I’m raising two adorable kids. They’re kind, funny, sensitive, and curious. They’re also white, biologically male, and middle-class. While their gender identity and sexual orientation are unknown to me, my kids have been born into privilege.
Beautiful, aren’t they?
Kids are so good. We all want them to become good adults, too. But the voices of intolerance in our country are growing louder. I want my kids to reject prejudice, but with hate crimes on the rise and every possible -ism creeping into the national discourse, I’m worried.
It’s not enough to be a good example. It’s not enough to fill their bookshelf with Donovan’s Big Day and I am Jazz and Daddy, There’s a Noise Outside. It’s not enough to wish our neighbors a happy Ramadan when we’re out for a walk. It’s not enough.
If I want my kids to be good allies, I need to teach them how.
This is what my sons are learning:
Listen to others. Their experiences are important.
We need to listen to each other. Even when it’s painful.
Overwhelmingly, white people deny that white privilege exists. It can be hard for us to see the ways we’ve benefit simply by having white skin. That doesn’t make it any less real, however. And by closing our ears to conflict, we do nothing to resolve it.
I’m teaching Gus and Henry to listen during conflicts. Even if they don’t like what they hear. Especially if they don’t understand the other person’s point of view.
I teach this through experience (how I treat them), expectation (how I expect them to treat others), and being explicit (Telling them plainly: “Listen to others. Their experiences are as important as yours.”).
To teach Gus to listen, I listen to him. When he’s in conflict, I can guide him through it. The best way I’ve found to do both of these things is sportscasting.
Sportscasting is making simple observations to help children work through problems without shame, blame, or judgment.
If Gus is crying about bathtime, I can model how to listen by sportscasting the conflict. “You’re really upset about taking a bath,” I can say. “You don’t want to stop playing.” With patience, we almost always arrive at a mutually acceptable solution. Maybe he will play for 15 more minutes. Maybe he will take a bath tomorrow. In the long run, he learns what listening looks like. He’s picking up that other people’s opinions deserve respect and consideration. In the meanwhile, he might go to sleep with dirty feet. So what?
Sportscasting can also teach children how to listen to each other.
When Gus threw a banana at Henry the other day, I comforted Henry and sportscasted to Gus: “That banana hit Henry in the head. He’s crying. He’s saying ‘owwie,'” I said and turned to Henry. “Ow, you’re saying that really hurt.”
Gus thought for a moment, and then asked Henry, “Are you okay?” He turned to me and said, “I was pretending the banana was a lasso and he was a horse.”
“Oh, you were playing horse and cowboy,” I continued sportscasting the facts. “Henry’s head has a red bump on it.”
Gus stood, still holding the banana. “You look like you want to throw that banana again,” I said. I directed his attention back to Henry’s perspective. “Henry is crying.”
“I think I should throw the banana in a different direction,” Gus decided after a pause. “So Henry’s head doesn’t get hit.”
Problem solved. With the exception of one exceptionally mushy banana.
Sportscasting may seem trivial on the large scale. However, I believe if it’s done consistently over time, children learn how to listen even when the conversation is tough.
For more information on sportscasting, and other methods of peaceful parenting, read:
- How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
- Janet Landsbury’s first book about infant care, second book about toddler discipline, and blog, especially this article about sportscasting your child’s conflicts
- Sara from Happiness is Here’s definition of peaceful parenting
- More reading:
- How to be an ally to a community or cause by Stephanie Cham
- Examples of white privilege by various authors at This is White Privilege
Ask how you can help
Just because you want to help doesn’t mean that you know what you’re doing. All too often, people with privilege join a movement and find themselves in the spotlight, “speaking for the voiceless.”
FYI, people have voices.
The people who directly experience oppression are the ones leading the movement to stop it. They know the problem best. They live it. An ally’s role is not to “speak for” marginalized communities. Allies listen. They ask how to help. And then they go and do that thing.
Just like before, I’m teaching this to my kids with experience, expectation, and by being explicit.
Experience: When one of my kids needs assistance, I ask first if I can help. Sometimes the answer is no. Sometimes the answer isn’t what I expect it to be. Gus didn’t want me to get the pickle jar down for him, but he did ask me to carry the step stool to the fridge. Okay. That’s not a problem.
Expectation: When Gus’s friend falls down at the park, I role model how I expect him to respond. Does she want help? “Sasha is frowning,” I might sportscast. “I don’t think she wants a hug. Can you ask her what kind of help she wants instead? She said she wants us to get her mom. Let’s do that right away.”
