Continuing to Learn about America’s Racist History

We don’t often have access to a television because we don’t have one ourselves. We usually watch shows online and don’t need another appliance taking up space in our small home, but occasionally we have access to one and, more occasionally still, the results can be absolutely lovely.

Flipping through the television channels tonight at a hotel, the third channel we hit had a movie (42) about Jackie Robinson. It was towards the beginning of the movie when we found it and the first scene we saw showed segregated entrances to the baseball field.

Immediately, my girls decided that was what they wanted to watch. They have never cared one tiny bit about baseball, but they are fascinated and baffled by the history of racism/segregation in America. They watched that entire movie and erupted in outrage every time they saw blatant racism portrayed. *Edited to add on the evening of 4/30/15: We’ve had a great many amazing discussions since that night about the challenges and hatred Jackie Robinson (and his family and teammates) faced and how it really wasn’t that long ago when he lived*

I hadn’t really known the story of Jackie Robinson before tonight — at least not to where I remembered much of it. I’m sure it was touched on in Ken Burns’ Baseball series, but it’s been so long since I watched it that I must’ve forgotten.

I love (re)discovering history with my children ❤

Breaking the silence surrounding America’s racial history was very difficult at first — I can’t even tell you how difficult it was. Starting to talk about these issues with my children was terrifying to me when I began because I grew up in the “color blind” era when we didn’t ever mention race if we could at all manage it. Despite my initial discomfort, I believe that our discussions have paid off 100% based on the compassion and caring I have seen in them and their interest in learning more whenever the opportunity presents itself.

There’s a secret to talking and learning about racism: The more you talk about it, the easier it gets. The more you want to learn about it, the more your children will  almost certainly want to learn about it.

If you become (com)passionate about this topic then your children will have a good chance of mirroring your (com)passion.

I can’t go out and peacefully protest in solidarity at this point in my life because I have four small children (one extremely small), but I can make sure that they grow up to understand systemic racism, white privilege, and the history that got us to where we are now. I can also teach them the importance of sticking up for downtrodden and marginalized people whenever the opportunity arises.

#dowhatyoucan

#breakthesilence

#fromthemouthsofbabes

#BlackLivesMatter

#WhiteRacialResponsibility

Talking With the Children About Racism

“Racism doesn’t require the presence of malice, only the presence of bias and ignorance, willful or otherwise.” ~Charles M. Blow, The Perfect Victim Pitfall

It’s well past time to discuss the issues of race and racism with our children. Especially for those of us who are white and have largely had the privilege of being able to ignore issues like this for a very long time — possibly even our entire lives. There’s solid research available now about how all of us – even babies – have intrinsic biases against people who are a different race than we are. The recent events in Ferguson, MO; Columbia, SC; Staten Island, NY; Phoenix, AZ; and Cleveland, OH; along with the continued failure of there to be any sort of consequences at all for the white police officers involved in any of these cases are scathing indictments of the way our society, particularly white society, has chosen to handle race by largely ignoring it.

I’ve talked openly with my children about skin color for around a year now. At first it was awkward, even painful, and I had no idea how to even go about doing it, but it has gradually gotten easier the more we’ve talked about it. We were almost done reading our Addy Story Collection book when I asked a good friend of mine, who’s from a very colorful family, to help. She suggested that we use foods to describe skin colors to help even my youngest children better understand skin colors and their differences. I love that idea because there’s not a dichotomy, there’s no opposite to “coffee color,” “almond color,” “sugar cookie color,” “molasses cookie color,” or “cream of wheat color” like there is with black and white.

With that idea to help make the concept of different skin colors more accessible, even to my preschooler, we began to talk more in depth about the history of racism and slavery in America. We had started reading Addy together at the beginning of this year and through our many conversations they have learned that there is still a dichotomy and prejudice in a lot of people’s minds and that there has been a great deal of prejudice in our country’s past as well as our present. Along with that they also know that it’s not as simple as “white” and “black.” Really, to my children, people are food-colored, multi-colored, there are SO many more colors than just two or three or four, and everyone’s skin colors don’t make any difference in anyone’s worth or in anything else that’s inherent. Even within our own family, all white, there are varying shades – some darker than others.

Among all of that, I have wanted to make sure that they understand that skin color *does* make a difference in how people experience life. Someone’s skin color makes a difference in how they are treated and how they may have to react to certain situations in order to stay safe. This year, unfortunately, there has been no shortage of examples about how certain people groups are treated differently in our country than we are. 

