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An open letter to my biracial son from a white mother who did not see color.

An open letter to my biracial son from a white mother who did not see color.

Dear Son,

I did not know then, but as Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” I want to accept my shortcomings and failings, my ignorance, and even those things I chose not to see even though they were visible. You know I try so hard to be a voice against racism and have since either of us can remember. This year I have spent many hours trying to learn more, listen more, and think more about my path and how I can be the best advocate/ally I can be. I know that it is in continuous work that we unpack the nontruths we are raised with. In all of this, one day about a month ago, I was given another moment of enlightenment, of realness I had not known with this kind of clarity before that moment. I was given a glimpse into your current world and it has taken me this month since that moment, to open that vision more and look around inside it before I could write this letter to you.

This ‘vision’ gave me a fuller understanding of the difference between racism and white privilege and why white privilege is what holds racism together. I thought they were the same thing, even as I understood more and more about white privilege; even as I knew and you knew and everyone that knows me knew that I am not racist, what I didn’t know is how pervasive white privilege is in that even if you are not racist, racist crap is done in the ignorance of white privilege. I chose to walk around inside that moment and realized, understood some of my part in your pain. It helped me separate racism and white privilege so that I can examine them independently. And it is from this new understanding that I offer my apologies.

I am sorry that I raised you with the “I don’t see color” brand of racism.  It was not fair. I did not even realize it was racism. I thought it expressly wasn’t. But because I chose not to see your color, I did not prepare you for being a black man. I did not understand that you would not be seen in the world as my loved son, but you would be seen by all the world, except me, as a black man. I did not see color, I saw my son, and as beautiful as it is to have you as my son, I should have seen your skin. I raised you with white privilege, not just my own but I unknowingly bathed you in it as well. Your ability to see the world with open eyes was blanketed by my white privilege.  I did not learn the difference between non-racist and anti-racist when you were young. I fought for nonracism. I thought by not seeing color I was doing the right thing. I am sorry.

Your “knowledge” of what white and black “are” was dipped in that invisible white privilege tub. I was not ‘there for you’ the moment you realized you were black, because I did not get it. I understand now, but that moment is gone. It is part of the past that makes you who you are today, and it happened without my love for you as even capable of being part of it; because I did not see color when I should have. My lack of color-vision, my lack of intentional choice for you to see good black role models, my ignorance and the pervasiveness of racism told you that your being black made you all the negative connotations white privilege puts on black people.

I did not raise you white or black or brown. I raised you as my son. I thought that was right. I loved you from second one. I raised you in love, you know that. I supported you every way I knew how. But there was one especially important way I did not give you what you needed; I did not give you the knowledge of how to maneuver in the world as a black man, how to be proud of yourself as a black man. And now I can see how incredibly difficult it must have been for you to identify, articulate, or even really understand what and where that lacking was and came from.

You could not have said to me, no one could for that matter, that I was racist or that I did not love you, or that I wasn’t trying my best to overcome racism all around me. So how could you explain to me the deep injustice you felt, the injustice I did? The injustice I served out as love. I still do not fully understand and honestly never can. But I can apologize and hope that we can come to a mutual understanding of where to go from here.

I apologize for not being a strong enough advocate for you against the racism that permeates the family of the man I was married to. I chose not to see it because I thought I could love you enough for all of us. That was not fair to you. You had to grow up not aware of why you were seen as so different, treated so differently. To be honest, though my ‘not seeing’ was partially in ignorance, and thinking that mistreatment was due to how you were conceived, not that you were black, it was also partially from wanting to not have to see it.

I was 16, married almost a year when I was raped. Then as a stupid 16-year-old with no support system, I went on the only kind of spiral I knew. The kind of spiral that screams Help Me but is only ever seen as “what a stupid girl”. But when I discovered I was having you, that spiral came to a screaming halt. Nothing in the world could stop me from giving you the best mother I could be, in every circumstance life threw at me. So, when I say I raised you to be my son, it was with all the love I had. I tell you on your birthdays, “You’re the first …. year-old I’ve ever had. You’re my guinea pig, I’m probably going to screw it up, but I’ll try my best and we’ll love each other through it.”  I never saw you as black, or white, only ever as my son. I was trying my best. But not seeing, not identifying, not allowing you to own your skin was not fair, and it was not enough. I see that now. It was all I had and all I understood. I do not berate myself for this. I cannot feel guilty about it either. I did not know any better then. But I do now, and I can apologize for what I did in my ignorance, and for what I did not do. I can apologize from now and where I am now and what I know now.

