. for those of you in very white areas, think about bringing diversity to your community. think about bringing the dialogue to your kids.
    great post, moxie.

  33. This is an incredibly important topic and discussion and Moxie – thanks for bringing it up.@Erica – I think you hit on a major point of difficulty: how to model effective anti-racist, anti-sexist behavior for our kids. When I’m watching a movie with my son (once he’s old enough to watch movies…he’s only 19 months), it’ll be straightforward enough to talk about the assumptions being made on screen, or stereotypes being used, or subtexts of racism and sexism and classism. But what about in your own living room? When (as Erica describes) you’ve got a relative saying boneheaded crap in your presence?
    I think that Jan makes a lovely point about teaching our children to love a person even if they disagree with them. And that can certainly be done by talking with your kids off line.
    But the other part about raising a white boy (in my case, he’s mixed but definitely looks white and will be assumed to be white as he walks in this world so for all intents and purposes, i.e. assuming positions of power, he is white)….the other part about raising a white boy is teaching him to stand up to offensive talk. I saw this a lot first-hand growing up. For me to criticize someone’s behavior was easily chalked up to just me and my brown self being overly sensitive, but when my white friend criticized that behavior, it had a different resonance to the offender. I would like to teach my son to call out offensive behavior and offensive talk because it will be so much more effective (I think) coming out of his mouth….in many ways more so than mine.
    (Provided he agrees with me on this point which is a whole matter altogether, again, kid’s only 19 months old!)
    To add to the difficulty, I’ve historically protected myself by just leaving the room or changing the subject when the conversation turns ugly in this way, but that’s been for self-protection and is decidedly NOT the modeling I want to do for my son.

  34. My childless coworker returned to the office today with her heart broken. She had come up in the elevator of our government building (which I mention because people riding our elevators tend to either be paid to be there to “help” people or else are very unhappy to be there at all) with a very cute 3 year old and her parents. She had been making googoo eyes at the girl who smiled and waved back. The father turned to my co-worker and said,”I’m surprised she’s smiling at you. I teach her not to smile at white people.”She wanted to know what I would have said since she was speechless. My first thought was, ‘I know you can innoculate a child with smallpox, measles, rubella; I don’t know about innoculating a child with hate.’
    Our country is so broken on so many different levels. It does me good to read all you nice people on the internets tonight.

  35. Oh so many interesting themes recently. This I wanted to be in on yesterday but had the kids up too late to contribute (getting them ready for the flight on friday and the 8 hour time difference).Italy is pretty homogeneous as far as race goes, although southerners have always been discriminated against here in the north, and it would seem we are being slowly but systematically invaded by immigrants from Northern Africa and the Middle East and of course the Rom (if you listened to representatives of our government and the media.)
    We have limited contact ,unfortunately, with non-Italians and therefore, non-white faces here in the town we live in, although I am pleased to report that my son’s kindergarten has a large percentage of children from non-Italian families, so at least he gets to see people who are different there.
    I really push the ‘different, but interesting’ angle here in our house. One of my son’s ‘Thomas’ episodes talks about a new arrival that is ‘different, but very useful- Harvey the train engine for you Thomas buffs, and whenever we watch that I try to stress that there is nothing wrong with looking different, in fact, who wants to be the same as everyone else. Whenever we see a person who dresses different (perhaps a woman in a burqa) or is a different colour and I notice my son take them in, I try to turn the conversation around to talking about how great it is to be different to everyone else.
    My son was probably the only person in the shop the other day that did not comment and, fortunately, did not stare at a bunch of hijab-clad Middle-eastern women that were shopping in the same store. I was appalled at everyone-else’s reaction in the shop. You’d think they had never seen a traditional moslim woman in thier lives before. My son checked them out briefly and discretely and then got on with his business.

  36. I see other book suggestions here and thought I’d toss one more in. My daughter loves the Todd Parr books and we have a lot of them. “It’s Okay to be Different” is a nice one, but if I had to pick only one Todd book to suggest, it’d have to be “The Family Book.”I originally got it because I wanted to open the conversation about adopted families and about the roles of grandparents. (She’s confused because she doesn’t have any grandpas – they’ve all passed away.) It turns out that there are a lot of great images of differently shaped families and positive messages about what all families have in common. (“All families can help each other be strong.” “All families are sad when they lose someone they love.” etc.)
    I, too, am pregnant with a boy and I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to help him find balance in all the messages he learns in Midwest American culture.

  37. @erica – racism by family members is very tough to deal with. My son will have three sets of grandparents and two say openly racist things. And my sister in law is racially mixed but appears african-american and my nephew is half-puerto rican. Does that stop them? Nope. It’s heartbreaking and a struggle to find a balance betwen accepting them for who they are and their limitations and knowing that those thoughts/ideas/words are awful and harmful and not anything I want my son exposed to on a familial level. Asking for those words/topics to not come up just leads to “this is my house and that’s what we say/do here”. Very tough stuff.

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