A Tale of Two Mommies

…because more seems excessive…

Divides

As an educator and social worker focusing on at-risk and incarcerated populations, I catch a glimpse of society others don’t. I see the random and capricious nature of our social policy and some of the direct effects of disenfranchisement. Criminal justice disparities are easily documented, yet seldom discussed in a real, fact-based way.

Racial tension has risen to the surface within our media…sometimes accurately…often not. Following our election I’ve become more involved in politics, mainly on social media, which is where, for better or worse, much of the fight occurs. Some of the race discussion alienates me. I am a White woman, so anything I attempt is inherently wrong. I need to be an ally, but I simultaneously can’t be. It’s all fairly frustrating, even as I remain a silent reader within comment sections. I get the person/woman of color narrative, but often the messaging prompts me to remain stuck in the status quo. But, then I read Jodi Picoult’s commentary, and it makes sense in a meaningful way. I see my life’s independent evolution, and don’t feel quite as terrible…not quite as stuck or disheartened. I have some notion of what my process should be in this new age…as we move forward as a society.

But, with all of the open discussion thus far about race, I am disappointed and irked with the narrow nature of general discourse about prejudice as a whole. Embedded within honest dialogue about race is the overlying statement that race is our country’s only injustice…our only shame. To be clear I don’t want to dismiss or minimize the experiences for people of color, particularly Black/African Americans. Their struggles dragged to our surface are past due and fully deserved. Slavery is the foundation of the terrible that followed. The totality of our population is overdue for enlightenment.

That said, I don’t like the conversation beginning and ending with race. I don’t like the competition that Black/African American is the only group meriting a dialogue. I won’t presume to speak of other’s experiences…overcompensating White people greatly annoy me. I can, however, speak from the perspective of the only experiences I have right to testify, my own. I am a Jew to name one subgroup I embody. People don’t like Jews. Anti-Semitism is a very real and unpleasant issue to experience, even as I currently reside in a liberal area. My childhood and adolescence, however, was in a small conservative location, and I have stories. They are different than stories of ones pertaining to race, but it wasn’t easy. I don’t appreciate my life and situation delegitimized because of my skin color. I will not call it reverse racism, as that doesn’t exist. I call it insensitivity and narrow foresight. To be clear I don’t want this to be a competition among the groups who have it harder. I want this to be a conversation that prejudice is a bad thing, and we do our society a disservice limiting the discussion and dismissing the ways others are capable of genuinely understanding differences and intolerance.

Often within conversations about race, other groups are completely lost. Gender variant (Transgender) and orientation are newly receiving more recognition and support, but others aren’t. Individuals identifying with disability and mental health struggles confront stigma and discrimination openly, and are not even at the table of discussion or societal support despite supposed legal safe guards. Our irrational fear and hatred of Muslims and Muslim foreigners has percolated to a head with rapid, deafening force; but even as I write this small element there is hope at least on that front. Finally, let us not forget Sexism and rape culture are also real things and intertwined within every other hateful shame within our society.

Image result for diversity

(Social Science Space explains our mark on each other best.)

So, why discuss all of this in a parenting blog…now? The start of the answer is simple: My son is growing older, absorbing his world  in ways baffling me as they occur. My daughter is not far behind. I owe them the serious consideration of how I explain their world. Do I wait for the inevitable awkward public questions or do I spend the time on my terms? I choose the latter.

How do I raise children to appreciate, love, and fight for their country and all of her inhabitants? I don’t have the answer, but my son…and even my daughter will absorb and actively seek their place in the greater world regardless of my timeline. I’m not sure what Little Man understands, but it’s always been more than I thought. In the last couple of weeks my husband and I have been dumbstruck by Little Man’s understanding of jokes we tell for our adult ears, yet my son laughs even with a dry delivery. At 2.9 years-old his language comprehension is awing. Each passing week I feel the pressure to explain…to discuss, but it’s a bit overwhelming deciding on the specifics. For now I initiate side comments as they occur to me. I regularly vent politics and social happenings within my children’s ear shot. My children’s day is without media exposure, but come the evening the news is on. Senator John Lewis appears on our television, and I explain who he is as simply as I can; he is a fighter for people with skin like him who aren’t always treated well. I respond to the questions and statements my son is beginning to express. Yes, our minority president is scary, but all of us make sure he does the right thing. We all fight him when he tries to hurt others. I’ve started pointing out differences in people on television when he is watching. I try to shape his idea of beauty in the world…expand it beyond what I’ve historically understood. The time will come when he independently notes the world’s diversity in rapid fire utterances; I commit that I won’t be embarrassed when those moments occur. I will form that dialogue and change the narrative of how he will see people unlike himself. I will continue to combat prejudicial commentary he hears whether it’s strangers or among those closest to him.

We live in a White area, but I want my son to appreciate and see beauty in the uniqueness that currently divides us. I don’t want either children to be the farce of color blind, but I don’t want them to overcompensate either. I believe in giving back. I believe in authenticity. I believe in thoughtful leadership. I believe in their brilliant futures as they define it for themselves. I believe in my role to interpret the world as I understand it based on real data and facts. I want their world to be better, and it starts with me.

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