I am sorry for thinking that trying to explain away your blackness, because that was “on me” and my circumstance, rather than try to help you accept who you were no matter what, was enough. It is not that I did not accept your being black, I just did not understand that accepting your blackness, seeing your skin, went beyond the shame I felt for my circumstance. I spent decades trying to understand how to release my shame. Part of my healing is to speak out and not hide, and that remains true, but I did not see that I projected that shame on to you whenever I talked about it. I did not understand that not only was I not protecting you from that shame, I was creating it for you. I did not see how the rest of the family’s underlying racism deepened that shame and that my not speaking out for you hurt you.

I thought my love for you automatically removed the shame for you. But it did not. I thought every time I told you how much I loved you I was creating a safe harbor. Instead I gave my shame to you as an undercurrent, something you could not speak of, or see, or name because my words forbade it with every proclamation of how much I loved you. I am sorry. I didn’t know.

YOU have nothing, NOTHING to be ashamed of.  I am sorry that I created that in you. I have nothing to be ashamed of, but my lesson, my healing should not have caused you pain. I am sorry. The part of my life that was before you, was erased because of you. You brought me life; your life brought me to life. You taught me how to love. Do not ever feel ashamed of that.

You are allowed to feel all the feelings associated with the complicated mess of being black in America, of the only father you’ve known being racist and having a mother that did not understand how to navigate raising a mixed child in that environment. I wish that shame was not part of it, but I understand now that it is, I put it there. I am sorry, I did not mean to.

Son, be a proud black man. Be the strong black man that you are. You have love, strength, compassion, empathy, tenderness, and intelligence. You are talented, brave, and work hard. I am sorry I did not tell you before this that you are all those things as a black man. That you are worthy as a black man. YOU ARE WORTHY just because you exist, regardless of any misdoings, and in spite of anyone’s words or actions that say otherwise. You are worthy of the love you were denied because of your skin color. You are worthy, you are enough.

I am sorry I did not prepare you for things like shaving the right way, putting your hands on the dash, having people follow you around a store, or the understanding that you were given the worst ‘end of the stick’ in so many situations because people thought the black in you made you naturally ‘bad’.  That is not true. You are only inherently awesome. Nothing about your skin color determines the kind of person you are. I should have advocated that more for you.

I am sorry that your white privileged upbringing set you up for the belief that ‘black’ means violent, untrustworthy, and prone to criminal behavior. It does not. That is a white privilege talking point, a way for uninformed white people to categorize and maintain a level of ‘fear’ and therefore keep power. It is an unspoken belief that underlies the family you know. The truth is, for you, the violence you know came from watching and being part of abuse at home. That abuse came from a white man, so do not chalk that up to some inherent blackness. But also, do not allow it to be part of your life. You are better than that.

I am sorry I did not see color when you were young. I am grateful I do now. I have always been grateful you were given to me. From your first flutter, you have taught me how to more fully love everyone. Being your mother taught me to SEE COLOR in that moment when I learned what I should have taught you about shaving. That was my first understanding that you are black; and you were 19 or 20. That sucks.

I am grateful that you are my son and for the many ways you have helped me see the very different experiences people have in life, simply because of their skin color. I have understood through 30 years of being your mom, I need to remove the white privilege blanket that covers everything. To step out of that bath. I keep growing, being your mom helps me know that seeing color is the only way to create change, to see the disparity, the real world as it is. I am grateful that because you are my son, I had that moment of clarity a month ago to help me better understand the pain you are in now because of your childhood.

Without you, maybe I would have kept on in my invisible privileged life, but I am not because I have you. It’s a long process, but with each new layer I can uncover, each new thing I can pull out, I learn how to love better, how to be a better human. You are the reason I choose to keep looking for those layers. I am grateful that maybe I can help others see too. I am, have always been, and will always be proud to be your mother. I love your skin.

White privilege is a crap sandwich. It is known as invisible because, it’s like the people who have never been fired unjustly and cannot see why that person is so upset. Or like people who do not have children yet, make all kinds of judgments on parents who do things differently than they think they would. White privilege lives in the ignorance of not having been through a thing. It’s subtitle should be white ignorance, but that would probably go over less well than white privilege….

