Category Archives: Talk

Attempting a switchover

We're attempting a big switchover, which will result in a new blog platform with a new banner and no more commenting or spam problems. I'm scared, but I'm not doing it alone, so we'll see how this goes. I'm closing comments on everything so none get lost in the switchover.

Please continue to help Anon (there are 4 days left for her Indiegogo fund). And you can still buy MoxieTopics or sign up for Spirit Fingers: Kindergarten or Flourish Through Divorce while this is happening. This should take a couple of days until it's switched, so in the meantime, here are some earworms for you to enjoy:

 

 

 

 

Comments going missing or not appearing

Apparently people's comments are disappearing or going missing! I apologize for that and am not doing it on purpose. The only comments I ever delete or block are obvious spam and obvious paid trolls, not you. I'm really hoping to have this fixed in the next week so hang in with me please and then comment to your heart's content.

Discussion: American Sublime by Elizabeth Alexander

I was really debating during poetry for this summer's Readalong, but now I'm so glad I did. Reading all these poems has given me a few minutes of truth and beauty here and there (I read them in little chunks, not the whole book straight through). I specifically picked American poets, and specifically chose poets that are also readers of AskMoxie because I love how talented we are here.

The exception is this month's poet, Elizabeth Alexander. As far as I know she is not an AskMoxie reader, but she is famous. She was invited to read her poem "Praise Song For The Day" at the 2009 inauguration of U.S. President Obama. You can watch her reading it here:

 

So a big part of why I chose her book American Sublime is because her poetry seems so absolutely American to me. Urbane, nuanced, sophisticated, but broad-shouldered, open, resolute.

Alexander talks about subjeccts so big it is almost impossible to understand them, and so small that we may not even be aware of them until she draws our eyes to them with her words. And she is clever. So, so clever. The poem "Emancipation" is short, but in it she covers the daily horror of slavery while overlaying modern ideas of the Rapture, #staywoke, along with Biblical admonitions to keep watch through the night.

American Sublime is a book for reading in poem increments, while lying on the couch waiting for dinner to be ready, or standing at the bus stop with a drop of sweat rolling down the back of your leg, or while your child sleeps on top of you. It is big and small, and makes you big and small as you read it. If you're American it will make you more American to read it, and if you're not American it might make you hate us a little less for understanding us.

This is what I want to leave you with, to convince you to read some Elizabeth Alexander if you haven't yet, or to read more if you've read some. From "Ars Poetica #100: I Believe":

Poetry is what you find
in the dirt in the corner,

overhear on the bus, God
in the details, the only way

to get from here to there.
Poetry (and now my voice is rising)

is not all love, love, love,
and I’m sorry the dog died.

Poetry (here I hear myself loudest)
is the human voice,

and are we not of interest to each
other?

 

That, the fact that we are of interest to each other, is the whole reason I started writing, and why I keep writing AskMoxie. Poetry is life, and life is poetry, and life is how we go through it together.

Thank you, Elizabeth Alexander.

 

Final book in the Summer Readalong series: Far From Luck by Charlie O'Hay. Perfect for reading in the heat and haze of August. Discussion August 21.

Transitioning to being a mom of big kids

Happy Wednesday!

1. The next round of Flourish Through Divorce is open for registration. It starts August 15 and will run through October 10. I've added two more weeks so there's more time to process in it. All the details and sign-up is here.

2. I've had a couple of requests to hop in to the Kindergarten support group from people who didn't think they wanted it before but have decided they'd like to be in now. If you're one of them, you can still get in, and now's the time. Spirit Fingers: Kindergarten info here.

3. My kids are coming back from 3+ weeks of vacation with their dad tomorrow. I've missed them so much, but this summer has been different from previous summers, when the missing them made me depressed. I've started to feel more separated and independent, more like missing an adult child who's moved out than wondering where my babies are and why they're not touching me.

Has anyone else gone through a transition like this? Last night I dreamed that my 11-year-old came back and was a full-grown teenager, and in the dream I was so happy to see him but not sad that he was growing up.

I had anticipated the transition to being a mother of bigger kids, and then later of adults. I think I hadn't realized that it wouldn't be hugely painful. This doesn't feel like missing my little boys as much as it feels like being excited at who they are now.

