Talking to My Daughter About Love -- and Race

6 years ago

Because her brother stayed home, A and I had a nice long ride to work together today. She's been having some trouble sleeping lately.  Talking about that led to talking about her dad and I, and that led to talking about relationships and being in love.

Thinking of SG and I, I offered her some of my thoughts on what I find to be important in relationships, such as choosing someone that you really like and enjoy beyond that sensational feeling of floating you get whenever you're around them, and choosing someone who really cares about you and who is kind and sweet.

We talked about what people look like and what makes someone attractive to you and how that's a really individual and subjective thing that changes with time and with deeper knowing.

And she says to me, Mom, there is someone that I really like.


My little baby girl likes somebody. Not the same way she likes her buddy from class that she hangs out with at recess, but the way you like someone when just thinking about them is better than eating ice cream. Or at least, almost as good as that.  Because, Ice Cream. Duh.

And I want to know who is this person who has snared the attention of this beautiful child who says EWWWWWW, that's gross! everytime SG plants a smooch on me and who says that boys are yucky.  So I ask some questions, like What is this person's name? which she tells me, and what does he look like? and she hesitates. 

Ummm, he's brown.

And I'm thinking to myself immediately that the time/space continuum must be really working in my direction, because there's this amazing conversation going onover at Kelly Wickham's blog. When I read her first post on the subject I wanted to comment but didn't, then went back a few more times and commented yesterday, and today there's a great followup post that I expect will lead to more followup conversation.  We are talking about something important, here.

I have white privilege.  I'm a middle-aged middle-class white woman who has never experienced a drop of racism directed toward me (that I was aware of) in my entire life.  I've been treated differently by others in business and in my daily life because of my gender, but to assume that I can as a result of that understand what it's like to be black or brown or golden-skinned would be utterly wrong.  I can never understand because I lack context. 

But that doesn't mean I don't care.  

So back to my daughter.

He's brown.  OK.  Is there a reason you are uncomfortable with that?

I don't know, mom.  I didn't know if you would mind.  He's not dark brown, like black people.  He's brown like Mexican people.  And he speaks Spanish.

And here is where white privilege comes into play and this is where we as human beings must learn to check our perceptions and learn to channel our conscious thought in new ways.  I live and work in an agricultural community where many of my neighbors are first or second-generation immigrants.  But my immediate assumption should not be that my daughter likes a boy who (poor thing) has a family who is toiling today picking onions in the hot sun.  And if it is?  Smack me in the face and send me back to remedial humanity class right now.  

For all I know his dad owns the crop circles that other people are working on and they live in a house three times the size of mine.  Or his mom is an administrator at the bank where I have my mortgage, or is a teacher at my daughter's school.    Yes, we make assumptions about people all the time based on what they look like, how they speak, what they do.  Part of overcoming the insidiousness of racism is to put our assumptions in check.  To hear ourselves.  To learn to think differently.   To hear the ways we minimize others and their experiences and to replace those thoughts with something better, something that doesn't pigeonhole people into other people's stereotypes.

How do we do that? Expand your cultural reach.  Read books about black people that were written by black people. Enjoy a community event in your town that isn't one born of your culture but of someone else's.  Recognize and appreciate how you are different, but seek the ways in which you are similar.  Listen.

I don't think I'm some hip white woman who is way ahead of the game when it comes to solving the intricate difficulties racism presents. I'm only able to speak for myself and say that there are things I do not know and do not understand and there are thousands of small ways that my privilege has impacted my thinking and I need to be aware of that. I need to be open to hearing what someone who IS black or brown or golden has to say about it and not be afraid to hear criticism from them about the way I think or react. If I can do that, I can be part of the solution and stop being part of the problem.

Step one. My daughter likes a boy. And until I meet him and I learn more about him, the only things I know about him are that:

My daughter thinks he's handsome

He speaks more languages than I do.

Its neither cool nor is it awful, except that oh god, my little girl likes a BOY and I'm not ready for this!

Mary a/k/a BarnMaven blogs at about single parenting, living with ADHD, too many animals to count and dealing with ADHD/Bipolar kids.

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