Just like people who haven’t been catcalled, whistled at, hollered at through a passing window, followed, and know to hold their keys a certain way, don’t understand why other people do that; white people do not see the complexity of being not-white. I did not see the complexity of your not being white.

 Just like people who have been raped, see the world more clearly and try to survive in it anyway, black people, people of color do see. They live and survive in the world they can see better, more clearly. They see it and I did not give you that sight when I should have. There is this world in which you live that I did not prepare you for but put you out in it thinking I had.

Healing requires us to speak about the wrongs done, put it in the light and examine it. My recognizing each piece of white privilege as I see it does not induce disgrace, but spurs the choice to move ahead doing better because I know better. White privilege is a not-knowing. And where racism can be examined, seen, explained, and criticized, white privilege is unseen, unfelt, misunderstood, and hidden. It is all the ways we do not know we cannot see.

So, I apologize for what I did not know, what I did not see, what I did not do. I apologize for what I did in my ignorance. I apologize for those things I pushed to the side, so I did not have to confront them. I apologize for not standing up within my home the way I stood up outside of it. I apologize for not giving you what you needed to be a proud black man. You know I love you. You know I have always given you everything I could. But I can see that everything I could was not always enough, and I am sorry.  

Sincerely,

Your ‘thought she was woke but realized she’s still waking up’ mother

Is “White Privilege” a useful concept in the current UK context ...
Trying to pull out what I can every time I see something in there.

#inspiration #motherhoodrising #honestlymothering #doingthebestican #onceyouknowbetterdobetter #blacklivesmatter #iamnotcolorblind #seecolor #unpackingwhiteprivilege

 

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I was listening to this popular song

I was listening to this popular song, maybe you’ve heard of it?

I’m all about the bass by Meghan Trainor.

I am all about people loving themselves and being at least tolerant of, if not just accepting and appreciative of others in all the many ways we are.

At first, I really liked this song. It has a cute catchy beat and what seems to be a positive message.

HOWEVER

It, along with countless other agendas out there, claims to be about accepting self and others, BUT only if you’re not in a different category.

A few years back, one of the teachers I worked with was pretty famous for being a civil rights activist and teacher, on both sides of the coin. She claimed civil rights, others claimed racism.

I believe it was both; for the same reason that Meghan Trainor thinks she’s supporting loving yourself.

For the same reason that feminists are seen as both good and bad.

Because they put down, shame, and trivialize the groups that have been doing the same to them.

I want to state loud and clear that we cannot build up one group by bringing another down.

A while ago, a long while perhaps, I was having a discussion with a friend. She stated that chivalry was gone, that men don’t open car or building doors anymore, and that feminism had ruined manners.

I said I wasn’t sure that was so true, and she then stated that I must be one of those feminists that think no one should open doors for anyone anymore.

Not true. I am a feminist that believes that we should all be equal in how treat others and expect to be treated. I.e. whoever gets to the door first should open the door for the rest. Whoever is driving should open the passenger door. Whoever gets home first should start dinner. Whoever opens the trash lid to see it full, should take it out. If you make the mess, clean it up. If you lose your temper, apologize. If you have your heart set on something, mention it. If someone mentions “it”, pay attention and do what you can. etc.

You don’t get equality by everyone being rude, impolite, apathetic, or distant.

Men have long held a high powerful ranking in most societies. Yes, men have long abused that rank. And, yes, women have tried to use what they have to manipulate into positions of power. But this ever present male dominated society still dictates that even women with a powerful position are seen as inferior.

But here’s the thing, Equality means no one is abusing or manipulating. No one is more or less. We’re all just letting each other be and being good people to each other. If you’re good at something, you get to do it and you get to get paid the same as someone else doing the same thing. Plain and simple. There are no prejudices about who’s taking care of babies, bills, laundry, cars, or opening doors.

You can’t raise women up by putting men down. If you lower the position that men are on, you can only hope to raise women to the new, lower mark. Why make the meeting place of equality lower than the original position of high regard? Men need to stop hoarding the ranks through abuse, women need to stop whoring their worth. And I don’t necessarily mean sex here. I mean many women are willing to give up valuable parts of themselves, ie their personal worth, to gain position, instead of being able to gain position based on their actual worth.