We talked at some length a few months ago about several of the #IfTheyGunnedMeDown photos on Twitter and about how the media often chooses to portray people as heroes or villains. When I talked to the two oldest about the events in Ferguson back in August, it was as though lightbulbs went off in their heads, “You mean that some people still treat people differently because of their color?” 

To which I had to reply that, yes. Yes they still do. Why? Because it’s apparently inborn in all of us, but that doesn’t make it right or okay or excuse those biases. The knowledge that biases are present  in everyone’s thinking is vital, in my opinion, because only then can we learn to recognize our biases and to not be bound to the concept of “color-blindness,” which is not only impossible to achieve in the light of those studies, but that mindset also serves to ignore the very real experiences that black people in our society experience in their everyday lives – regardless of their socioeconomic status.

*Side note: For more information about the biases and discrimination black people experience, please see the Twitter hashtag #LivingWhileBlack and really try to listen and hear and understand the experiences posted there. You can also contrast those stories with the stories at #CrimingWhileWhite, if you really want to see a clear dichotomy.

But how did we begin these conversations with the children? How do you even talk to children about these kinds of horrifying current events? I was asked on Facebook a few days ago whether these discussions had come up naturally or whether we had needed to be more purposeful about it and honestly, it was a little of both.

My children had begun verbalizing the fact that they were noticing people’s skin color at some point towards the end of last year. So I had been agonizing about how to go about talking about these issues for a while before we began to read Addy out loud in January of this year. I believe that Addy was a great introduction because it brought up extremely serious issues and opened the door to further discussions about them, but the issues were brought up in what I think was an age-appropriate way. Ever since reading Addy, which was a purposeful – albeit an ultimately child-led – decision by simply having it around and presenting it as an option for a read-aloud, race issues have come up naturally as my children have seen things firsthand and as they have brought up questions of their own. We have also continued our discussions with the oldest two, in particular, about current events and the very real discrimination and racism that people who don’t look like we do still face today.

Ultimately, what these current events and recent scientific studies have taught me personally is that everyone has biases – that’s just human nature – the important thing, in my opinion, is that we recognize that fact – stop denying that these biases exist – and try not to act on our biases, especially where they’re irrational and built on centuries of oppression/privilege and/or where they’re constructed by the media to perpetuate the status quo. But in order to begin recognizing these biases and in order for our children to recognize these biases, we have to talk about it. We have to talk to our children and start conversations within our communities about race and racism and our country’s abysmal history with regards to race. This is not a one-time conversation any more than the “sex talk” should be a one-time conversation. Noticing and checking our biases has to be an ongoing and conscious effort lest we find ourselves slipping into those inborn biases and getting comfortable with our unearned privileges yet again.

Links for parents:  You can’t effectively teach what you aren’t familiar with yourself. Are you poor and not sure how you’re privileged? Check this out: Explaining White Privilege to a Broke White Person Do you prefer comics to articles? White Privilege, Explained in One Simple Comic Worried about what it might mean about you to admit that you’re privileged? My White Privilege Would you like to see a list outlining many of the invisible ways white people are privileged in American society? White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack Do you think that well-to-do black families are immune from the effects of white privilege/black oppression? I taught my black kids that their elite upbringing would protect them from discrimination. I was wrong. Would you like to read about someone else’s journey towards realizing their white privilege? How I Discovered I am White The words we use to describe people and their actions really do matter: Maybe I’m a Racist and I Didn’t Even Know It Do you still think you and others can be “color-blind” successfully? Babies aren’t even “color-blind” according to several studies. Three-month-olds, but not newborns, prefer own-race faces.  Nine-Month Olds Show Racial Bias When Looking at Faces Babies Show a Bias Towards Own Race Do you take exception to the way black people expressed their feelings in the wake of the failure to indict Darren Wilson? On Ferguson Protests, the Destruction of Things, and What Violence Really Is (and Isn’t) For a long, but excellent, read about why we really should consider Reparations to the black community for how they continue to be treated, even today, please check this out: The Case For Reparations

Nursing in Public

I read an excellent article yesterday about all of the public places/situations where it is inappropriate to breastfeed. Amazingly enough, as a strong breastfeeding proponent, I agreed with it!

Five Places Where Breastfeeding is Certainly Inappropriate

A friend of mine reposted the article and one of her friends commented about the “courtesy” of breastfeeding women not “drawing undue attention to their exposed anatomy” and of being modest. In my somewhat limited experience, those are some of the most common reasons given by people who seek to restrict where a woman is able to feed her baby in the biologically normal way. Given that our society still has a great many social biases towards *artificial baby-milk feeding, I believe that it is of extreme importance to address those biases whenever I see them.

