What I Want My Children to Know About Being White in America

I have a guest post up over at my friend Paula Fitzgibbons’ blog, Mommy Means It, today. It’s one of the few posts that I’ve actually been hesitant to publish, not because I’m unsure about it, but because I’m not stupid. I know that discussions about race can turn ugly very quickly, especially online. Still, this is a topic near to my heart, and I believe those discussions are important to have even when they’re uncomfortable.
Here’s the story that prompted the post:
My husband and I recently took our kids to see Mount Rushmore. While browsing the gift shop, our 5-year-old son picked up a bookmark with pictures of all 44 presidents on it. As we scanned the faces and found the four presidents from the monument, he asked who was president now. I pointed to President Obama.
Then my boy—my sweet, innocent, blue-eyed boy—furrowed his brow and said, “Hmm. He doesn’t LOOK like a president.”
Gulp. Holy.
I know that this was basically a Sesame Street observation. “One of these things is not like the others. One of these things just doesn’t belong.” Sorting, categorizing—it’s all part of a preschooler’s learning process. Our little boy looks at this sea of presidential faces and recognizes that one doesn’t belong. It’s as simple as that.
But I also know that he’s seeing something that he’s not even aware of yet. When you glance at a poster of our presidents, skin color is the first thing you see. Our little boy sees his own most obvious physical trait reflected in 43 out of 44 of the most historically powerful men in America. What does a boy with brown skin see when he looks at that poster? What does it mean to him?
I realized that this was my son’s first obvious—albeit oblivious—brush with white privilege. And that got me thinking.
I’ve read a lot lately about the conversations mothers of black children have with their kids to prepare them for the realities of being black in America. Are there specific things we should be teaching our kids about being white in America? We moms of white kids, especially those of us who are dedicated to fighting racism and racial prejudice, may talk with our kids about racial equality and injustices resulting from racism. But we don’t often specifically address what their white skin means for them. I’m starting to think that’s an oversight.
Obviously, I’m not going to bombard my 5-year-old with all of this right now. But by the time our children leave our home, there are some things I want them to understand about being white in America

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Annie writes about life, motherhood, world issues, beautiful places, and anything else that tickles her brain. On good days, she enjoys juggling life with her husband and homeschooling her children. On bad days, she binges on chocolate chips and dreams of traveling the world alone.

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