Practical tips (after the verdict, part 2)

We’re back for Part 2 of the privilege and racism topic. Here is Part 1 on racism and privilege. Someclarifications, and then some practical tips.

To those of you who were ready for this and who’ve thanked
me for writing it right when you needed it–you’re welcome! To those of you who
said “tl;dr” but are then arguing in the comments, go sit down someplace else. If you’re
actually advocating for following strangers around with loaded guns and
provoking fights so you can shoot them, please leave my site and don’t come back. Everyone else, carry on being awesome.

I’m not here to talk about the FL legal system anyway, I’m
here to talk about making the world much better for our kids than it is for us.
Some notes from yesterday’s post:

1. I didn’t come up with the prejudice plus power equals
racism equation. It's credited to Pat Bidol in 1970, and has been a theory in use since then. You may not like it. I didn’t like it the first time I heard
it! I really really wanted to believe that the effects of prejudice were the same no matter who was prejudiced against whom. The problem, though, is that people of color in our current American society don't have the power to inflict widespread harm on white people. Having one Black president in power doesn't change that. Neither do isolated incidents of individual people harming others. It's an entire structure of our society that gives white skin more value than Black skin, in general. If the whole point is to understand how things work, then understanding differences in power and risk and authority are important.

2.  I realized this
morning that I never gave the answers to the questions about hockey and
basketball! Sorry about that. (No, I’m not saying the NHL is an inherently racist
institution. Poorly-run, yes–Gary Bettman is a menace. But that’s a different
topic.) The reason most hockey players are white is that kids have to have
access to ice rinks, parents with flexible enough schedules and time to take
them to practices, and money for expensive equipment that needs to be replaced regularly. Or to live in a small
town that has a huge hockey culture and a system set up to get kids in at an
early age. This is an inherent bias against groups of kids who tend to live in
cities, tend to have lower HHIs, parents with less free time, etc. And those
excluded groups tend to have higher percentages of kids of color. THIS DOESN’T MEAN
THERE’S ANYTHING WRONG WITH PLAYING HOCKEY. It just means there’s a system
going on (that the people who play hockey often don’t even see) that’s
selecting for certain types of players. In contrast, there are basketball
courts on every corner in every city in America, and all you need is one ball per
group of kids, and balls are relatively cheap. So low barrier to entry means
more types of people can play basketball. (As to why the kids who start out playing a
given sport get into the pros, there’s even more going on there that’s
systematic and cultural and a lot of other things that there's no room to get into here. But if you don’t even start
playing, you won’t end up in the pros.)

I love this game of “Why does this happen?” I hope you do,
too. If you’re looking for more categories to play, try “golf” and “appearing
on Meet the Press.”

3. Being hurt by all of this is a good place to start. It
gets easier the deeper you go in. I promise.

And now, party people, here we go. I promised you practical
tips for exploring and ferreting out privilege, and detaching yourself from it
inasmuch as possible. Remember: This is just what I’ve got. I'm not an authority on this, just someone who cares about it and wants to work at it. There are tons and
tons of resources out there, and now you know to look out for them you’re going
to find them.

First, some tips for you as you begin this journey:

1. Know who you are. If you’re feeling conflicted about your
own thoughts, actions, opinions, and motives, it’s going to be hard to learn
from others. If you feel like there’s stuff (from your childhood, from past
experiences, from the situation you’re in right now) that’s preventing you from
being able to listen to others without feeling defensive or raw, give yourself
(and your kids) the gift of the time and space to work on that. It’s never to
late to take care of yourself and become the person you know you can be.

2. Listen. Not everything everyone else says is about you,
but it’s always about them. Listening to others is the best (and sometimes
only) way to understand other experiences so you can see the entire picture,
not just the little piece you have access to.

3. If it hurts, close your mouth, open your ears and heart,
and lean into it. If you're feeling hurt or even just a little bit of friction, that hurt feeling is the signal
that something important is going on. You know how when you exercise, if you
don’t exert yourself to the point of being uncomfortable, you’re not building
any muscle? Yeah, that. We tend to run away from pain, but sometimes having
your feelings hurt is good because it signals you to slow down, listen more
closely, and learn the bigger concepts. (That doesn’t mean letting people abuse
you. But a stranger on the internet saying something to a general audience that
happens to hurt your feelings isn’t abuse–it’s an opportunity for you to
figure out why it hurt your feelings.) I can't even calculate the number of relationships I've saved by shutting my mouth and not saying anything when I felt a little hurt, and then figuring out what I was missing before I said anything damaging.