This was my response:

It’s also courteous to look away if someone is nursing and showing too much skin for your comfort. I would ask you, very respectfully, to consider the following:

Perhaps the hypothetical woman who is “drawing undue attention” to the act of feeding her baby is just starting out with nursing. Perhaps her baby won’t nurse with a cover (most babies I know personally refuse to nurse while covered up). Perhaps she wore something that (in retrospect and to her great embarrassment) wasn’t the most practical nursing attire. Or perhaps her baby needed to nurse immediately due to hunger or injury, leaving no time for the mother to be overly concerned with the opinions or even sensibilities of adult strangers who can easily avert their eyes if their sensibilities are offended.

Perhaps the fact that the mother could have very valid, non-exhibitionist, reasons for not being as modest as some might prefer could help you see that (rare, in my experience) occurrence in a different and more positive light than as, negatively stated above, a purposeful drawing of attention or lack of modesty.

 

Babies need to be fed. If a baby is hungry, then they should be fed as quickly as possible. Preferably with breastmilk, but with formula where necessary for whatever reason. If someone can bottle-feed in a location or situation, then mothers should be able to also breastfeed in that same location or situation. Feeding a baby is not a sexual act. Breasts are primarily organs for feeding babies, not for titillating the males in our species.

*I am not anti-formula and I fully understand that it is necessary to feed babies artificial baby-milk under several circumstances. The first rule of feeding babies is “Feed the baby” and many babies thrive on formula. However, I also believe that we do a disservice to both babies and mothers, as well as society as a whole, when we pretend that artificial baby-milk is in any way comparable to breastmilk or ignore the fact that there are very real disadvantages, and even dangers, to feeding babies formula when compared to breastfeeding directly or feeding babies breastmilk from a bottle.

My Children Talk to Strangers

Yes. You read that title correctly. In fact, my children are encouraged to talk to strangers under most circumstances.

Today I took all four children (by myself – whew!) to a local grocery store where they have a children eat free night once a week. While I was waiting for our food at the deli, my children asked and were given permission by me to go and sit down in the seating area, with the general admonitions to stay together and to actually stay sitting once they found a place to sit.

So, anyhow, when our food was ready I paid for it and headed over to the seating area to find my 6 year old daughter chatting happily with a lady who was wearing her baby in a ring sling, the way I wear my little babies. I smiled at both the lady and my daughter while I continued about 10 feet away to the table where my other daughters were sitting, waiting expectantly for their food, which I delivered to them while also half listening to my 6 year old talking to the lady about her baby brother.

About five minutes later, my 6 year old joined us at our table and began eating. When they were all settled in with their food, my 8 year old started telling me about the lady they had talked to so I asked them a few questions. We have talked a bit about strangers, but I don’t really teach about “stranger danger” and I wanted my girls to have an opportunity to evaluate why they all had felt comfortable talking to this lady.

My first question: “Why did you feel comfortable and safe talking to the lady with the baby?”

I got several different answers, “Because she seemed nice.” “She had a baby.” “I liked her.”

Great! I told them that listening to that feeling inside them is one of the most important things they can do when deciding whether or not to talk to someone. I reminded them that any adult – not just a stranger – who asks them for help or tells them to do something without telling me, is probably not safe and they should let me know immediately about anyone who does those things. I reminded them that if they ever do get that feeling about someone, then they should, what? “Tell you or Papa!” there was a chorus of voices answering that question. That was an easy one.

I want my children to be comfortable interacting with people in public. They will be doing that for the rest of their lives, after all. Besides, anyone can become “not a stranger” simply by introducing themselves and it isn’t just “strangers” who are dangerous for children. Most of the time, children are abused by people who are very well known to them and to their parents.

That last point bears repeating: Most of the time, children are abused by people who are very well known to them and to their parents.

Because of that, I want my children to be very attuned to their “gut feelings” about people. We don’t force our children to hug or even to talk to people whom they are uncomfortable hugging or talking to. They have ownership over their bodies and they need to be able to say “no” now in order to effectively say “no” when they’re older and maybe getting pressured by dates or meeting people who might not have their best interests at heart.

So far, so good. This lesson about trusting their intuitions and watching out for “tricky” adults, along with the many other lessons they’ve had about “secret touching” and the teachings of proper terminology for body parts will hopefully help my children both in the short and long runs as they navigate a sometimes hostile world.

Exactly, Just Exactly!

