When I write, I need to feel compelled to do so. I also think that my own worries about what others think of me affects my voice – if that makes sense.

But then there’s Oprah – ah, Oprah.

“What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.” As a White woman who has struggled with my role in all of this, I have come to understand that staying silent about our role (i.e., White people) in sustaining a racist society is the epitome of privilege.

Part of speaking these truths is making sure that my children do not grow up complicit in the ongoing issues facing our nation today.

Pretty much every day after Christmas or so, we travel to my dad’s place in Bradenton, Florida. We love the birds, sunsets, and just experiencing a different part of our world.

“As White parents, it is not enough to just talk to our children about race and racism.”

During these visits, we often take some day trips to Tampa, Sarasota, or over to the Gulf. Glorious country. Every visit I am struck by the diversity and beauty of our country’s landscape.

One day, we were trekking to Myakka River State Park to see some alligators in the wild. Craig and my dad were in the front seat, and I was squished in the back with the boys.

This is always an interesting experience because it can go from silent to overstimulating in .01 seconds. As we were traveling down the state highway, I was looking out the window and listening to the boys have a conversation about rappers.

Josh, our 15-year-old, has ventured into the world of hip hop, bringing his younger brothers along with him willingly or unwillingly. Apparently, they have conversations when we aren’t around. What is that?

As they were talking about rappers, I heard the discussion turn to the race of each. I found myself getting increasingly uncomfortable despite their comfort in talking about race.

This was a bit disconcerting for me, especially since a large part of my professional life at that point was spent talking to educators about White privilege and structural racism.

This shouldn’t have been surprising to me though. I am the product of a society where the experience of whiteness is the norm. As an early childhood education major in college, diversity, acceptance, and inclusion also were engrained into the very fabric of our being.

I remember having a t-shirt with a White and Black child hugging each other that said: “Racism is learned.” I was the epitome of the White “woke” liberal.

I’m not sure when I made the decision, or if I made it consciously, but I was determined to raise my children to be colorblind. They would not be a part of the problem.

However, I now realize that this was incredibly naïve. Teaching our children to not see color is part of the problem. They MUST see color to be a part of the solution.

So, I have started leaving them messages in the mortar. I tell them about my experiences in predominantly Black, high-poverty schools so that they fully understand our unjust educational system.

I take them with me when I can so that they can begin developing meaningful relationships with children and families who do not look like them and who have not had the same experiences.

“When I hear my kids talking comfortably about race, I know that I need to push through my own fear and discomfort.”

I need them to understand that race and poverty are intertwined within this country because of the structural barriers that we have created (and continue to create) which prevent equitable access to resources, high-quality educational experiences, healthcare, and wealth.

I need them to understand the history of our country – not to feel shame and embarrassment, but to understand that they have a responsibility to listen, understand, and be a part of the solution rather than being complicit in the ongoing racism.

As White parents, it is not enough to just talk to our children about race and racism. They need to understand the difference between individual racism (e.g., KKK) and structural racism.

Placing the blame on individual outliers rather than focusing on the reasons why deep disparities continue generation after generation allows White people to deflect blame and placate our nation’s systems.

Talking to our White children about these issues is uncomfortable because we have been taught to keep these conversations underground.

There is an unwritten taboo within White communities about discussing race and racism. Part of this is because we do not want to come across as racist, and part of this is that we subconsciously want the systems to continue as is, even though many of us would never admit this truth out loud.

This unwillingness to talk to our children about race and the lack of understanding about its importance is another by-product of a White supremacist society.

The White experience is the norm, which allows us to continue ignoring the lived experiences of people of color within a racist society. In turn, this allows the inequitable policies and practices to continue as is.

When I hear my kids talking comfortably about race, I know that I need to push through my own fear and discomfort. I have come to the realization that my fear is that they will say something that is somewhere close to racist, and that that would be a reflection of me.

I need to push through this, and let my children talk freely. This opens the door to having deeper conversations about race, equity, and working for the common good. These are the messages in the mortar.

Click here for more content by Jen Neitzel, Ph.D.!

Jen Neitzel, Ph.D.
Jen started her career in early childhood education over 20 years ago in the classroom teaching young children with significant behavioral challenges.

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