Last night I sat around a table with a group of women, and we talked about race. We talked about the ways racism shows up – the big ways and the little ways – and we acknowledged how difficult and uncomfortable it can be to talk about when no one has ever shown us how. When the conversation turned to the recent incident at The University of Oklahoma, the women around the table shared their shock and outrage. And, of course, the question we all had was: Why?
Why would a bus full of white college students sing – gleefully – about hanging Black people from trees and never letting n**** into their fraternity?
These Big Incidents keep happening, shining a spotlight on racism in America. One after another, fast and furious, they keep coming, urging us not to look away. Outrage is warranted. Understanding why these awful situations happen is important. Talking about how to prevent them is important.
But here is the thing (excuse me while I hop up on my soapbox here): Racism exists on a continuum. These Big Incidents, they grab our attention. They are a catalyst for dialogue. But let’s not forget that the smaller ways racism and stereotypes manifest every.single.day are what allow the Big Incidents to happen.
It doesn’t help an ounce to be shocked and outraged at the Big Incidents and pretend that the subtle ways racism manifests don’t exist or aren’t just as significant. I guarantee that expelling a few students isn’t going to eliminate racism on the OU campus – or any campus, for that matter. (Although, hell yeah, they should be expelled.)
Parents, we have a critical job to do as we raise the next round of college students. Each and every one of us.
It’s not enough to not teach our kids to be racist – to steer clear of racial slurs and occasionally remind them everyone is equal. We MUST go deeper than that. We must actively teach our children how not to be racist. And it means starting with ourselves.
And I know – I know that for white families in mostly white communities it is easy to forget about race, to push it to the back of the closet under the winter boots and lost mittens. Parents have so much to worry about that if race isn’t impacting our lives in obvious ways, we turn our attention to all of the other (very important) parts of raising kids….like homework and friendships and making sure they aren’t downloading porn on their phones.
But if we don’t talk about race and, more specifically, racism, we leave our kids wide open to the daily messages they receive about the worth of people of color in our society. Those messages are coming at them from all sides – movies, books, the nightly news, their friends, school, history books – just like they are coming at us. Acknowledging that we respond to or think about people of color differently doesn’t make us Racist with a capital R – it makes us honest and provides us the opportunity to challenge our reactions. Our kids need to know that and learn to do the same.
As parents, we need to immerse ourselves in conversations about race, learn about the experiences of people different from ourselves, and educate ourselves about what privilege and discrimination mean in America. We need to find our blind spots so that we don’t unintentionally pass them on to our kids, and so that we recognize racism, in all of its forms, where it exists. And – oh, here is the hard, hard, hard part for many of us – we have to find the courage to speak up when we see it, to lead our kids by example, and to show them that if we aren’t part of the solution, the problem continues.
We need to commit to actively ensuring that when our babies go off to college, they recognize racism when they see it, want NO part in it, and speak out against it.
Racism exists on college campuses. It exists in our high schools and middle schools and, yes, our elementary schools. It may go unnoticed by many, but it is there until we do something about it or until a Big Incident shines a light on the ugly truth.
The incident at OU is one incident that was caught on tape. One kid on that bus knew enough to record it and push it into the right hands – passing it on to the black student group Unheard, which in turn shared it with the University President on Twitter. I like to hope it wasn’t an accident and that the student knew exactly what he or she was doing. That there was a kid on that bus who knew this was appalling and knew action needed to be taken. I like to hope that someone’s mama didn’t let her baby grow up to be racist.
BOOKS & SITES TO HELP YOU ON YOUR JOURNEY:
- Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together In The Cafeteria by Beverly Daniel Tatum
- The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration In The Age Of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
- 5 Tips to Raise Racially Sensitive Children on BonBon Break
- 9 Black Twitter Feeds You Need To Follow Right Now
- 50 Books By People of Color
- And then check out some websites like The Root, Colorlines, and (BonBon Break contributor!) My Brown Baby
Note: I realize this piece is directly primarily toward white parents. This is in no way meant to exclude people of color who are reading this. It is simply a part of the conversation where I felt able to contribute.
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This post was written by Ellie of Musing Momma exclusively for BonBon Break Media, LLC.