Thoughts?

Expectations and free passes

Two things happened yesterday that made me think about expectations:

1. I became involved in a Twitter conversation about a 7-week old baby, and what the parents could expect of the baby (in terms of sleeping and not crying) (remember that the peak of crying is 6-8 weeks, and all that info is in the timeline) and of themselves. (I was advocating for cutting everyone a break all around.)

2. Kate Middleton had a baby and we were all watching, and it's been less than 24 hours and we've already seen the baby and seen Kate.

I think we're all expecting way too much of ourselves and each other with regard to parenting, especially parenting little babies. As if we have control over it all, and as if we aren't making trade-offs all the time about what we can do, what we have to do, what's responsible to do, what's better for our children if we do, what maintains our sanity if we do.

It feels like it's probably time for another Free Pass for everyone:

 

You get a pass when you do something you could have done better. I'm
giving you the benefit of the doubt. You're a good parent, and you do a
good job, and when you make a misstep it's just a misstep. Even a whole
week of bad days is a week of bad days. You're smart and loving, and
you'll figure out how to get into a better pattern.

Your kids are lucky to have you.

 

Now, comments, confessions, absolutions, laments, offers of hand-holding, primal screams, or a toast to all of us…

Mood change after finally getting sleep: A thing?

Over the weekend, Neil posted that after weeks (ok, probably years) of sleep deprivation from his kids he'd finally gotten a good night's sleep, and had woken up depressed.

I thought, "Wait, that happens to me, too." Whenever I have sleep problems (waking up with kids or insomnia) for awhile, the first morning after I've gotten a decent stretch of sleep I feel very very low and depressed. (Notjust  cranky or still-sleepy, but actually depressed.)

I asked on Twitter if this was a thing, and got a dozen replies that it happened to other people, too.

Give me your data points, please. Does this happen to you? If so, have you found a way to make it better (other than just struggling through the depression and trying to sleep enough the next night)? Any sciencey people know why this happens? Is this a known thing no one told us about?

New MoxieTopic Timeline of blips from birth to 2

I just finished MoxieTopic: Is This a Thing?, a timeline of all the blips that come at predictable times during the first few years. It's 8 quick and easy pages of when it all happens and what to do about it (if anything) and reality checks so you know it's not just you. Five dollars. Buy it now by clicking the button or read the longer description of it here and then buy.





 


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Click here for all the MoxieTopics available right now.

Is This a Thing? Timeline

Why is my baby wigging out?

You bring your baby home and things are going fine, then suddenly your baby won’t stop crying for days, or wants to eat all the time, or starts waking up in the middle of the night all night. And you wonder if it’s something you’ve done, or if it’s an actual thing.

Most of the time it probably is a thing. This MoxieTopic: Is This a Thing? timeline summarizes the main blips and weird spots that happen for the first two years at predictable times, including growth spurts, sleep regressions, disequilibrium phases, and other common issues that seem to happen at specific times. I am working on a full-length book about this, but here’s the basic timeline (along with pointers about riding the waves and what to check if it’s not one of the things on the timeline) in eight pages. Once you know when and why and how, you’ll know what to do
about it, because you’re the best parent for your child. Plus, you can make it
through 8 pages, even with your current lack of sleep. Move your sleepy index
finger to click on the button to buy it now.

$5, eight pages (only five of them are the actual timeline–there aren’t THAT many blips and problem spots). Once you pay through PayPal
you’ll get an email asking you to confirm, click through that, and you’ll get
the email with the link to download the PDF file. (If you don’t get anything
within a few minutes, check your spam file. If it’s not there, email me at askmoxie at gmail dot com and I’ll track it down.)

This PDF is for your own personal use and allows you to read on
devices or print it out. Please do not share electronic copies with
others or print copies for others. You can print out as many copies as you want to for yourself, so don’t worry about spilling on them.

 





 

 

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Click here for the full list of MoxieTopics.

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?

What I’ve been thinking about since the verdict

You know how a lot of times when something hurts the mostand you think you can’t do it, that’s the point right before change happens and
everything gets better? This might happen to you as you read this. So hang on
if it starts to hurt.

