race and family
in a small northern town.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Walk a Mile in my Moccasins
Despite accusations to the contrary, we do not think "race" every minute of every day. We do, however, do whatever it takes to ensure that our home, and the world that touches our kids, is as safe for our children as possible. Our family - our ENTIRE family - is multiracial and multicultural. My black kids are growing up with First Nations sisters, my First Nations kids are growing up with white brothers, and my white kids have black brothers and brown sisters. And they are ALL family. My family. Our family.
But their histories, their races (even if race IS a social construct), their historical cultures are important pieces to their individual identities, and to our identity as a family. I can't "love away" their race and raise my kids to be color blind, nor would I ever really want to. Our differences make us unique, interesting and they are very, very real.
I love the things that tie my children together with sameness, like our shared experiences, our shared love of our extended family, our personal family history, our faith, our love of taco night and Space Mountain. I can also equally love and respect those things that make us different. That St. Patrick's Day was my Irish grandmother's favorite holiday and that Daddy's Norwegian grandma made excellent lefse and that slavery directly impacted my sons' great-great grandparents, and that my girls' great-great-great grandfather was a Chilcotin Warrior, and that three members of our family immigrated to Canada and that six of us were born here.
I can honor and respect that all of my children have unique, complicated and different histories that affect their present day realities. That doesn't make me race obsessed, that makes me honest. When my minority children walk out my front door and face the world the first thing that others will see is their race. That's not right or necessarily wrong it simply is. And when that happens, I want all my kids to be proud of who they are, and who they were, and who they will become. I want them to know that white, brown or black and they are valuable, important and worthy of being treated as such.
We don't teach our kids to look for offense, but we do teach them to expect respect. We identify prejudice when we see it, and explain to them the faults in those that think that way. We talk about the differences between being a black teenage boy and being a white teenage boy. We don't talk about those differences because we LIKE them, we talk about them because they exist. I HAVE TO explain to my kids about racism, prejudice and the complicated histories of all their ancestors because if I don't I fail to prepare them for the real world they will have to live in without my covering and protection.
Teaching your minority child - or in fact ANY child - to respect their own history and to be prepared to deal with a majority world that disvalues all things "different" cannot begin when they enter the school system or as they prepare to leave for college. It's not one conversation, or one picture book or that single token black friend. As a parent, it has to be a conscious decision to become aware, to become uncomfortable, to challenge your own perceptions and prejudices and to accept, and even grieve, that your child's reality is not your own.
My daughter wears moccasins. Not because she doesn't have shoes (she has many, many pairs of shoes), not because there is anything wrong with shoes, but because it is a symbol of her history and a nod of respect to her culture. And that is me, her mother, consciously laying a foundation for her to grow up to first know, and second value, her personal and sacred history.
I will teach her to respect that personal and sacred history. I will teach her to expect it to be respected by you, and what to do when it's not. I will also teach her to fight to protect the value of your personal and sacred history. From that can come no harm.