Parenting the Privileged

We got rid of cable several months ago and haven’t missed it even a little bit. It’s been so refreshing to be able to go right to streaming services to select what we want to watch and don’t have to be as concerned with what commercials might pop up during a show our kids might be enjoying on a Saturday morning. We can also be very purposeful about where we choose to get our news. 

I was on my computer, watching a news report, when my nine-year-old son came up behind me and asked, “Mom….what are you watching? Who is Charlotte?” I glanced at the screen and saw the video paused on a still image of a crowd of faces holding torches and the headline used words like “KKK” and “Neo-Nazis” and “Charlottesville.” My son was staring at the screen and I chose to push Play…..and start a conversation. 

My kids are privileged. They have been since the moment they were born.

One after the other, they entered this world as children with white skin, male anatomy and were welcomed with love into a family classified as middle class. We live in a house where we pay a mortgage. We own two vehicles and though one has a front headlight that is held in place by duct tape, they both run just fine and get us from place to place reliably. I fight with my kids about how they get peanut butter all over the place — on the counter, on the outside of the jar, on the handle of the refrigerator, on their faces so that when they come give me a hug after breakfast, I immediately have to change my clothes and start a load of laundry (in the laundry machines that reside right inside our home) because now I have peanut butter all over my shirt. We battle over whether or not to get the green sneakers that are on clearance or the black high-tops that are full price but wayyyyyy cooler.

They have never worried about whether they were going to get enough to eat, have something to wear, or if their parents would be there when they got home. There are a lot of different ways that those kids don’t even realize they have it made. For them, this is just…..life. And life is good.

We also don’t have to have conversations about how to approach a police officer. They have never been called a horrible name based on their appearance. No one ever snaps to a judgment about their character based on nothing but a check-mark on a form.

But I wouldn’t be doing my job as a parent if I didn’t start now, right now this very second, teaching them that life does not look the same way for all their peers and that they have a responsibility as citizens of the human race to place an inherent value on all human life and with that comes the prerequisite of being able to identify difference in others and to be self-aware enough to see how they can be part of the cause for equality. 

I visited my best friend in Memphis a couple months ago and visited the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel. I stood feet away from the balcony of Room 306 where Dr. King was shot and killed. I spent hours walking the halls of the museum, looking at photos, reading news clippings, listening to speeches and learning about the brave men and women who stood up against racism and bigotry all those years ago. Walking those halls, hearing those stories, it is impossible not to ask yourself, “What would I have done?” 

The question is no longer “What would I have done?” but rather it needs to be “What am I doing?”  

Parenting the Privileged

Start Early

We need to be talking to our children about racial difference from a young age. Kids are not born with biases that one person is more valuable than another based on how they look, their gender, sexual orientation, religion or otherwise. That is learned. As parents, we need to recognize that racial biases are forming in kids as early as five-years-old and the evidence tells us that children of color are held to significantly higher standards of behavior than their white classmates, even at the elementary school level. There are so many studies to support this that I don’t even have the space to link them all here, but trust me. It’s worth the Google. Parents of young children, we do not have time to wait until our kids are older to help them become part of the solution rather than just another perpetrator of the systemic problem. 

For some fabulous age-appropriate suggestions about how to discuss race and racism with your kids, check out this amazing post from Rage Against the Minivan

Set the Example

Have you ever gotten busted by your kid doing something you have told them not to do? Never fun. If we are going to transform our kids into a generation who is passionate about social justice, we need to show them how through leading by example. Don’t make racially insensitive jokes. EVER. Get real with yourself about your own racial biases and how they may have affected the way you spend your money, the way you vote, the businesses you support, the neighborhoods you frequent. Open a respectful dialogue with someone in your sphere who can hold you accountable and help you identify where you can improve, as well as point you in the direction of more resources to help you learn. And if you don’t have anyone in your sphere who looks different than you do? That’s probably a good place to start. 

