In response to Charleston: White anti-racist parenting
Last night at a vigil I heard a Black elder in my community trace herstory through the bombing of a church that claimed the lives of 4 young Black girls, the murder of Emmet Till, through the civil rights movement and the murder of King and connected it all to Charleston. She then wondered aloud if there was a new generation of people who would raise their children differently, raise them not to hate.
She didn’t say “White people.” But, I will.
As White parents, anti-racist parenting takes intentionality. We cannot teach our kids to treat “everyone the same.” It’s not enough.
I took a try last night. My White daughter is three. She’s just now in the phase of cognitive development where empathy and morality are being formed. Yet language and abstract thinking are limited. Here’s how it went.
(Our children are more capable than we think.)
“Aurora, we are going to be with people tonight who are sad.”
“Why are they sad?”
“Because 9 Black people died.”
“Because they were killed by a mean White man.”
“Because the mean man had bad things in his heart.”
“I imagine because he didn’t get enough love. But I don’t know for sure. I want to tell you the names and show you the faces of the people who were killed.”
(I show faces and says names)
“Everyone is so sad?”
“Yes, because you see how all these people have brown skin?”
“The man who killed them didn’t like brown skin. He had White skin like us.”
(quiet and contemplative)
“Mommy, did he use guns?”
“That’s not okay. That’s very bad.”
“What should we do, Aurora?”
“Tell him to stop it.”
“And if he doesn’t listen, we say louder STOP IT.”
“That’s right. And what about tonight when we see all the people who are sad? What can we do?”
“We can say I’m sorry and give them hugs and say I love you.”
It’s a start. It wasn’t perfect but it was a start. And for those who think I’m not preserving her innocence as a child, just remember that a Black five-year-old at the shooting had already been taught how to play dead which is why they survived.
I’m not shielding my child from the truth of White inheritance.
But here’s my hope: she already knows the tactics of resistance. Out of the mouths of babes, right?
What does it look like for White anti-racist people to rise up as abolitionists today and say STOP IT. Not just with our voices but our actions, our money, our relationships, our roles in private and public life? I know giving up power and privilege is a huge part of this and in order to do that, we need truth-telling relationships rooted in support and accountability, Who is with me? Even if you’re new, it’s okay. Now is the time.
Rev. Emily Joye Reynolds is a gender queer white womyn committed to spiritual liberation rooted in anti-oppression pastoring, activism and education. She is the mother of a white daughter, Aurora, and mixed race (Black, Native American and White) son, Isaiah. Her momma taught her everything she knows about perseverance and grace. Rev. Reynolds is the co-pastor and co-founder of a beautifully active spiritual community named Koinonia in Battle Creek, Michigan. Emily Joye also does facilitation with Allies for Change and White Men as Full Diversity Partners. She is a graduate of the Pacific School of Religion and Catawba College. She learned how to cook as an adult–one of her greatest personal achievements and proof that miracles do happen if we keep learning our whole life long.