Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Mama, They're Not Like Us

Revision of an earlier version, found on: https://yellowbrick.me/question/mama-theyre-not-like-us/

We’re in the girls’ locker room at the YMCA.  I feel uncomfortable. My five-year old son is staring at the bottom of a ten-ish year old girl standing close to us.  At his height, his nose is pretty much ass-level to most older kids and adults, so he has developed a fascination for butts.  At the same time, I want to be respectful and continually call his attention back to me.  The locker room is fairly quiet, and I don’t feel up for getting into a conversation about staring at that moment.

  1. I lean into the uncomfortable. I make mistakes.  I forget my tools.  I return back to the discomfort.
  2. I resist the impulse to lecture and get curious instead.  By asking my son questions, I’m able to figure out what he’s actually noticing instead of projecting my own history and racism on to him.
  3. I notice differences.  So does my son.  We talk about it, but we don’t judge it.
  4. I don’t shy away from the difficult conversations. We talk about race.  We talk about privilege. We talk about who police officers pull over.
  5. I continue to read and learn.  In this awesome and practical article about racism, I learned about how I describe people around me – to myself and to my son.  Is race a defining factor?  Is it defining when I speak of white people?  I observe myself and make changes.
  6. I look at the privilege I have and how I can be an ally. Who is safe? How can I be an ally and teach my son to be one?  How do I stand up for injustice?
And then I’m reminded of a time a few months ago when we were in a cafe.  My son turned to me and a white guy we were sitting next to.
“Look at those guys over there.”  He nods to two black guys at a table.  “Do you know how I know they’re friends?”
The breath sticks in my throat.
“How?” I say.
“Because they’re sitting across from each other, talking.”
I heave a sigh of relief.
It is a continual reminder that I must face more of my own baggage. Whatever I bring to the table.  My own failings.  The way I pick  myself up off the ground and how I return to these conversations.  My discomfort.  My son’s innocent curiosity.  My knowledge and privilege.  His privilege, naivete,  and learning.  It is humbling, and it is ongoing.

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