There are a handful of white mothers in our church who have a unique task: raising children of color. Many white parents of kids of color simply raise their kids without considering race and the implications that race has on development and growth. These mothers, however, have seen the value in understanding their whiteness, the races of their children, and the implications of these two realities. These mothers formed a book and discussion group for white mothers of kids of color and their first book and discussion was Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility. These are their reflections.
The subject of race and racism is so important to me because it is deeply personal. I am the daughter of a biracial couple and I am in a biracial marriage.
As a white passing woman, I benefit from white privilege. No one assumes I can’t speak English, but they have made those assumptions about my mom. No police officer has pulled me over because of the color of my skin, however my husband has been approached by the police 10+ times. Nobody has excluded me from an activity based on the way I look, but my 5 year old daughter was told she was not wanted by a group of white children. These experiences are the tip of the iceberg for black, indigenous and people of color. The systemic racism in this country is not an abstract academic conversation for me. It’s not a political position or a historical context. Racism directly affects the people I love the most. And the hardest pill to swallow? My racism can hurt them. My mom, my husband, my children. My neighbors and my coworkers. You may not be married to a black person. You may not be a parent to children of color. But if you know my family, if you go to church with us and the families who have already shared this month, then your racism can hurt them too.
I believe it is our responsibility, out of love for our family and friends, to take a long hard look at our own biases. We want to believe that we are exempt from racist behavior. That because we aren’t a member of the KKK or a white supremacist group, that because we don’t “see color”, that because we have a friend/family member/coworker who is black, we can’t possibly be racist. Once we admit to ourselves that we are biased and own it, then the work can begin. For me, part of the work is listening and learning. White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo challenged me to stop focusing on my own reaction to racism and listen to people of color. It is not about me and my feelings. My intention does not matter. To paraphrase educator Rachel Cargle, if I step on someone’s toe and hurt them, it doesn’t matter whether I intended to hurt them or not. The hurt is done. And instead of centering the reaction on me, and that I never intended to step on the toe, the focus should be on the person with the hurt toe.
So what can we do? “We can educate ourselves about the history of race relations in our country. We can follow the leadership on anti-racism from people of color and work to build authentic cross-racial relationships. We can get involved in organizations working for racial justice. And most important, we must break the silence about race and racism with other white people.” White Fragility, p. 148. In other words, we need to become an ally. We white and white passing people need to leverage our privilege for the benefit of those who are marginalized. We need to sit back and be quiet in order to elevate the voices of people of color who have been ignored or silenced. We need to speak up when someone makes a racist comment, even if it makes us uncomfortable. These are not easy things to do. “Interrupting racism takes courage and intentionality” p. 153. For the sake of our families, friends and neighbors of color, let’s be intentional and do the work.