New Promises to My White Children, Part Three
This is post #3 (in series of three) detailing Adelaide Lancaster’s journey as a White parent (and co-founder of WeStories.org.)
I promise I will work to provide you with counter examples.
A friend told me a story recently about her friends’ family moving from New York to Florida, where upon the child in the family noticed, “White people are poor, too.” In NY she was used to seeing a disproportionate number of poor people who were brown. In Florida the complexity of poverty was different.
You might not know this yet but every town, city, and geography has blind spots—over and under representations. These blind spots help form and perpetuate narrow stereotypes. I want to do a better job of helping you see that. Of pointing them out and talking about who is missing.
When we decorated Black Lives Matter signs together, we talked about how there aren’t many people with dark skin who live in our neighborhood.
“Sometimes neighborhoods have lots of different kinds of people who live there and sometimes the people mostly look the same,” I shared with you. “We are very lucky that at your school there are lots of kids who look different from each other and whose families are from different places.”
E, later in that afternoon when we were talking about the signs, you said “We feel sad that more people with dark skin don’t live in our neighborhood.”
You had heard me and that feels good. Let’s keep talking about who is missing. There are lots of groups missing in lots of contexts. The absence of those voices and experiences matter and it’s important that we don’t forget the space they would occupy and the impact they might have. And most importantly, let’s not accept a paucity of voices as normal.
Speaking of voices, I promise to endorse experts and leadership of people who don’t look like us.
For those engaging in race work, the topic of earned leadership is an important one. We Whites clamor for leadership roles and often assume that they are automatically ours. We talk over people of color and look for ways to take the reigns. No group has a monopoly on knowledge and wisdom, nor should they.
I want you to engage with a diverse set of authority figures and promise to create the experiences for you to do so. I want you to feel comfortable asking for help from people who don’t look like you. I want you to experience people of color in positions of leadership and roles of authority that are not in service of you.
Over the last year, I’ve encouraged you both to be resourceful and seek knowledge from others aside from me. I’ve also encouraged you to seek knowledge from diverse sources.
Like the time we did the scavenger hunt in the art museum last winter. E, you were on the hunt for a picture of a wedding among other things. In order to find what you needed you had to ask docents questions. The first time I steered you towards a Black female docent. Then each subsequent time you returned to her until you found your last outstanding items.
It feels like a hopelessly small step but since it changed the course of action from what I normally would have done it must matter some, even if only a small bit.
Let’s work together to honor the knowledge and authority of others. Let’s celebrate the diversity in perspective it provides us. Let’s see and acknowledge the earned leadership that’s all around us instead of looking for wisdom in resemblance.
I promise to stop perpetuating the myth of senselessness
Quite simply, just because I don’t understand it, doesn’t mean it’s senseless. Very few things are totally senseless; so don’t let me get away with that. The reason people use the label “senseless” is because it makes things easy to dismiss. Because if there’s no rhyme or reason, there’s no solution either. Really nothing to be done. So people say “senseless”, shake their heads, and move on.
If something doesn’t make sense to me and to you, let’s work on understanding it better. Often there are many voices trying to be heard, voices that are trying to explain or ask for help or point to answers.
“Why are protesters demonstrating? Why are looters angry? (Do you know that The Department of Justice concluded that the City of Ferguson had consistently violated the constitutional rights of its Black residents?) Why are city schools often underfunded? Under-resourced? Why are our prisons packed full with Black men and boys? What has fueled the fracturing of the Black family? (Do you know that when welfare policies were created that no man could live in a recipient household? If they were caught there it jeopardized the family’s limited resources and security.) Why are White people afraid to speak up? (Do you know what has happened to White allies and dissenters past and present?) What allows someone in a professional role to hurt a child? Why does the system care about some hearts and intentions but not others?”
Let’s together find and listen to those voices, not the ones dismissing it in the first place. Let’s work hard to connect what we are learning to experiences and feelings that we have had too.
Can we together imagine why?
I promise to include us as part of the equation.
As White folks we’ve played an important role in creating the problems of today. And we continue to play a role in the problems we will likely face tomorrow.
I was taught that the racist ones were either ancient Southern characters at the time of the civil war, older folks who were still learning to treat humans as humans, or a few bad apples who held weird hateful grudges and weren’t yet on board with the idea that color doesn’t matter.
Since I was neither of those three I thought I was in the clear. It took me a long time to connect the persistent, enduring, really suffocating racism of today to me…my behavior, my beliefs, and my actions.
There was a huge cost to that denial, not the least of which was years spent in a sadly limited world, rejecting things “not for me” and “not like me.” The other costs of that denial is the actual denial of equality that results for people of color. I hope to help you avoid this same trap. I will work hard to own our role, benefits, and complacency. Instead of creating an “evil them” in order to exempt ourselves from blame, I will connect us to the issue by using phrases such as “people like us” or “White people like us.”
The North was culpable and complicit in slavery. The settlers, our ancestors, mistreated Native Americans, and it still continues today. Segregation persists in most big cities, it is not a thing of the past. Racism is everywhere and something we all need to unlearn. Goodness doesn’t exempt anyone.
It is uncomfortable to really own this and feels like a lot to bestow on children. Yet I believe that if we can understand how we are part of the problem then we will also feel empowered to be part of the solution.
If we truly understand the role we play then we can’t conscionably sit on the sidelines. We can’t wait for the tide of time to create change. We can’t wait for someone else to do what’s right. Instead, we choose to help, together.
I promise to listen to and learn from you.
Fresher eyes, more open hearts and creative, collaborative brains are job requirements for the next generation. Teach me, show me, lead me. I’m here to learn and help.
Adelaide Lancaster is co-founder of We Stories, a St. Louis nonprofit organization that uses the power of children’s literature to help start and strengthen conversations about race in families, schools and community spaces serving children ages 0-7. She holds a M.Ed. in Psychological Counseling and M.A. in Organizational Psychology both from Teachers College at Columbia University, and a B.A in Educational Studies and Sociology and Anthropology from Colgate University.