How I Talked To My Little Girl About White Supremacy

How should a privileged white woman discuss racial injustice on her mommy blog? Where does white supremacy fit in the middle of my videos about making cheeseburgers or my obsession with Disney World? Should I discuss it before or after I make quesadillas on my instagram stories?

It doesn’t belong here any more than any other human tragedy. It’s really not the place for it.

So why have I gone over and over in my mind whether or not I should say something, or not, and what, and when?

The strongest argument against saying anything is that it really doesn’t have much to do with me. How is a riot in Minneapolis affecting me in my real life? Aren’t we just, getting emotionally tangled up in something that’s really none of our business? Also, as white people, are we centering ourselves and making something about us, that has nothing to  do with us? And isn’t that distasteful? Does it dishonor the injustices that we have not personally suffered?

I hear that, I do, but social media IS a part of our lives, and the images we see, DO affect us. It’s a little ridiculous with the saturation of social media in our lives, to say that what we experience there, has nothing to do with us. Social media is a part of your real life, digital or not. What about the system we live in, that creates injustice? Isn’t that about us? Isn’t that about all of us?

I waited to talk because I didn’t want to center myself, but then of course, it started to affect me.

My daughter saw footage of the riots in Minneapolis. She is 5 years old. I don’t watch the news. She saw it on YouTube come up after we watched a Disney World video. I don’t want her to see the violence in the world if I can avoid it. I would do anything to protect her, but when she does see things like this, and sometimes kids will see scary things whether we like it or not, I know that the best way to protect her, is to talk about it in as kid-appropriate way as I can, as honestly as I can, and to be calm, comforting, supportive, and to let her ask any questions she has or say anything she wants and to be safe and close to me.

” Is this the news? Is it real? Why are there flames? Did that happen last night while I was asleep?”

When children see scary things the first thing they wonder is if it will hurt them. They wonder if they are in danger. I explained that yes, it happened while she was asleep, but that it happened far away and that she is safe. Then she asked, “Why is it happening?”

I could have said a lot of things, but I chose to explain.  First, I pulled her up to me on the couch. I covered her in my blanket. I held her and I said, I will explain, but it’s a long story and it might scare you and it makes mommy feel sad to talk about it.  Do you want me to explain it still? “Yes,” she answered. “I will be right here if you get scared or sad, ok?” I told her. “Ok,” she said. I didn’t have a plan for how to talk to her. I wasn’t prepared, but I entered this moment ready to tell the truth, and to be a mom to her, and those were my tools that I started with.

I told her that there was a man named Mr. George Floyd and that a grocery store called the police on him because they thought he wrote a bad check, and I explained what a bad check was. Then I explained that the policeman who was white, which means he has skin like mommy’s, hurt him, and that because he hurt him, Mr. George Floyd died.

This upset her. She knows what it means when someone dies. My father and grandmother died 2 years ago, and she still remembers them, and what it means. I held her close and let her snuggle me.

She asked me why they hurt him. She asked me why they didn’t just talk to him about the bad check and try to work it out.

I then explained that many people believe this happened to Mr. Floyd because he was a black man. “But I’m brown!” she said immediately.

When children hear something scary, they worry that it will happen to them.

I told her I would always protect her, and I would never let anyone hurt her. Even though this is not in my control, it is the truth. I would never let anyone hurt her. I would protect her if I could, and she doesn’t need to be scared at 5 years old that she is in immediate danger, even if I know objectively I won’t be able to protect her from everything.

Then I explained, that recently, another black man named Mr. Ahmaud Arbery was shot by some white people when he was running, and that another black man named Mr. Christian Cooper, who likes to watch birds in Central Park (where she has been several times), got in an argument with a white lady about her dog which was off it’s leash, which is against the rules, and she called the cops on him, and lied to them saying that a black man was threatening her life and her dog. (My daughter was aghast that this lady broke TWO rules: not leashing the dog AND lying, and told me that this lady should get a quiet time).

I explained that people are angry about these things happening, because it’s not fair, because black people and brown people aren’t treated fairly in America, and they are very angry and they started protesting. The police escalated the situation (I left out the tear gas and rubber bullets- too scary), and then we talked about what escalating and de-escalating mean. I explained that when she thought that the police should have just tried to talk to Mr. George Floyd about the check and work it out, that that would have been de-escalation. I explained that after the police escalation, now the people are rioting, and they burned down a police station, and they stole things from a Target and that’s what she saw on the news.

