"Keep working on a plan. Make no little plans. Make the biggest you can think of, and spend the rest of your life carrying it out." Harry S. Truman

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

More thoughts and questions about anti-racist parenting from the point of view of a white mother

I've been reading more blogs written by multi-racial parents over the past few days. Basically, anyone interested in these issues, anyone concerned by them, parents of multiracial kids, parents who've adopted children from other races, seem to agree on a number of things: Racism is difficult to fight because it's everywhere, it's such a part of the social fabric that it permeates every aspect of life: it's on TV (and that's why we don't receive any TV channel in our home. We own a TV and we watch DVDs that we have chosen); it's in books; it's on the shelves of every toy store (I loved reading posts of parents sharing my concern about the supremacy of blond Barbies, and the dearth of dolls representing multiracial children,) etc.

Things start getting a little more difficult when the issue of whiteness comes into play. Basically, are white people capable of fighting racism? And it should be understood that the white people I'm referring to are not those who deny the existence of racism (that's another issue altogether), but white people who recognize that racism is a major problem and are willing and ready to do what's necessary to eradicate it from the world.

I'm a white person and I belong to that second category. I agree that white supremacy is hard to destroy. It sucks. The white supremacist approach to society allowed slavery and colonialism to happen. And it perverted the thinking of generations of people all over the world. If I cannot drive in the streets of India without seeing huge billboards advertising soaps or skin products that will make your skin "fair" - read lighter, whiter - it's because for so long, the people of India were made to believe that white was better, white was where the power/the money are. And they still believe it. It's everywhere. Before coming to India, I lived in Nigeria, where women destroy their skins in their attempts to make it lighter. For the same reasons. And I could go on and on. Yes, white supremacy has done some horrible things to the world. I agree. Now, what ?

I am white, but I'm not a racist. Or rather, I am white, but I'm not consciously a racist. By that, I mean that I understand how growing up as a white person in a dominantly white society is bound to have perverted some of my thinking, IN SPITE OF MYSELF. I'm aware and I want to fight my white outlook on things as much as possible. I want to live my life with open eyes, and an open mind and heart. I want it, first and foremost, because I hate injustice. Injustice makes me sick and angry and disgusted. That's who I am, who I've always been. Now, to that, I have to add the responsibility of being the mother of two bi-racial children who may, some day, face prejudice.

I read a comment somewhere that said : "being actively anti-racist for white people often means attacking their own privileges." This, to me, feels like an over-simplification of a very complex issue. I will not deny feeling sometimes defensive. It's hard, being part of a majority that's acted badly. Just ask the generations of Germans who came AFTER the Second World War. They had/have not participated in the Nazi horror, and most of them felt/feel? very much ashamed, but they still had/have? to bear that terrible legacy. Why? Because they happened to be born in the country where it all started, where it all developped, where it was all allowed to happen. Feeling defensive is natural and I'm also aware of that. But how could I possibly give a damn about seeing my white privileges attacked, if these privileges have the power to hurt other people, especially my own children?

My kids are what matters, much more than my need to voice politically correct ideas and to feel good because I know that I’m right. What I want is for them to be happy persons, well balanced. I don’t want them to be eternally angry at the world because I don’t think that will make them happy. Not to say that a healthy dose of angry criticism is not sometimes - often? - necessary. But anger is not the emotion I want to instill into my children’s souls at such a young age. And I’m weary of hammering concepts – however proper and correct they may be - into their young brains. I'd prefer a softer approach.

So, once more, I’m NOT rejecting the concept of being actively anti-racist. Of course not. Rather, I wonder what being an active anti-racist parent actually means? How do mothers/parents go about being actively anti-racist in the BEST, LESS DAMAGING way for their children, without being too forceful and obvious, without the subject of race becoming an issue? I mean, we are all part of the human race, and ideally, that should be the beginning and the end of the discussion.

For some people, it may seem as if I’m taking the easy way out. I'm not so sure. I’m searching. I’m questioning. I’m spending time writing in this blog, reading. If I look around our home, I also realize that we have created an environment which is as multicultural as it can possibly be. My husband and I have travelled and lived in many countries and it shows on our walls, in our furniture, on our books and CD shelves and even in our wardrobes. Is that enough? I'd like to think that it is, but of course, I can't be sure. Time only will tell. In the meantime, I can only keep searching and wondering. Most probably I’ll blunder my way along, but isn’t parenting (white, brown, black and all the shades in between) a massive and humbling circle of trials and blunders, anyway?


Joan said...

I enjoyed your post, especially in questioning how to parent multiracial children. I too am a parent of multiracial kids and have recently embarked on looking at blogs, etc. out there on the subject. Your questioning struck a chord with me. I have at times started down paths that start to sound like ranting with the audience of my children's increasingly bewildered faces. On the other hand, my older two (12 and 10) have become aware themselves of so much the world tells them about them. My older two are boys who happen to look much more like me, their Chinese mom than their white dad. Now we have a baby girl who resembles my husband more. It's made me wonder much recently about the different experiences my three children will have due just to these differences in racial appearance. Of course gender will play a confounding part too. Thanks for writing.

Katia said...

Joan, thank you for commenting and sharing your thoughts. I'm drafting another post on this issues, and wanted to read this again, and only now discovered your comment. Don't know how I missed it, as I do make it a point to respond to all who take the time to write. Sorry about this. Yes, there is yet another issue : how will each child respond to her particular circumstances, considering their different appearance? My older daughter takes more after me, with cinamon skin, but honey, barely curly hair, and could be anything, Indian, Brasilian, or simply white with a beautiful tan. My younger daughter takes more after her father, with much curlier hair and features that show quite clearly that she's half Black. How will it impact the way they look at themselves AND each other? I do wonder, also...