Be Honest

We had my friend (white) and her daughter (mixed race) over for dinner one night and my seven-year-old suddenly asked, “Wait…..she has DARK skin but her mom has WHITE skin. How did that happen?!” My friend and I smiled at one another and we gave the honest answer. My sons and I have talked about how they can run through the backyards of our neighborhood and nobody is going to assume they are up to no good. They know that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were flawed human beings who were integral to the founding of this country, but that they both owned slaves and that the only way the Constitution was going to be ratified was if the states reached the compromise of counting each slave as only 3/5 of a person, which set off a chain of events in our country with ripples extending into our current climate. 

As many of our writers have previously discussed, trying to raise kids who are “colorblind” is nothing short of dangerous when it comes to kids who are already born into inherent privilege. 

racial equality

Do Something

From where I’m sitting, I don’t see racial equality as a political issue — it is a human issue. Too many souls have fought and died in the pursuit of freedom and equality for those of us in 2017 to just sit comfortably behind our smartphones and never move beyond sharing memes with questionable sources on Facebook. Doing something looks different for everyone. For some, it means lacing up their walking shoes and hitting the streets to march. For others, it’s choosing to be more mindful of the sources of their news and being purposeful about the pursuit of truth. For everyone, it must mean being willing to listen and learn.

Assuming I am writing to an audience of mothers, here is an action step for ALL of us. We are not raising children. We are training adults. And we need to make sure we take that responsibility very seriously and parent in a way that shows our children that part of growing up is having a heart for people. All people. That we all have the same parts, just different configurations. That nobody comes into this world inherently better than anyone else and that we have a shared responsibility to think outside of our own skin.

As humans, we naturally want to be comfortable, profitable and popular. But what is good is not always comfortable. And what is right is not always profitable. And what is true is not always popular.*

Have the conversations, no matter how uncomfortable. Do what is right, even if it costs you. And stand for what is true, even if it gets you “unfollowed.” And let’s show our kids how to follow suit.

That’s doing something, Mama. 


*Thank you to Stuart Briscoe for this piece of wisdom.

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4 Responses to Parenting the Privileged

  1. Melania
    Melania August 16, 2017 at 12:47 pm #

    Thank you for writing this <3

  2. Nichole September 8, 2017 at 5:00 am #

    I’ve read this article a few times. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t misinterpreting what you have said here. While this is a good article about race for the most part. The paragraph where you start out about your boys’ male, white privilege and continue to go on about your mortgage, owning your cars and deciding on which shoes to buy doesn’t make sense to me. I understand that as, other races aren’t as fortunate as you. There are plenty of families of other races that do have these things. I just don’t understand how having those material items coincide just with being white. I would never teach my biracial child that because we own a house, we own 2 cars, and a washing machine that it’s because she is half white. And to me that is what you are saying in that part of this article. Coming from a mother of 3 biracial children I know the difficulty of white families judging us and assuming we are less. These comments have also proved that. I feel that we need to always prove we are more than what others believe. If you want to teach your child/children about “privilege” keep teaching them the difference of them running through backyards vs my biracial kids or that when your sons get pulled over why they don’t have to worry about being mistreated compared to my children. Continue to teach them and show them the inequalities, but please do not teach your children that children of other races aren’t as fortunate as yours with their home or families. Any child of any race has a chance of being less fortunate not just my black children.

    • Sarah
      Sarah September 8, 2017 at 8:28 am #

      Absolutely! Thank you for that comment. In the writing, I really wanted to convey that “privilege” can take on many forms and that they were born into a sense of that in many aspects. A roof over their heads, inherent gender privilege, parents who are still together, as well as other attributes that have nothing to do with their skin color. For the focus of the piece, I mean to convey a transition that while ALL these things create a sense of “privileged,” the area I wanted to discuss specifically in the piece was race, but without suggesting a correlation. My sincere apologies if that distinction and transition was not made clear.

  3. Gina
    Gina September 8, 2017 at 5:28 pm #

    Good article and clarification! This is a very tough subject to write about. You are so right that biases are learned and I want to be more mindful about the attitudes my kids are developing and how I can influence those as a parent. You offered some good suggestions about where to start. Thank you!

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