Why it is my job to explain White privilege to my almost four-year-old
by Sachi Feris
A couple of months ago, I was singing a bedtime song to my daughter and she interrupted with, “Mamma, sometimes in the morning when I wake up my pillow is wet.”
It was a statement with the implied request: “Please, Mamma, help me solve this mystery.”
And so, I explained the mundane phenomena of drool.
I was reflecting on this humorous exchange—and my job as a parent to explain life’s mysteries to my children—when it occurred to me that explaining the phenomena of White privilege required a similar responsibility on my part. My job is to explain something that my children can’t understand or even necessarily see without my support.
When I shared this idea with my mom and sibling, they both cautioned me regarding this comparison.
To be clear: drool is innocuous and mundane. White privilege is based on violence against brown and black bodies that benefit people with White skin. In all ways, this is anything but innocuous and mundane.
In posts about prison and slavery, I have written about how I talk about White privilege with my daughter. (For example, “…if you are White and you commit a crime, like stealing something, the police might say ‘that was wrong, don’t do that again,’ and that’s all…but if you are Black and commit the same crime, they might arrest you and you might go to prison. And that isn’t fair.”)
More than anything, I want my children to understand that White privilege exists—so that the “mystery” of how White people continue to maintain power in our society does not remain a mystery.
Unlike my own experience (where I had to wait until college to learn about the concept of White privilege through Peggy McIntosh’s famous article Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack), I want my daughter to grow up understanding how White privilege functions in our society. I remember, in college, feeling a sense of relief in learning about White privilege, as it validated so many observations and questions that had come up for me as an adolescent. It also gave me a concrete framework to process these questions into answers.
I don’t want my children to wait until college to have this tool for understanding how they benefit from their privilege as White people, as citizens of the United States, and as members of the 10% (upper-middle class).
I want them to have these tools now. Because with out tools, they will not be able to take responsibility for their privilege and take action to shift power dynamics in this country.
Whether I am explaining drool or White privilege, my role as a parent is to demystify the world for my children. Sometimes they will wonder out loud about life’s “mysteries”—and sometimes they won’t (as I was not able to as a teen).
This is why I will do everything I can to make White privilege explicit and concrete for my children…no surprises.
Sachi Feris is a blogger at Raising Race Conscious Children, an online a resource to support adults who are trying to talk about race with young children. Sachi also co-facilitates interactive workshops/webinars and small group workshop series on how to talk about race with young children. Sachi currently teaches Spanish to Kindergarten and 1st grade at an independent school in Brooklyn. Sachi identifies as White and is a mother to an almost four-year-old daughter and almost six-month-old son.