I told her that violence is not okay, but that the reason this started, was because of white people’s violence, not the protestors, and that violence is like this, it just gets worse and builds on itself. I explained that if America doesn’t change, and doesn’t stop hurting black people and brown people, that things will get violent sometimes, and that it’s complicated.

I explained that the word for when black and brown people aren’t treated fairly is called racism, and that it is wrong, and it’s not fair, and it’s bad.

I explained that many white people are good but that they still benefit from something unfair called white privilege and that that happens because of white supremacy, which are big words and it’s okay if you don’t understand them yet. I explained that white supremacy is basically believing white people are better than other people, even though this isn’t true.

“But you’re white mommy and you love me,” and I explained that that’s true, and that I love her more than I love myself and I told her many times how much I love her. Next, she said, “Amma (her grandmother) is white, right?” and I said yes, and she said, “And she loves me right?” and I said of course, most of your family on mommy’s side is white and we love you more than anything in the whole world. We love your skin. We love who you are. We are proud that you are our family, but white supremacy and white privilege is still a problem.

I explained how it started with colonialism, and briefly what that meant, basically, white Europeans sailed around the world taking over people’s lands and hurting them sometimes, and taking things from them sometimes.  Then I explained about slavery in America, and at every explanation, I explained that these things were wrong, and bad, and not ok, and I used as simple and straightforward of language as I could.

Then I explained about the civil war, and that even after the civil war, things still weren’t ok, and then I explained a little about civil rights, and I mentioned Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, who she knows and has read books about.

Then I explained that even though some things have gotten better, that white people still hurt black and brown people too much, and that it makes people very angry and hurt, and that is why it is so upsetting when things happen like this.  That’s why people are so angry and violent over Mr. George Floyd and Mr. Ahmaud Arbery, and Mr. Christian Cooper, because we are in pain.

She was tired of talking about it by then, and let me publicly admit here that I have a tendency to say too much, always, in every situation, but that’s how I am and I’m not hiding from it. She said, “I think I understand. Can we stop talking about this grown up stuff?” I said yes, of course, and I said that she can ask me any questions she wants when she feels like it.

I hoped I didn’t traumatize her, but for anybody wondering, she seems ok. She’s been steady playing with toys and being her cheerful playful self all the rest of the day. Kids are resilient, especially when they feel safe with their parents.

I don’t pretend to be perfect or do things perfectly, but I try.

I am a white woman, with a mixed race brown daughter. My side of the family is a bunch of white people. Her father’s side of the family are Fillipino-American. Her grandparents immigrated here and her father and his siblings are first generation Asian Americans. My daughter has beautiful light brown skin, dark brown hair and eyes. I have olive green eyes, fair skin, and bleach blonde hair.

This will always be a thing, for as long as we are both alive. I do not have the white lady luxury of pretending I don’t see color. If I didn’t see color, I wouldn’t see my own daughter, my own flesh and blood, and I wouldn’t be prepared to talk to her about the discrimination and unfairness that she might face. I would do absolutely anything in my power to prevent her from ever having to face it, but I cannot stop it alone, and it doesn’t help anything to pretend it’s not real. It is real.

Well meaning white people already perform micro-aggressions against her, idiotic white liberals who think they aren’t racist have already used racial slurs in front of me, knowing full well that I have an Asian American child. I always stand up to them, but too many white people still think it’s safe to use racial slurs and to perform micro-aggressions around other white people. Some white people, who are so entrenched in their white supremacy and white privilege, still think they will be treated as heroes for murdering black people in the street or calling the cops on them. Systemic racism and injustice still permeate the health care system, policing, housing, and contribute to pay inequality, mass incarceration of black people, education inequality and many other areas of American life. Trust me, I see color, and I know other white people see it too.

So what should I say?

Do I place myself on a pedestal of my white privilege and preach to all the fellow white liberals who will pat me on the back and say how brave I am for speaking out?  That feels incredibly attention seeking and absurd. Again, what right do I have to make the deaths of Mr. George Floyd and Mr. Ahmaud Arbery about ME??? I have no right to do so, plain and simple.

I have also seen on social media, that many black Americans are exhausted by having to teach white people about white supremacy and racism and they wish that white people would pick up this burden and educate ourselves and each other.