4. Be deliberate about finding out. A few weeks ago I was at
my 97-year-old grandmother’s house in a small town in Minnesota. We were
watching the nightly news out of Chicago, and she said, “There are so many
Black people on tv nowadays.” I responded, “I know. It’s good that tv is
starting to represent the way the population is now.” She replied, “I suppose
that’s true, but here where I live there are no Black people, so it seems
unrealistic.” Then we had a conversation about sample bias (seriously–I come
from a geeky people).

My grandmother lives in a place in which almost everyone is
white. But you, friend, are on the internet, so you have the entire world available
to you. That means that hearing different perspectives is just about clicking
and reading. And how will you know about anything else if you’re only receiving
the messages from a system that looks transparent to you? So make a deliberate
effort to read and watch–regularly–other perspectives. Choose channels you
normally wouldn’t watch. Buy magazines and newspapers you never noticed before.
Make specific choices to click over and read articles and posts on the internet
that you wouldn’t have been attracted to.

If you’re on Twitter, I made a list of some people I follow
that I think are brilliant and tweet stuff across the spectrum of life and
politics and day-to-day experiences that I wouldn’t necessarily get on my own
as a white woman in a small city in the Midwest. Check them out and follow the
ones that cause the most friction for you: https://twitter.com/AskMoxie/perspectives

5. Don’t try to tell your story unless asked. Yes, your personal story is
both deadly dull and completely fascinating, as is everyone’s, because that’s
the way humans are. But you don’t have to justify your existence or your
interest in not being racist by explaining yourself, so spend your time
listening and learning instead of offering up your story as a way of trying to
earn the right to listen. You’re enough just as you are. (Plus, people of color
already know your story. They’re force-fed the white story every day just by living
in America. They can probably tell you your story already.)

6. Read stuff. What I’m reading now is Greg
Carter’s The United States of the United Races: A Utopian History of Racial Mixing. It’s an academic book about
the positive history of racial mixing in the United States, and it’s
fascinating. Yes, it’s fairly academic, but Greg is both a good writer and a
good storyteller, so you’ll enjoy it and learn aspects of the way our country
tells stories about itself that you probably didn’t know. (And your kids will
be fascinated by the cover illustration.) Having this background of how we got to where we are today is going to be enormously helpful as you work with your kids.

If you’re really ready for the pain and you like fiction
that spanks you a little (think Nabokov or Murakami), you might enjoy Mat
Johnson’s Pym. It’s really hard to describe, and I’ve now tried six times and
deleted them all because they got too convoluted. If you were an English or lit
major in college or are obsessed with explorer stories (like Kontiki or Matthew
Henson or Shackleton) or just really hate Thomas Kincaid, you will laugh like a
fool through this book. I started laughing on the first page and never stopped–it's as if Mat Johnson sucked up all of American culture for a 200-year stretch and then sneezed it all out into this delight.

Regular AskMoxie reader Pooja Makhijani’s book Under Her Skin: How
Girls Experience Race in America
is written for Young Adult level readers (and
a great resource for talking to teens about race), but is perfect for adults,
also.

Another reader suggested the
book Understanding White Privilege: Creating Pathways to Authentic
Relationships Across Race
by Frances E. Kendall as a great book for people who
are starting out and for people who’ve been at it for awhile. (I now have that
book on my to-read list.)

If there’s stuff that you’re reading (non-fiction, fiction,
instructional, whatever) or sites that you follow or thinkers that you like,
please put them in the comments.

 

For your kids. I am so not the expert on talking to kids
about race and racism, although I am the expert on talking to *my* kids about
it! Here’s some stuff I’ve done with my kids, and some links that I found that
might help you become the expert in talking to your kids about it:

1. Talk about a lot of stuff, all the time. Speculate, and
get them in the habit of speculating. By doing this you set them up to notice
clues and to follow them, on any topic, for the rest of their lives. The “Why
does this happen?” game from above is excellent for this. My kids and I play
all the time, in all kinds of situations. Sometimes there’s a really good,
logical reason why everyone in a certain place looks alike. Sometimes it’s more
complicated and when we talk about it we expose some systems that the kids
decide aren’t helpful. Giving kids the freedom and space to inspect and talk
and examine gives them critical thinking skills.

