New Promises to My White Children: Part One
This is the first in a series of three posts detailing Adelaide Lancaster’s journey as a White parent (and co-founder of WeStories.org).
Dear E, H, & P:
In the days and months since Michael Brown was shot I’ve thought a lot about how to talk to you about race. At first I mostly thought, “we haven’t really talked about it yet,” despite the fact that I believe in the importance of doing so.
You’d never been told you are White. Our most in depth interaction around the color of your skin was the selection of the peachy crayon. So this led me to start thinking about it, talking about it, and thinking about talking about it.
After reading lots of first-hand accounts and research, I feel slightly more prepared for the “bigger” conversations. I have a sense of the weighty messages on equality and discrimination and history that I want to impart. But I also know that racism is inherited in small ways: daily habits, routines, comments, and lack of comments. It’s assembled slowly and sturdily by the micro and the seemingly invisible. It’s informed as much by what we don’t say and do, as it is by what we do say and do.
I know that in order to give you the best that I can I need to pay attention to race everyday. But I need practice in doing that. It’s not my habit. Like most White people, I’m largely able to ignore race, conveniently picking it up when it suits me, addressing it only on my terms, when I have energy and optimism to spare. I don’t want you to inherit this indifference of convenience.
I want to do better for myself. And I want to do better for you. I want to give you something less broken, burdened, and blind. So I’m building us (you and me) a living declaration, promises of sorts that will hopefully help to guide me and remind me of my intentions and responsibilities.
I promise to constantly reconsider what is “for me” and by extension “for you”.
When I think back on my own educational (and extracurricular) choices I realize that I have often conflated opportunities that I feel are “for me” with those that contain people who are “like me.” This has often been a mistake. I chose my college because the kids there seemed “like me,” yet I ended up spending much of my time feeling uninspired or like I didn’t belong. While I’m grateful for the value and friends I did gain, I’ve always regretted this choice.
I thought about this while searching for the right preschools for you. At first I more readily considered options with kids who were also “like you” and dismissed those that seemed “not like you.”
The first time I heard about your current school, a Spanish immersion school, I immediately dismissed it as “not for us” because I don’t speak Spanish and hadn’t given the gift of bilingualism much thought. Not surprisingly, H, the first time I heard about your old school, which was attached to a prominent synagogue, I also immediately dismissed it as “not for us,” because we aren’t Jewish. We wouldn’t fit in. We’d stand out. Maybe we’d feel we didn’t belong.
In both cases a reconsideration of what community characteristics and educational qualities were important to me led me to embrace experiences that I had previously dismissed. And thank goodness, as these choices have been some of the best I’ve ever made in my life and the best that I could hope to make for you.
And what’s more, it’s given us the opportunity to explore and embrace both within group difference and counter-narratives. You’ve heard me say:
“I wish I had the opportunity to be bilingual” and “Some families at our school speak Spanish at home, while some don’t. Some of the parents are new learners, like you, while others grew up speaking Spanish first.”
You’ve seen and experienced brilliance and warmth from a wide variety of voices and accents, which is how it should be. I do not wish to artificially limit and edit the beautiful world that you inhabit. You are a small part of it. Special for being you, and nothing more. Special to me in the same way that all other children are special to their own parents.
Let’s together seek those and that which can teach us what we don’t know.
Click here to read Parts Two of this post and stay tuned for Part Three!
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.