For those who’ve never read me before: I’m a white, 40-year-old
mother of two white sons. I grew up in the Midwest, lived in Mexico (the country)
and NYC, and now live in the Midwest again.

Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that I tweet a
lot about race and racism and privilege in the United States. I know there are
people who will say that we’re in a “post-racial” society and will point to the
fact that we have a (mixed-race) Black president as evidence to support that
view. I think that’s complete and utter crap, and that even if there was any
such thing as a “post-racial” society we are far, far from it. This country is
mired (and I choose that word specifically, because racism pulls us all down
into the mud) in racism and privilege. And white people have to be the ones to
stop it.

Let’s back up a little. I listened to a lot of hip-hop and
rap when I was in high school–Salt ‘n’ Pepa, Run DMC, LL Cool J (back when he
was on purpose), Arrested Development, De La Soul, Heavy D, etc.–and it was
all fun and it was all about the beats and the hooks and the rhymes.I loved it.

And then came Public Enemy. I listened and part of me loved
it but part of me recoiled and wondered why Chuck D was so angry. Why was he so
angry?? I couldn’t figure it out and it hurt my feelings that he was so intense
and that I could feel his rage in the music, and I wasn’t who he was rapping it
to but who he was rapping it at.

But because I had a sweet, serious mother who’d always given
us the time and the imperative to really think about things and analyze what we
could and look things up when we didn’t, I kept listening. And as I listened
and watched those videos and read interviews and heard them talk  it came to me: There must be some experience
Chuck D was having that I wasn’t having. And that I couldn’t even see.

That was the red pill. This sudden realization that other
people were living things every day that not only were not happening to me, but
that I didn’t even see as they were happening and didn’t know existed.

The fact that I had never noticed before, because the things
that happened to me as a white person were the default: that’s privilege.
Because I am white, the system is set up to conform to my idea of normal, so I
don’t even notice that the system isn’t totally transparent. I think that what
happens to me, the way people react to me, is what happens to everyone. It’s
not. But because I am white, I’m the default, so I don’t notice that other
people are having different experiences.

(If this is confusing you, search on Google for the phrase "invisible knapsack" and read what comes up. It’s an easy read. I’ll still be
here when you’re done.) 

What does this have to do with racism? Well, racism and
privilege are flip sides of the same record. Racism is something that hurts
some people unfairly. Privilege is something that helps some people unfairly.
They don’t exist independently of each other.

White people are trained to be racist, and we have to do a
lot of work to undo that. White people are given privilege, and even if we don’t
want it and don’t willingly accept it it is always there.

A program note: Racism is combination of prejudice against
someone because of their color, and power. If there’s no power, it’s not
racism, it’s just prejudice. So a white person can be racist to a Black or
Latino person or other racial minority, because the system gives white people
power. People of color in this country can be prejudiced against white people,
but they can’t be racist because they don’t have power over white people. This
is also why the n word is so hurtful (because there’s a power structure behind
it) but the word “cracker” just isn’t as bad (because there’s no power
structure behind it).

Another program note: There’s a difference between personal
racism and institutional racism. Personal racism is when I’m nasty to someone
because of the color they are. Institutional racism is when there are barriers
to people of certain races that prevent them from applying, from qualifying for
whatever the official requirements are, or that make requirements to join or
maintain membership impossible for people of certain races. I’m largely not
talking about personal racism here, because I’m assuming that you, dear reader,
are not engaging in that or are actively working on ridding that from your
life. Institutional racism, though, is everywhere, and many white people don’t
see it because these systems are “just the way things are” and we don’t
question things.

A few completely trivial questions just to make you think a
little bit about institutional racism: Why are professional hockey players
mostly white? Why are many professional basketball players Black?

I think that institutional racism is out of control in the
United States. I also think that institutional racism is more harmful than
personal racism. If someone is personally racist to you, you can walk away
knowing the person is not worth your time, and eventually arrange things so you
don’t have to interact with that person anywhere. But you can’t escape the
system. Things are rigged to make it more difficult for people of color to work
through the system than for white people to. And that’s every day, and affects
your ability to work, to raise your kids, even just to walk down the street
without being stopped and frisked.