The poem below is exactly how I feel right now about my house and about my fourth (and almost certainly last) baby. I just want to snuggle and love on this baby boy as much as I possibly can before he gets big, which I know will happen too soon, and maybe won’t want to snuggle with his mama any more (I don’t even want to think about such a thing!).

The laundry and cleaning does get done eventually, but very gradually and on an as-needed basis. Snuggling the baby, homeschooling and spending time with the older children, and spending time with my husband are taking priority right now.

I can’t imagine that I would possibly ever regret spending more time with my lovely family when I look back on these years ❤

 

Song for a Fifth Child
by Ruth Hulburt Hamilton

Mother, oh Mother, come shake out your cloth,
Empty the dustpan, poison the moth,
Hang out the washing and butter the bread,
Sew on a button and make up a bed.
Where is the mother whose house is so shocking?
She’s up in the nursery, blissfully rocking.
Oh, I’ve grown shiftless as Little Boy Blue
(Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo).
Dishes are waiting and bills are past due
(Pat-a-cake, darling, and peek, peekaboo).
The shopping’s not done and there’s nothing for stew
And out in the yard there’s a hullabaloo
But I’m playing Kanga and this is my Roo.
Look! Aren’t her eyes the most wonderful hue?
(Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo).

The cleaning and scrubbing will wait till tomorrow,
For children grow up, as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down, cobwebs. Dust go to sleep.
I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.

Judging Parents by Their Own Behavior

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Subtitle: Parents Behaving Badly

There’s a trend in our society that has always bothered me somewhat. We compliment parents when their children are well-behaved and we, likewise, condemn them when their children are ill behaved. Given that nobody can completely control anyone else’s behavior, why aren’t we judging the parents on their own behavior instead of on the behavior of their children?

Yes, parents absolutely do need to be teaching their children how to behave in public and how to handle themselves in various situations, but the idea that one person (even a parent) either can or should have such complete control over another person (even a child)’s behavior is just a bit troubling to me. Teaching someone is not the same thing as controlling them is and when we judge parents by their children’s behavior, there seems to be an implicit assumption that the parents should be controlling those children and keeping them under control!

Before even mentioning any practical issues regarding children and their behavior in public, I think that it’s important to recognize that children are people too. They have good days and bad days. They have days when they eat too much sugar, too little food, or miss a nap and go bonkers in the grocery store or other public place. Children, just like adults, are prone to lose their tempers, get grumpy, become frustrated, and lash out.

Children also possess far less impulse control than adults do, which is why it rather puzzles me that we, as a society, seem to expect children to behave even better in public than we expect their parents to behave.

Often, children’s inappropriate behavior is precipitated by an unwise decision on the part of the parents (like taking a young child shopping during naptime), but we should hold the parents accountable for their unfortunate decision rather than the reaction of their child to the parents’ ill conceived decision (a possible meltdown or tantrum during the aforementioned naptime shopping trip).

Truly, I think that this expectation, that parents should be “in control” or “controlling” their children’s behavior causes a lot of bad behavior on the part of parents themselves. In an effort to show their children as well as everyone around them that they are “in control” or “doing something about” their children’s bad behavior, parents will often resort to threats or even physical violence against their children.

Public threats and physical violence are not something that we tolerate from any other group of people other than parents when the threats and physical violence (spanking) are directed at their children.

Why is this? Why is it socially acceptable for parents to lose their tempers and threaten and yell at or even hit their children in public?

I think it’s because we, as a society, also believe that such threats and violence establish the parents’ appearance of “control” over their children, which is more acceptable to us than seeing children behaving like children and being taught respectfully how to behave in public or being removed from a situation when it has proven to be too much for them at this time.

I think that it would be more productive for parents to be judged by their own behavior. I’d far rather see a parent calmly handling the issue of a tantrum-ing child in public, trying to figure out the underlying issue and treating the child with respect, than to see a parent lose control themselves while dealing with an out of control child.

How can we expect children to exhibit self-control in public most or all of the time when we, as parents, cannot even exhibit perfect self-control in public all of the time?

Practically speaking, I don’t believe we can.

I think that we need to have more grace and patience for children in public situations. I think that we need to recognize that they are people and that when their basic needs aren’t met, they are going to react badly to situations, just as any adult would except more so because they don’t have the impulse control or experience to handle situations as well as adults should be able to.

I think that we need to better support parents in teaching their children with grace and patience so that they don’t feel the need to react in a heavy-handed manner to their children’s childish behavior, whether in public or private.