I hate to tell you that I have tried that a few times, and that it rarely works. Read up on white fragility and you will see, that white people are generally just defensive about their inherited racism and white supremacist beliefs. Most white people don’t want to believe they are racist, because they don’t understand racism, they don’t understand white supremacy, and they don’t believe that personally, in their hearts that they hate other people or are morally corrupt. All they know is that racism is bad, and they don’t want to be called a bad name.

So what should I say? What is the point of trying to educate other white people who disagree with me and just want to be defensive? (As you read me complaining about this, just try to imagine how black people feel about it!) What is the point of taking up more space here?

I recently heard some WONDERFUL advice on social media about when and where to talk about things. Ask yourself, “Does this need to be said? By me? By me right now?”

THAT is something that I think white people need to hear. Sometimes the answer will be yes. Sometimes not.  Here is what I think needs to be said, by me, right now:

I am racist.

Yep, you read that right. I am a privileged white person, I’m a liberal, and I even have a mixed-race daughter, and yet, I am a racist. I am a racist because I benefit from a system that privileges me.

This does not make me hate myself. This does not make me scared. I am not afraid to say this. I am not a bad person, and I am not failing morally. I am NAMING the problem. I am taking responsibility, and I am working to challenge and change the problem.

I do not hate people of color, yet I am a racist and those two things co-exist. I am not saying I’m racist, because I am proud of it. I don’t want to be racist. I don’t use racial slurs or intentionally discriminate against people. I don’t want the world to be set up to privilege me and to discriminate against my daughter, but it does, and I benefit from it, whether I want to admit it or not, and that will never be ok.  One of the best things other white people could do to help, is to not FAINT and CLUTCH THEIR PEARLS at the thought of being called racist. You could literally just face it, face that you benefit from a belief system that privileges you, and then do your best to change it.

My therapist and I were recently talking about an entirely unrelated matter and she said things are rarely dichotomous. We live in the gray area. There are often many factors and sides to a story. What people who are going through a hard time need, is not shaming, but unconditional support.

I thought long and hard about what else I might have to say on this subject, and I decided to offer what I have to offer, at the risk of being wrong, and being willing to listen and learn if I need to. I hope that by sharing my story of talking to my daughter about these things, other white women will find some inspiration, or ideas or at least know they aren’t alone in trying to address extremely difficult subjects.  There is no way to do it perfectly.  I am ok with getting it wrong sometimes. I’m certain I will. I know many folks might have a problem with the way I did it. That’s ok with me. I am not so fragile that I can’t take criticism.

Something else I told my daughter during our discussion, was that if anyone ever treated her unfairly or violently she could always tell me about it. I told her that it’s always safe to talk to me and that I will always protect her. She said, “Mommy, what if they get mad at you and kill you?”

That was an unimaginably hard thing to hear, but I’m so glad she said it. It was her being honest and vulnerable, and expressing genuine fear, and it gave me the opportunity to say this. I told her that nobody is going to hurt me, and I said that even if they get mad, that I am not scared of them. I am not scared because it’s my job to protect my daughter and I will always do it, no matter if it hurts, and I said that as long as I have white privilege, I am willing to spend it on speaking up and protecting my baby.

Martin Luther King Jr. is famous for his dream of white children and black children holding hands and playing together equally but this is one of his lesser known and most powerful quotes:

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It’s very tempting, being who I am, to say nothing. What if I say the wrong thing? What if I get in trouble? What if I alienate people who would like me if I never address this? Where does a discussion about racial injustice fit in with what I’m daily putting out in the world? With all my fun, cute, mom stuff?

It doesn’t really, does it? But we live in the gray area, and people who are suffering deserve our unconditional support.

There are a lot of people whose minds I will never change. Plenty of people will disagree. These are some questions I ask myself when in a situation like this:

What’s the best thing for my daughter?

What am I missing?

What do I not know?

What is my role?

Should I bother?

What are the consequences of getting it wrong?

I think the consequences of talking about this, if I am wrong, are that I will learn something, and I’m willing to do that.

I don’t always know the right thing to do.

If you don’t know either, at least you know now, that you’re not alone.

For the people of color, who are angry and grieving and hurt, you have my unconditional support.

For the other people who are confused, lost, scared, and want to do the right thing, but don’t know how, you’re not alone.

XOXO

Leslie

 

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