We all need to be allowed to be the unique individuals we are, supported in doing the jobs we’re good at, educated without prejudice, and advanced through merit. That’s what equality is.

This teacher I knew would put a lot of emphasis and passion into teaching students about how awful white people were. Her reasoning was to help her minority students feel better about themselves because “their” people hadn’t done such awful things.

Ok, I can see her point and her reasoning. BUT, you don’t get equality by putting one group down to make the other feel better. YEP, that’s how the minorities got to be so left out, because the people of power shoved them down. But equality doesn’t mean lowering to raise, it means making everyone Equal. Why make the equal place lower?

White privilege needs to stop, it’s completely totally true. But that means removing the invisibility and treating everyone equally, not trapping everyone into the blanket. Look at South Africa right now, it’s just a topsy turvy of what it was before. That’s not equality.

And all this train of thought started with a song.

I see the magazine workin’ that Photoshop
We know that shit ain’t real
C’mon now, make it stop
If you got beauty, beauty, just raise ’em up
‘Cause every inch of you is perfect
From the bottom to the top

Ok, that’s great, but then there’s this:

You know I won’t be no stick figure silicone Barbie doll
So if that’s what you’re into then go ahead and move along


Go ahead and tell them skinny bitches that
No I’m just playing. I know you think you’re fat

It’s just skinny shaming instead of fat shaming. WHEN THERE SHOULD BE NO SHAMING AT ALL. If every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top, then that should include everyone, the people in the middle, the skinny people, the fat people, everyone. You don’t create equality in who is seen as pretty by trying to make the current attractive the new ugly, you let everyone be attractive as they are.

What do you think?

 

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White Privilege, what do I do?

Once upon a time I didn’t understand white privilege, it’s specifically meant to be unnoticed.

Then I had to make a decision, a decision that would ultimately confront me with my own personal racism‘s nurtured into me by a world that affords me unseen privileges just because I look the way I do.  I had to confront and battle the idea that because I look a certain way, those with more privilege and less privilege can take what they want from me without my choice taken into account.  I had to decide if I really can like/dislike each person for who they are and not base those choices on blanketed grouping by color or race.

As a white woman I am in the upper middle of a multi-layered, difficult and terrible truth. I, without intention or often knowledge, create racist scenarios in which those with less privilege than me are subjected to.  I, without any other reason than being white, can walk through the world differently than non-white people. AND I HATE THAT.  I am truly one of the least racist people you could encounter.  I truly do not take a persons skin color into account when I interact.  It was a conscious choice I made that has become simply part of who I am.

But I forget that the world takes my skin color into account in everything I do.  I am able to “not care” about color BECAUSE of my color.  If I were not white, I would not likely be able to be as “free thinking” as I am about race.

I have encountered racism all my life – not directed at me usually, but its always present existence has been known to me all my life.  Living in so many military bases throughout my life, living in glorious cities that boast people from every country, I have seen how racism can tear people down.

My country that brags that it is “FREE”, whose sacred lady claims that all are welcome on our shores, drapes invisible blankets of racism over everything. It is not free for everyone, it is not a land of opportunity for everyone.  It is a land of elite privilege for the elite, a land of gifts for the select gifted, a land of honor for the “accepted as honorable”, a land of “you can get this much if you’re a little more like the elite than the others”,and a land of hand-outs for those that are choking in the invisible blankets.

My own personal encounters with ism is more specifically in the realm of sexism.  White male privilege dominates all the isms, with the class structure being its only divider.  The higher the class, the more privilege.  But even the lowest class of heterosexual white male dominates all the other sexes, races, and genders.

White male privilege is dominant and excruciatingly destructive all while being “invisible” to those who have it.  But as a white woman, I am still covered by a myriad of privileges that I have to work hard to see.  I still have less worries than men of color and even less than women of color and often even less then any color of gender different.

I used to think it was an American phenomenon but I was wrong.  It is a global disparage.  I am more often now encountering remarks and lifestyles that display white privilege with such extreme that it seems to scream and yet it is still invisible to those that have it.

My students color their pictures with blonde hair and blue eyes, because they want to see themselves that way.  My friends and their friends openly make racist, sexist, religion bashing, and gender bashing comments without a thought that these comments are simply an invisible cloak that helps them remain in a non-earned status of privilege.