2. Talk about race and color. (And sex and gender and sexual
orientation and bodies and all kinds of other differences.) When we read the
book Nurture Shock together a few years ago and talked about it here, one of the chapters that was so
surprising to me was the “Why White Parents Don’t Talk About Race” chapter. In
it, the authors examine a view that I think is pretty common in the US, that if
we expose our kids to varied groups of people so they get used to seeing a wide
range of skin tones and looks, our kids won’t grow up with prejudice. But it
turns out that this isn’t the case, when you look at the research. (The book is
fantastic and all the research is referenced in it so you can see the entire
line the authors draw.)

It turns out that kids do see difference on their own, even
from a very young age. And if they aren’t told what to think about that
difference, their human minds create “good” categories (of people who look like
them) and “bad” categories (of people who look unlike them). It’s normal, but
not what we want to have happen. In contrast, when kids are told how to
interpret difference specifically, they don’t create a good/bad dichotomy. The
takeaway is that we can’t just put our kids in situations with diverse groups
of people–we have to talk to them specifically about differences and help them
create those positive categories in their minds.

With little little kids this can be as simple as talking
about a friend with different skin color and asking if your child thinks their
friend is the same on the inside, and talking about how all humans have the
same blood and organs, etc. Talking about where your own ancestors are from (if
you know) and where friends ancestors are from is a good conversation, too,
because it reinforces the idea that everyone has their story, and everyone’s
family comes from somewhere. Any kind of "we're different in some ways but the same in a lot of ways" conversations are going to reinforce for your child that people can look different from you but still be like you.

3. Rehearse what you want your kids to be able to do.
Rehearse the language and the actions and the habits. I am enormous fan of
rehearsal, for my kids and for myself. When my older son was around 18 months
(maybe even younger than that) we were getting on the bus in NYC and he was
strapped to the front of me facing out. He grabbed the Metrocard out of my
hand, oriented it correctly, and dunked it into the reader to pay our fare. I
was shocked, but I shouldn’t have been, because when kids see and hear things
all the time, they know how to do them and can do them with ease. Making
friends, having conversations, reading for pleasure, thinking (out loud) about
tough issues, questioning motives, using correct language–all this is stuff
you can practice every day with your kids, so they (and you) get great at it. If you're not already, get into the habit of talking your way through processes that you do normally of keeping in contact with friends and especially anything you do to notice or combat racism, so that your kids can understand what you're doing while you're doing it.

4. Take responsibility and let your kids see you doing it.
This one can be really hard. We all have family members and friends who say
things and act in ways that are completely inappropriate (the things some white
people say when they’re around only other white people is appalling). When your
kids are around you can’t let them hear that stuff without acting in some way
to put a boundary around what was said so your kids know that a) it’s not ok to
say or do that stuff, and b) to show them that they can respond and act when
they hear it from their own friends later on. I feel you cringing. I’m
cringing, too. But if you think of it in terms of drawing a line around what
was said to not allow that, instead of confronting a person, it might be easier
to find ways to say it that still maintains a relationship but doesn’t allow
racist language.

I wish I had some good language for you to use. I may or may
not have uttered the sentence “If you say the phrase “welfare babies” one more
time I’m sending you to your room” to someone who was older than I am, last
Christmas Eve. I’m not tactful when I’m pushed. I have more faith in you than
in me, though. Maybe something like, “We don’t use that kind of language around
the kids” would work. Or even something as simple as, “Please don’t say things
that aren’t true about other people.” Or, “You know why that happens, right?”
It doesn’t have to turn into a thing. Just pushing back enough times that it
becomes not worth it for the people to say around you. Or you could threaten to
send someone to their room like I did.

5. Think about where you’re spending your time and money and
be deliberate about it, with your kids. You’ve been playing the “Why does this
happen?” game and maybe you’ve exposed some stuff that makes you feel not so
comfortable about some of the places or groups that you’re used to frequenting.
Use that as a conversation and action plan with your kids to talk about how you
could change things (lots of times people don’t have any idea that they’re
reinforcing barriers and would be happy to brainstorm ways to reduce privilege
and racism in their organizations once someone brings it up). If there isn’t a
way to change things, you may need to spend your time and energy and money
someplace else. Being part of these discussions and decisions gives your kids a
roadmap to making decisions about how they create lives for themselves as
adults, too.