Note: That doesn’t mean that white people don’t get the
shaft sometimes (we’ve all gone to the DMV). And it doesn’t mean that sometimes
people of color don’t catch a break, or know someone, or find some program that
helps them navigate things. But for the most part, in the aggregate, daily life
is much more tiring and demoralizing for people of color than for white people.

(And this is why it is not ok to be “colorblind.” Not ok to
say “I don’t see color–I just see people.” Because a) you’re lying–you do
notice what color people are. We all do. How could you not? And b) when you say
you don’t see color you’re saying that the experience that a person of color
has that isn’t your experience isn’t valid. You’re erasing their experience. Their
color isn’t the only thing about them, but it is A thing about them that
affects them. So by ignoring that, you’re asking them to pretend they aren’t
having the experiences they have. The fact that there’s no impact on your life
of being “colorblind” is another example of privilege.)

That’s a hurtful realization (at least to me). But don’t
look for a way out. Don’t look for an excuse, or a denial, or a justification,
Just sit there and let it hurt for a little bit.

It’s not your fault that you’re the color you are, no matter
what color you are. We’re all just dealt a hand by fate. But, if you’re white,
you have to accept that even though you didn’t choose it, you have an advantage
over people of color in the system. That’s just the way it is. Now: What are
you going to do about it?

What I choose to do is call it out. By naming it and
exposing it for what it is, I steal a little power from it. And I teach my kids
to notice and call it out. I can’t change the legal justice system in this
country, but I can talk to my kids about the Zimmerman verdict and all the
forces that set this tragedy up and that created a system that made Zimmerman
think he could kill a kid because he was Black, and then the police system that
didn’t arrest Zimmerman, and then the laws that disadvantage people of color,
and then the legal system that privileges white people. There’s both
institutional and personal racism in the Zimmerman story.

Once your kids see it, they know. And once they know, they
start pulling it apart by exposing it. Which lessens its power over them. (It’s
as simple to start as exploring with your 5-year old why everyone in a certain place
looks alike. You can guess, and speculate about reasons, and then tease out
what’s behind it all. Start there, and keep talking about it, and your
conversations will scale up as your child understands more.)

Now, up above I said that white people have to stop racism.
I know someone out there is thinking “but all the races have to work together
to stop racism.” Well, no. Remember that racism is prejudice PLUS POWER. People
of color don’t have the power in our system. People of color eat a shit
sandwich every day, even if it’s just little things (and sometimes it’s
enormous things). I mean, I’m exhausted just hearing the stuff that happens to
my friends–think of the energy it’s sucking from them just trying to live a
normal life when everywhere they turn the system is telling them they’re Not
Normal. So, really, it’s white people that need to start exposing and
dismantling this system, because we have access to the power structure.

Why should we expose the system to dismantle it? Well, three
reasons come to mind right now (there are tons more, but this is just what I
have room for here):

1. It’s the right thing to do. If you are a person of good
will who is trying to act in good faith, you will attempt to fix things that
are unjust and unfair once you know about them. (If you’re not a person trying
to act in good faith then you probably stalled out shortly after my PE story
and just skipped straight to the comments to tell me what a racist I am.
Whatevs.)

2. Don’t you want your kids to actually be the best? We’re
all constantly on the lookout for overpraising our kids so they think they’re
amazing when really they’re not. But if we allow white kids to grow up in a
system that specifically and deliberately excludes certain other groups of kids,
then we’re basically blowing smoke up our white kids’ asses by telling them
they’re the best, when in reality they aren’t actually competing against
everyone. I want to go hard. I want to compete against the best because it
makes me stronger and because then when I win I know I really won. And I want
to collaborate with the best, so that I know I’m really doing my best work. I
want the same for my kids. If we’re not actively working to create an inclusive
system, we’re putting an asterisk next to everything our own kids do. And that’s
not fair to anyone.

3. How would you feel if you constantly had to justify your
own existence, your own intelligence, your own right to speak and be listened
to? And you knew your kids would have to do that every day, too? I’ll just leave
that right there.

Take a breath. It’s shitty. Really shitty.

Next post about this: Practical tips for digging in and
getting real. It’s not a one-time event, this understand privilege stuff. And
we can make mistakes. We have time. Give yourself a hug and give your kids one,
too.

Courage.