Explicitly: “Let’s go over right away and ask if Sasha needs help. It’s important to find out if someone needs help. That person knows best what will make them feel better.”
- The White-Savior Industrial Complex by Teju Cole
- What We Need from White Allies in the Fight for Justice by Brittany Dawson
Here’s What a White Savior Is (And Why It’s the Opposite of Helpful) by Celia Edell
Consent is essential.
“If someone says stop, you stop right away. If you say stop, they have to stop, too.”
Gus has heard me say these phrases so many times that he knows them by heart. It applies to tickling. Wrestling. Throwing pinecones at your brother. Chasing your friend through the sprinkler.
“Just because they wanted to do that last time doesn’t mean they have to do that today.”
“You are the boss of your own body. They are the boss of theirs.”
When Gus tells me he is hot, I don’t force him to wear his sweater. I don’t say, “You can’t be hot. It’s 50 degrees, and I’m freezing!” I will, however, gladly help him warm up if he asks me to. I want Gus to know that I can’t make choices for his body, nor can he makes choices for anyone else’s. These are important lessons for any feminist-in-training. And any human being.
- How to Teach Consent to Kids in 5 Simple Steps by Michelle Dominique Burk
Everyone has the same rights…
I’m a firm believer that human rights education is an essential component of any curricula.
We need to know our rights. We need to know that all humans have the same rights. We need to know that rights are inalienable and cannot be taken away. In a country where divisive rhetoric is commonplace and white nationalism has a new place in the White House, it’s imperative that our children learn these lessons well.
I first began talking about human rights with Gus when he was three. There many children’s books that do a fantastic job of explaining the concept, and they’re appropriate for all ages. Here are our favorites:
- Every Human Has Rights: What You Need to Know About Your Human Rights by National Geographic
- I Have The Right To Be A Child by Alain Serres
- We Are All Born Free Mini Edition: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Pictures by Amnesty International
…but not everyone’s rights are respected.
This is where multicultural literature often falls short. My children’s bookshelf is full of books affirming that all people are wonderful, beautiful, and good. It is harder, however, to find children’s books that explain that, while these statements are true, society has not historically and is not currently treating all people with equality.
Racism is not a past problem that was solved by the civil rights movement. Feminism is not outdated because women won the vote. The struggle for justice for these groups and others is real and ongoing.
I believe that young children can, and should learn about prejudice, racism, and oppression, both historically and where it exists today. By no means do I encourage turning on the news for a four-year-old, but we can thoughtfully inform our children of injustices in age-appropriate ways. We can speak out against prejudice in front of our children. And, as always, we can read, read, read.
- Teaching For Change has an incredible online bookstore with an extensive selection of anti-bias children’s books. This is by far the best resource I’ve found.
We have a lot to learn.
Being an ally is a process of learning and growing. As parents, we can model this for our children by educating ourselves, evaluating our own effectiveness as allies, and improving when needed.
Right now, I’m working on diversifying my media to hear a broader variety of voices and perspectives. I’m following more people of color on social media. I’m subscribing to blogs written by people from the LGBTQ community. I’m currently reading A Good Time For the Truth, a collection of essays about race written by people of color from my state. I’m attending protests, marches, and meetings. I’m following the news. I’m teaching my kids carefully.
These articles have more ideas of how allies can grow:
- 11 Things White People Can Do To Be Real Anti-Racist Allies by Kali Holloway
- 12 Ways To Be a White Ally to Black People by Janee Woods
- Call yourself an LGBT ally? Here’s how to actually be one by Carlos Maza
- So you call yourself an ally: 10 things all “allies” need to know by Jamie Utt
This is bigger than us.
As I’ve written this post, I’ve kept this quote by Audre Lorde at the front of my mind. (I found the quote in an article written by Brittany Dawson on ForHarriet.com):
“Some problems we share as women, some we do not. You [white women] fear your children will grow up to join the patriarchy and testify against you, we fear our children will be dragged from a car and shot down in the street, and you will turn your backs on the reasons they are dying.” —Audre Lorde
The ultimate goal for social justice education is not to raise my own children the best way that I can. While that’s certainly a motivation, this work must be about valuing all lives. It has to be about stopping other people’s children from being hurt. It has to be about making sure everyone’s child has the same chances in life as mine. Parenting for social justice can make a powerful impact on the next generation, but in order for it to be truly successful, we can’t be doing it out of our own self-interest.
I’m trying hard to listen. If there’s anything you’d like to add to this conversation, please comment below or email me.
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