6. Use resources! Here are some that people have sent me
since yesterday. If you’ve got more, share them in the comments, please.

The RACE Exhibit at the University of Michigan Natural History Museum

Educator's guide from that exhibit

Resources for teaching and books for kids about race and difference

 

Please, if you have more resources or book lists for kids, add them in the comments.

I don’t think we’re ever going to get to a system that’s
transparent for everyone. So instead we can work to make sure that everyone
sees the biases in the system and can work to eliminate them (or at least
compensate for them). I veer from feeling completely hopeless about it to
realizing that we’re all smart and thinking maybe we can do it. Maybe we can?

27 thoughts on “Practical tips (after the verdict, part 2)”

  1. You know, I think this is the first place I bothered to tell my experience story. It is loooooong, and really, the one sentence version got to the point a lot faster! Listening is powerful. Listening and observing is how I learned what I know.Tip for handling inappropriate language from other adults (especially family): Stand up and start to leave every time it happens. You can add in ‘I am not comfortable with you being openly disrespectful of other people, and I will not participate in this conversation’ or ‘please treat others with the respect and dignity you want to be treated with’. Or you can simply vote with your feet, even if just to leave the room, and actually, just standing up and turning, and inserting ANY other comment will work (‘thought I heard the kids/phone/neighbor’s dog, never mind’) … It is intensely uncomfortable for the speaker to have someone get up and start to leave. We are wired to not want to continue doing it.
    Thanks for keeping the conversation going, Moxie.

  2. I just spent a week travelling with African American siblings (9 yr old girl and 13 yr old boy) in rural Central NY. I met them in an after school program at my branch library, where I volunteer. I took them to camp at my daughter’s horse farm because I adore them and they’re having a lousy summer.I am an almost 65 yr old white lawyer who lives in Philadelphia proper so my adult life has been very urban. My street is integrated and my now grown kids had many African American friends. I grew up in a small town in Maine, in a home comprised of my immediate family and a friend of my mother’s, who was the only African American in central Maine. She entertained in our home, went on vacation with us, took me to civil rights marches in Portland, etc. I thought I was pretty savvy about talking about race. I think I did a pretty good job with my own kids, who appear to be as open-minded and liberal as I hoped for.
    What I learned this week was how different it is being a white adult talking to black kids. We talked a lot because there were no people of color in the grocery store or the restaurants we frequented, or at camp (although my daughter has a student adopted from China who came for a lesson). The kids were observant and slightly uncomfortable even though they had been prepped before we left. At an ice cream joint we saw a black teen behind the counter and a black child also with an all white family. This elicited lots of speculation. They were the only sightings of the week. My own daughter went away with an African American family when she was even younger, but of course she saw people who looked like her everywhere she went and she never even mentioned race upon her return.
    I discussed the Martin case with the 13 year old when we were listening to NPR. I haven’t seen him since the verdict. Although the week was a learning experience for us all, the kids are begging to go back next summer.

  3. Talk about timely. Today my four-year old came home from her first day at camp. I asked her about various children whose names I knew; the who did you play with game. I mentioned a little girl who seems to be African American (don’t know her actual background) and my daughter says “I didn’t play with her because I don’t like people with dark skin.” I’ve been horrified to the point of nausea, to put it mildly, ever since.I responded by saying that you never say things like that to people because it would really hurt them, and then want on to say that my daddy had dark skin (he was Black; I’m White and adopted), and then talked about how people look different but we decide about them based on their inside, and what if her best friend said he didn’t want to play with her because she had brown eyes and her skin is darker then his. Any other ideas????? I feel like she’s too young to get the idea of racism (Am I wrong? I know that if we were an African American family, it would probably be a topic by now.)
    Thank you so much for this space Moxie.

