Later this week I’m going to answer some parenting-logistics questions that I’ve been asked lately– things like what we do about allowance, how old our kids have to be to babysit siblings, etc. If you happen to have questions about how we do things at our house, will you shoot them to me in comments? I’ll add those questions/answers to Wednesday’s post.
Today, however, I am giving away an intriguing book called Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving. She grew up in a privileged white community in the 60’s and 70’s, and realized well into adulthood that, first of all, she was so uncomfortable with race issues that she was often nervous talking with black folks, and second, that she desperately wanted to be the type of person who works to break down barriers, rather than pretending they don’t exist.
I think a lot of white people would like to think that racism is a thing of the past, that everyone plays on an even playing field these days. But the more she explored this, the more she came to realize that’s just not true. It’s a proven fact that black boys get pulled over by police more often than white boys. White women still cross the street when black men walk by. And black men have to dress much more neatly than average to go shopping at the mall without being covertly watched and sometimes even questioned by security people.
Chapter by chapter, the author shares her own personal journey of racial awakening– of really understanding the privilege she gained simply from being born into a white family. She also came to realize that the reserve and politeness she learned from her family of origin, were sometimes causing her to avoid the kinds of deep conversations that might lead to understanding another person’s point of view, to really imagine life in their shoes.
She talked about the different values in different families, and how some of those values might add layers of complication to how we perceive folks. For example, a student she’d labeled difficult and distractible because of her tendency to leave her seat and go chat with other students turned out to be from a culture that highly valued cooperation. The child was honestly trying to help other students out.
Another time the author realized she was inadvertently offending black associates by being too quick to call them by their first names instead of honoring them by saying Mr. Smith or Mrs. Jones. From her cultural standpoint, she saw it as a sign of friendliness. But many people, especially those growing up in the South, do not.
Yet another time she learned that calling a black person ‘articulate’ can be seen as an insult — a stinging jab often heard as ‘he’s unusual for a black person’– and not a true compliment at all. Of course relationships between any humans can be complicated, even at their best. But the overarching message of this book to me was how important it is to be honest and humble in our dealings with each other, to not assume that everyone is coming from the same frame of reference, and to be willing to hear and believe people telling you that life is very different for them than it may be for you.
As a mom to children born in several different countries, I read this book with interest and found it to be very worthwhile. It left me with greater understanding and a renewed determination to be the type of person who builds bridges and grows relationships wherever I go. As the author states in this book, we’re all different, but we all belong here. We should treat each other as such.
If you would like to enter the drawing to win a copy of this book, comment below. I’d love to hear how you talk about race with your kids. Do you encourage your kids to help all kids feel welcome in their classroom? How do you respond when your child points out someone of a different ethnic heritage in the grocery store? If you are adoptive parent, how do you talk about race with your kids without leading them to expect bad treatment around every corner?
Related story: Raising Black Kids in a ‘White’ State