We cannot walk alone: The White parent’s role in ending racism
by guest blogger Katie Nachman
Recently, after seeing a very hurtful video making the rounds on social media, I impulsively posted a response video of my own White daughters with the Black American Girl dolls they received for Christmas. My circle of Facebook friends is small, and I never imagined it would go beyond that, but I was so angry after seeing the other video that I felt I had to do something. If I had known that over three million people would see my video, I would have at least brushed my girls’ hair first!
Over the past few days, I have been overwhelmed with many thousands of positive comments. Many people sent me personal messages, some uplifting, some heartbreaking. I also noticed some trends that are pretty typical when the topic of White privilege comes up.
Some commenters said things like,
“You’re making your kids racist by calling attention to differences”
“I can’t believe people are still making everything about race”
Children have eyes and they can see that people have different skin colors, different facial features, and different hair textures. But many White parents purposefully do not call attention to differences. They tell their children that everyone is the same, that we don’t “see color.” It’s a nice sentiment, but if we don’t talk about race, we are not only failing to act on an opportunity to give our children a well-rounded education, we are also denying the very real experiences of people of color in this country.
This brings me to my main point: as a White parent, I feel I have the responsibility to teach my kids about race. If we are ever to end racism in America, we must stop being so passively colorblind, and start opening our eyes to the injustices all around us. We must be actively anti-racist.
A few months ago, I had a conversation with my six-year-old son about a biracial high school student who was killed by a White police officer in our very own city. We were eating at a restaurant while a protest was gathering outside, and he said:
“Mommy look, it’s a parade!”
I responded: “People are marching in protest because a White police officer shot and killed a boy ‘with brown skin,’” using his usual terminology.
“Did the boy have a gun?”
“No,” I answered.
And even harder questions came:
“But why would a police officer do that if the boy didn’t even have a gun?”
“Well, because Black and brown people have been treated unfairly for a long time in this country, and they still are. And if that boy looked like you, this probably wouldn’t have happened.”
“So the police officer didn’t think brown skin was beautiful-er?”
This was honestly the hardest question for me to answer. How do you help a six-year-old understand that it’s not just skin color? That there is a history that spans hundreds of years leading up to this moment? But sometimes simple questions need simple answers, so I said:
“Well, not exactly. Some people do think that, but even more people treat Black and brown people unfairly without even realizing they’re doing it.”
It was hard to have that conversation, and I didn’t want my son to know that such terrible things happen in the world. But at least I didn’t have to tell him that he might be next.
On Martin Luther King Junior’s Birthday, I am reminded that after more than 50 years, his great dream for America has only been partially fulfilled. Dr. King wanted for his children “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
I find it interesting that people sometimes use this statement as a rationale for colorblindness, because as a country, we’re not there yet. Black Americans are still followed by security guards in stores because people assume they will shoplift. Job applications with “Black-sounding” names are still automatically thrown in the shredder pile. And Black boys and girls are much more likely to get suspended or expelled from school than their White peers, for the same offenses.
Most White people do not realize that they have unconscious biases…but the truth is that, when controlled for every other factor, we rely first and foremost on outward appearances to judge others. So until we end racial disparities and disproportionalities in this country, we cannot truly be colorblind.
Last night, my children and I were enjoying the beautiful book, “I Have A Dream.” As we sat and listened to the words of the Reverend Dr. King on CD, one part of his speech particularly resonated with me:
“Many of our White brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.”
I hope that other White parents will join me in ensuring that the next generation is walking together with people of color in the United States.
Katie Nachman will soon graduate with a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her focus is in clinical mental health and program development. She is a mother to three children, ages 9, 7, and 4. She and her family identify as White Americans of European descent.