  4. I saw this booklist on Twitter today, re: books to introduce/continue the topic of race for kids at various ages: http://www.good.is/posts/how-do-you-talk-to-kids-about-race-this-guide-can-helpBut another place to get multiple booklists, and to get all kinds of other information, is the Love Isn’t Enough website. It used to be called Anti Racist Parent. It’s not a super active blog lately but you can scroll back and search through the archives to find so much valuable information about race, racism, privilege (of all types) and parenting. The comments are golden, too – people know their stuff and newbies work through their journeys.
    I love the place, and it’s where I first met Deesha, Moxie.
    So: http://www.loveisntenough.com

  5. Thanks for this, Moxie. Verdict aside, we recently moved from a fairly homogenous neighborhood to a diverse one, and I’m struggling with even the basic conversations. Like how to respond to “Look mommy, that brown lady is wearing her pajamas at the grocery store” when declared loudly by my (superwhite) 4yo daughter in a very mixed environment. Will have to dust Nurture Shock back off.

  6. another useful resource: why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria by beverly daniel tatum. good for overviews of privilege, but also some specifics about child development and racial identity and how parents can talk about race with kids.

  7. I’m commenting again to suggest that newer Moxie readers (like me) might find the post on Nuture Shock (linked above in this post) to be helpful. I just read it, and both the post and the comments were great.

  8. For adult readers who are really serious about understanding race and racism, two of the best books are George Lipsitz’s Possessive Investment in Whiteness and Howard Winant and Michael Omi’s Racial Formation in the United States. These help to give an understanding of what racism means today and how it has evolved, including why the goal of “colorblindness” is so dangerous. Also helpful for explaining why white people can’t be racist the way you describe, and why our identities are not all equal in the power structure no matter how wonderful they all are is Mary C. Waters’ Optional Ethnicities: For Whites Only? (excerpts of which are available online–just Google). That last one has been powerful for my college students. I also recommend Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s Racism without Racists, which further explores how colorblindness perpetuates racism. These are all academic books, but Lipsitz in particular is pretty readable.As for more popular writing: everything written by Tim Wise is also helpful (and much more readable). I second the Po Bronson recommendation, especially for parents (white and parents of color).
    If anyone’s interested in a lot more academic recommendations, I’d be happy to share more (and more and more!). I know academic ideas about race maybe feel too far removed, but in fact that’s the only arena in which I’ve seen a full-throated vocabulary for how racism works today–which is to say that it’s often a function of unconscious privilege and a deeply misguided adherence to a colorblind ideology.
    There is a Sesame Street book about Elmo called No Red Monsters Allowed, which might be a very basic starting place for talking about race. I like the Amazing Grace books for young readers. I work hard not to limit my discussions of race and racism with my daughter to Rosa Parks and MLK, though I do celebrate them to her. But when we treat Parks and King as founding parents of the contemporary America we live in, we give the impression, too often, that their work is in history, that it is complete, that we all embrace it now–and that’s misleading. There is some wonderful scholarship out there about the whitewashing of MLK. Nikhil Pal Singh (Black is a Country) is one of the best. Not to be a killjoy (well, sort of to be), but a lot of the Civil Rights celebrations we do in schools do more harm than good if they make racism seem like a problem we already triumphed over decades ago.
    That’s enough from me for now. 🙂

  9. Chepkirui, I have recently had a very similar mortifying experience with my 4 year old who said she liked people with light skin better than dark. When I asked her why, she said she was shy around people who didn’t look like her mom! And granted we truly don’t have a lot of friends in this town who are not white, mostly because we are new to town and don’t have a lot of friends outside of my small circle at work. It kills me because we used to live in a city with way more diversity, my closest friends are from all sorts of backgrounds and races but we rarely see each other in person because we’ve moved all over the world. Feel like raising her here is a risk to her understanding racial diversity as normal, the way things ought to be, rather than some marvellous touristic experience you get when visiting a larger city.

  10. This post feels very accessible to me, so thanks, Moxie. I have dealt so many times with older family members who make inappropriate remarks in front of my son, whose very best friend is the world happens to have brown skin. I LOVE that you threatened to send someone to his/her room. I am doing that next!

