Parenting, Relationships

The Problem Is Ours

Happy African and Caucasian male child friends on playground set

So many times now I’ve sat in front of my little personal blog and tried to organize thoughts about current events. I’m awkward and unsure when I venture into serious territory. I feel more confident when I’m joking about parenting or skinny jeans. But maybe if more of us stumbled through our awkwardness we’d develop a dialogue on more than just our feelings about our latest Netflix binge. So while I truly believe we need to lighten up about so much…sometimes we also need to get heavier.

When it comes to things like racism and white supremacy, so often I turn toward my Black daughter and what the privilege of being her mother is teaching me about the world. But last night as I scrolled through my feed catching up on the news out of Charlottesville, I found my thoughts pulling toward my son. My white boy.

I remember so clearly the first time my son noticed race, like it was last week, when in fact we’re coming up on the six year anniversary. It was in our red minivan the day after we brought home his new baby sister. The excitement and energy of the airport arrival was over and we were driving home from our grocery store expedition to restock our fridge after a week in Ethiopia. He and his new sister were nestled next to each other, him in a booster and her in a carseat. He looked at her legs and then he looked at his own, and then back to her legs and back to his own. His four-year-old brain was processing something that felt significant to him but he couldn’t put his finger on it, and then all of a sudden it clicked.

Him: Mom! Hey Mom! Our bodies are different colors!

Me: You’re right! What colors are your bodies?

Him: Her body is brown, and mine is…mine is…mine is…um…mine is grey.

He was a fairly translucent little white boy. And thus began our ongoing conversation about race in our home. All these years later, now with three kids from three different continents attending school, learning English as a second (third) language, and making friends around the neighborhood, we regularly work through racism and prejudice around the dinner table over chicken nuggets and tater tots.

This weekend I watched the videos from Charlottesville with cold and clammy horror. Nazi flags streaming and hateful words spewing…I scrolled and scrolled through news. Then I clicked to social media to check on my friends. What were people saying? Where were the words to help us make sense of these racist acts?

I thought here will be the renouncing of evil. This will be the thing that unites us because no one could see Nazi flags — Nazis, the ones who ripped Rolf away from Liesl and gave him a personality transplant in The Sound of Music — no one could see this and think this is okay. There could be no misunderstanding. Surely this time, this time people would renounce racism and white supremacy once and for all? Surely finally it was clear? I saw people I look up to calling out racism and white supremacy and I felt relieved. We were not in Crazytown. These Nazis were a few evil people but the whole world was not insane.

Then I scrolled to the comments looking for the nods of solidarity and what I found there felt more jarring than the Neo-Nazis and their tiki torches. My eager eyes saw…arguing. So much arguing. The comments sections filled with justifications and accusations for who was to blame. Regular white people talking of “sides.” Arguing about who started it and which lives matter. What was this madness? 

People waving Nazi flags spewing hatred should make all of us stand up and say, “Not on our watch. That is evil and wrong.” Anything less makes us complicit. We can sit back and listen to all “sides” because it doesn’t cost us anything. We are safe in our whiteness.

We must condemn racism in all its forms. We must stand up against white supremacy and speak loudly. If we are Christians, we must declare that this is not the way of Christ and anyone using him to justify racism isn’t following Christ.

If you can’t condemn white supremacy because you think black people started it, you are part of the problem. If you don’t let your white sons date black girls, you are part of the problem. If you tell racist jokes when it’s just “people like you” in the room, you are part of the problem. And if I stay silent and don’t call you out on those jokes, I am part of the problem.

The men in these photos we saw, the ones with the tiki torches who should’ve been home roasting s’mores, not screaming hate, they were mostly white men in their 20s and 30s. Young men. They didn’t grow up and just all of a sudden decide they were better than everyone else. They were taught. These ideas were allowed to grow unchecked. I saw young faces twisted in inexplicable hate, and I didn’t see a them. I saw an us. These are our white boys. And for those of us raising white kids, we have to do better. We have to be deliberate.

We have to teach our sons better. And our daughters. We must take responsibility for this racist cancer growing in our midst. The buck stops here. Not our sons. Not our daughters.

I spend so much effort empowering my daughter to love her blackness, to celebrate her identity. I fill our home with books and images of Black women and fill her life with Black friends. But let me not neglect my white boy. I need to train him up to celebrate blackness, to celebrate diversity, too. I need him to feel secure in who he is and teach him to love others so that when women, and Black people, and Latinos, and Asian people, and the differently abled, and any marginalized people around him achieve, he will not feel threatened but will go the way of Christ, to go lower, to humble himself, to serve, to celebrate the achievements of others and not feel threatened by them. We have to teach our white kids how to stand with others, that there’s plenty of room, and if there isn’t room at the table, then to stand up, wiggle together, and make another space.

The good news for us raising white kids is we can get this right. Our kids are sitting around our dinner tables and talking about what they’re learning in school and processing about the people who are different than them and we have some years to teach them.

We cannot afford to be silent. We have to condemn white supremacy and racism clearly and distinctly. And we have to take responsibility for the kids in our homes, that we can raise a generation willing to step into radical love.

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