Sunday, December 15, 2013

Is "The Talk" Really Necessary?

One wouldn't think that old school Marvin Gaye and a few framed photos of our president and his wife would make a person feel like she's been deposited into new, unfamiliar territory.  But when you are the white Mama of a black boy, the trappings of the local black barbershop have that effect.  Perhaps that first visit was the "you're not in Kansas feeling" that showed me how different my black children's lives will be than those of other black kids.  

Or maybe it was the recent kerfuffle that existed because Fox News' Meghan Kelly said that Santa and Jesus were white.  As I watched several black panelists remark on how their homes all contained black Santas and Black Jesuses, I was again reminded of how our family is a white family raising black children.

I am aware that being a transracial family has its unique dynamics.  I've read lots of memoirs of those who were adopted into white families and tried to hear their words on how to honor the skin color of your children.  I've been in several online forums where other moms are parenting across race.  But still, there are these moments that sting and shock and remind.

I guess I was blessed to be born into a time and place where I learned to treat others with kindness no matter how different they were from me.  I had experiences that taught me people are more alike than they are different.  And perhaps I had the privilege of being white.

I'm a face value person, someone who believes it's important to not create drama or read too much into the actions of others.  So the idea of "white privilege" (the concept that there are certain unsaid perks that come about by being white) doesn't necessarily sit well with me.  I think my own experiences and my own attitudes regarding others makes it hard for me to believe that minorities are treated differently.  For many white people, I think the following is probably true.  "Many people in the United States hailed the election and re-election of Barack Obama as the first black President as proof that the United States had become a post-racial society. But race does matter. And the fact that most white parents had never heard of "The Talk" before Trayvon Martin's death, New York's "stop and frisk" policy or Barney's and Macy's controversies are a few examples of how it matters."  Is the fact that our white culture is often unaware or quickly dismissive of these events the best illustrator of what white privilege looks like?"  (From The Huffington Post article, "When White Parents Have 'The Talk' With Black Sons.)

That said, I'm also a big believer in using common sense.  Like when you are a teenage boy who wears his pants around his ankles, his hat on sideways, and an oversized hoodie, that others are going to make assumptions about you regardless of if you are black, white or purple.  Add in a few more similarly dressed teens who might behave loudly or boisterously, the current teenage vocabulary which often involves crude language and swearing, and I think you would be hard pressed to not see why others might think the worst.  (In others words, I believe that we tell people how to treat us and when we dress or act or talk in a certain way, it is telling people what to believe about us.  There is simply an element of human nature that I don't think can be erased; we make judgments all the time based on how things appear on the surface.) 

But I am also the wife of a man who coaches a group of very diverse teenage boys.  I have unfortunately been a spectator to the words of others regarding these boys and their backgrounds, their abilities to speak English, and general temperaments.  I am also the mom of kids of color and while we have never been treated poorly because of our family make up, I'm sure there will be a day when that is not true.  More than anything, I am sure there will be a day when my kids are smacked into reality by overt racism.  

But what about the not so in your face?  What about the idea that white privilege exists because Santa and Jesus are almost always portrayed as white?  What about the idea that if you are white you will probably not be followed by store security?  What about going to the store for band aids and realizing flesh colored really means peach flesh and being annoyed?  Will my kids experience those things?  And what's my role as parent in  preparing them for that?  

Do you do as one parent suggests and make sure you have "The Talk" with your young black son because you are guessing he will be pulled over by police and not given the benefit of the doubt? Or is that based in the faulty assumption that all black parents have such discussion with their kids, when the reality is they don't?  (Or could it be that all kids should know what do when pulled over by the police, that it is simply common sense to be calm and respectful.  That perhaps teaching your children the following skills, as suggested by the authors of "The Talk" post, really is kind of a no brainer.  "Show your hands, smile, do not appear threatening and never talk back.") 

I don't have any easy answers for that.  I don't want to created jaded kids who perceive the world as racist or even just stacked against them.  Yet, I do need my kids to have a realistic perception of life and most importantly, wise and measured actions to how to respond to any situation where they are being treated unfairly or where they are feeling a bit slighted.  Sigh.  May I have wisdom for the moments and steady hope for our world, that all people will learn to treat others with respect and kindness, even in the ugly moments.

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