In somewhat related news, I rather enjoyed this article by the Onion this week. Sometimes there’s just so much truth in satire… 😉

The Taboo Topic

I’m going to start off my first post of this year by talking about a pretty hot-button issue. I feel very strongly about this issue, but it’s really none of my business what other people choose to do about it. So, please, don’t tell me what you did or what you will or won’t do with regards to this issue. I don’t want to know because it’ll probably just make me sad and I don’t want the comments to turn into a debate (assuming enough people will even read this to make it a potential debate).

The issue, you ask? The issue is circumcision – routine infant circumcision, to be specific. This is a very American issue since the rest of the developed world stopped routine circumcision quite a while ago. This is also a human rights issue mixed in with the question of parental rights.

With this issue, there are many questions to ponder:

Why did the rest of the developed world stop this practice?
Where do parental rights end and the child’s right to his or her body begin?
What about religious beliefs?
How culturally important is it for a child to have a surgery simply because the parent of the same gender had that same surgery as a child?
What is lost to circumcision?

However, my main goal with this post is to encourage parents to really research circumcision before they decide either way. Please, look at what is lost to circumcision, which could also be called “foreskin amputation.” The foreskin is not just a useless flap of skin. Please, understand what you are taking away from your son before you decide to take it away.

There are all sorts of resources about the benefits of circumcision and I think it’s of extreme importance to get the other perspective – to seek it out before making a final decision.

Educate yourself so that if your son comes to you when he’s older and asks, “Mom/Dad, why did you circumcise me?” you can give him a good answer. “Because everyone else was doing it.” is not a good answer. The odds are good that your son will be happy with whatever he has, but as more boys in the US remain intact (the rate of babies being circumcised in hospitals during 2009 was a mere 32.5%), the likelihood of him realizing that he’s missing something and questioning your motives will probably increase.

Educate yourself so that you won’t learn something new in 1, 2, 5, or 20 years that makes you regret your decision. The more research you do, the more confident you will be in your decision.

I cannot even tell you how many mothers I’ve met who wish someone had encouraged them to look deeper into the issue of circumcision before they had their first-born sons. I’ve met countless women who circumcised their oldest and then, after learning more about what the surgery actually entails, left subsequent sons intact. Many of these women state that circumcising their son(s) is their biggest parenting regret.

Please be certain, before you send your son in for irreversible surgery on the most private and personal part of his body, that you are making the best decision for him. Not the best decision for you or for your family or for your friends, but for your son who will have to live with your decision for the rest of his life.

I encourage you to check out cirp.org and read the studies located there. The site has a definite pro-intact (not circumcised) bias, but the relevant studies are all represented and you can certainly ignore the commentary from the owners of the site if you wish to be more balanced about the issue.

You may also wish to take a look at Doctors Opposing Circumcision (DOC) if you’d like to hear the case against circumcision from the medical perspective. You’re almost guaranteed to learn something new about the foreskin which is, truly, an amazing part of the body!

Speaking of the case against circumcision, Dr. Paul Fleiss wrote an article many years ago called just that! Dr. Fleiss is a pediatrician and I believe he’s also a member of DOC.

If you’d never consider cutting your daughter’s genitals, but consider male circumcision to be beneficial for your son, I suggest that you look at this handy comparison chart, compiled by Hanny Lightfoot-Klein, an author and activist who has written some of the most groundbreaking books about the topic of Female Genital Mutilation. Of course female and male circumcision are different, but probably not as different as you may think.

What about the question of religious beliefs? I’m a Christian and can only really speak to the Christian aspect of religious circumcision. There are plenty of resources out there for Jews who want to look more into this issue. I don’t know enough about the Muslim faith to speak to the topic. However, it is very clear to me that, in reading the New Testament, circumcision is not something that is necessary for Christians.

In fact, Paul is very clear in Galatians that circumcision is not worth anything to followers of Christ Jesus. In fact, he states that if a man lets himself be circumcised, Christ is of no value to that man. Search the scriptures yourself – be very certain that it is truly a religious requirement before you circumcise only for that reason. Many Christians believe that they must circumcise, and that is clearly not the case.

Finally, I would like to encourage all the circumcised fathers out there – particularly those who want their sons to “match” them – to take a trip down memory lane and remember how many times they really compared penises with their father and if their family was open about nudity, was their father’s circumcision status really the first thing they noticed? Or did they notice first that there was a size difference and all that hair too?

This decision is one of the most important decisions you will ever make as a parent. Your son will live with the consequences of this decision for the rest of his life. I entreat you to not take this decision lightly. Circumcision is a surgical procedure, it is not a “little snip” and not everyone is having it done to their sons any longer.

~B.

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