  11. For those with white children expressing dislike of or amazement at brown-skinned people, I think a good approach is to try to stay as neutral as possible. If your kid says they don’t like people with dark skin, try to stay with the conversation instead of shutting it down–what you want to avoid is having them think that race is something shameful that you’re not supposed to talk about. Ask them why they feel that way, and then ask them (as Moxie suggests) if they think their dark-skinned friend has the same organs etc on the inside.Likewise, if your kid says “Mommy, that brown lady is wearing her pajamas in the grocery store!” I would just say, “Wow, she looks really comfortable, doesn’t she?” or “Actually, they’re not pajamas but a [sari/hijab/whatever] and it’s something people from [whatever culture] wear.” There’s no need to be mortified by your kid saying “that brown lady”–the brown lady knows she’s brown and isn’t embarrassed by it. Unless your kid is using a racial slur, she’s just describing the world as she sees it.

  12. Moxie I read your whole post and maybe I missed something, but there is a lot of ugliness in my extended family, who I see less and less of, but how do I deal with the ugliness and the hole it leaves in me. I’m on board with the privilege. I’m detached from it. I’m there. But there is a hole in me left by the toxic people I know IRL and see/hear/read in the media/internet. How do I deal with that?

  13. Thank you. I am also deeply committed to the kind of work you are doing and advocating for. Your blog posting is the first thing I have read since the verdict that I can stomach. It makes me feel sane, hopeful, sad, furious and connected. You are such a gift!

  14. If you live in Seattle, Pittsburgh, Birmingham AL, Miami, and some other places too, the RACE exhibit that Moxie recommends is currently or may shortly be coming to your town. It works for families, adults on their own, and for classes as a place to think and talk about this important stuff. (When the exhibit was first proposed, no one believed that people would go to a museum to learn about race. It’s now one of the more successful touring exhibits of its size, and there are three copies touring the country. I see this as a hopeful sign for the future of our country, especially at times like this.)

  15. A reading recommendation: I read Sundown Towns by James Loewen. It helped me immensely to understand why things are the way they are, and no it’s not pretty. In the beginning of the book he said that if you don’t get anything else from the book, get this: If you see, live in, etc. an all white or almost all white town, ask yourself, “Why?” This is not normal; people move around; ALL people move around. The stories behind all white towns is pretty sad. I highly recommend the book.

  16. Hey Moxie,I really like your two posts on this subject and I appreciate all of the effort you’re putting into raising these issues and forcing difficult but important issues. In undergrad at U of M I read the Peggy McIntosh piece. It was great to re-read it, but I couldn’t help but notice the copyright info at the end. I wanted to share a link to it with friends but decided to check out Dr. McIntosh’s website first. She very clearly says all electronic copies of her work are illegal and reprints to it without her permission are also illegal. I think you should probably remove the link from your earlier post. Its a shame she doesn’t want such a thought provoking piece to be shared electronically, but it is her work to do with as she pleases.

  17. I highly recommend “The Warmth of Other Suns” by Isabel Wilkerson. It’s stunningly written, weaving historical information with real-life stories that are as well-written as an fiction. Wilkerson uncovers racial dynamics in the 20th century that people – white and black – don’t talk about or understand well. And it really hits home how brutal and how recent Jim Crow was.

  18. I was in a donut shop with my five y.o. the other day, adn everyone else there was African-American (we’re white). He started talking (very loudly) about how I was prettiest person there. I was very embarrassed and terrified he was going to say something racist (or you know, something that embarrassed me). I tried to stay calm and neutral, so I was like, “Yes?” (I probably just should have said, Thank you.) And he said, yes because all the other women are dark and you are wearing bright colors. (All the women were wearing black clothes.) I laughed to myself – he was talking about clothes! But it was a really bad couple of seconds and I didn’t have a plan! I need to do some reading, clearly.

  19. Hi Moxie. Your site and thoughts and tips are such a joy – thank you for fighting this fight.I have a tip for working with children. When my kids say something like, “Brown skin is bad,” I say: “I’m so glad you brought that up! That’s one of those ideas that is very important to talk about. A few people still think that, and you need to know that it’s wrong. But you’re not crazy to think it, because a lot of people still do. It’s my job, and yours if you want it, to help everybody see that ideas like that are wrong, and that they hurt people.”
    I think it’s really critical not to deny children’s experience that they have heard people, or seen people, be racist/sexist/homophobic/etc., and it’s not that they are crazy or that I, as a parent, am telling them there is something wrong with THEM. Their senses are working perfectly. They need guidance not to internalize, but instead to recognize.
    Does this make sense? I hope it’s helpful.

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