What can I do?  I can’t help what I look like any more than any one of color can.  And for the first time in close to 30 years I have made a blanket racial decision.  (I am just not into Asian men…..I have tried to find the beauty that so many talk about, but as a whole, Asian features do not move me in any way)

I acknowledge that I live in a world in which I have far more privilege than I should based simply on my color. But I also feel that I have worked really hard to be who I am and I deserve many of the privileges I have based on that.  However, I don’t get them because of my work, I get them because I’m white.  So what do I do?

My children, of mixed races, are also given and not given basic privileges based solely on how white they appear.  As they walk down the street, they are faced with fully different things to worry about and need to make decisions on how to carry themselves as they walk down that street, based solely on how the world perceives them as being more or less white and whether they are male or female.  I spent far too long not understanding just how little I educated my son about how to deal with the racial confrontations he would have to deal with, the blankets that covered the world and smothered him.  As a woman, I was more aware of educating my daughter about the sexisms of the world.  But I can never know what it is like to be feared simply for being, for existing the way my son can be.  Nor did I educate my other son in understanding his white privilege as a white male with some affluence.

So what do I do?  As a human, as a woman, as a mother?

Now I understand that white privilege exists and I pay attention to my own behaviors to try to avoid creating the scenarios in which I contribute to the negativity of white privilege.  There is so much more to understand, and far more to learn about how to help change the standards and remove the blankets.

Now what do I do with this knowledge?

 

Update:  Well, I have been surprised at the number of responses and comments waiting in my inbox to be approved.  I have decided that most do not need to be approved.  I wrote this for the purpose of trying to continue my own education about how to do my part in creating the change needed for the world to stop seeing color and race as a way to treat people.

It is only through awareness, through discovering the invisible blankets and shedding light on them, that we can find ways to create true equality.

 

I watched this UpWorthy video and thought it was a good example.  Please watch it.

http://www.upworthy.com/one-easy-thing-all-white-people-could-do-that-would-make-the-world-a-better-place-5?c=ufb1

 

 
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Posted by on 15/08/2013 in Expat, Rant, teaching, travel, Uncategorized

 

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The Surreal moment I just had

I just had a beautiful but surreal moment.  I went to the Washington Middle School 8th grade Graduation.  I was able to witness every one of the students I’ve been working with walk across the stage that not only completes their Middle School education but begins their High School career.

Only 12 days after my own graduation, it came at me like a wave of surrealist paint.  Like Paul Fleet’s An Eye With A View, I felt like I was looking at a scene of looking at a scene.  Another UNM graduate spoke at the ceremony, a UNM graduate who had once attended WMS.  She spoke to them of trying circumstances and not being asked to join groups during High School, but rather having to take a leap of faith, put the goal in front and just go join the Honor Societies, the soccer team, the academic clubs.  She had to take the initiative and because she did, she’s now a college graduate.

She spoke of the statistics these kids are bombarded with from every direction.  Half will drop out, 1/3 will become unwed parents, 2/3 will be arrested for something before 18.  I saw many not so dry eyes, because some of these kids are the first in their family to make it this far.  Some are the first to be headed to High School in America, the land of opportunity, as long as you’re not Mexican.  These kids are fighting the odds put against them, and winning it right now.

It made me think of all the things people said to me when they first found out I was going to teach at Washington, largely known as one of the toughest schools.  Wow, really, are you scared?  Oh my gawd are you trying to change placement?  Make sure and bring a whistle, it startles them.   These children are pre-teens, barely teenagers, and they are faced with obstacles that would make a lot of different people drop out, but they are doing it through those circumstances.

I know students who live with distant relatives because those relatives live in the US.  Their parents still live in a different country; Cuba, Mexico, Chile.  I know students whose parents are in jail, dead, or not part of their lives for various reasons.  These kids are just kids.  The various reasons they are in the situations they are in are not their fault.  But they are dealing with the stereotypes, the people telling them they can’t, the biased tests telling them their not smart enough to, the families that can only offer so much, and making their education important for themselves at the same time.

I see my own Middle School experiences, my lack of High School, and now my struggle and triumph with college.  It was hard, really hard for me.  I had to fight for every moment in College.  But I did it in a society that accepts me simply because of the color of skin I was born into.  I can’t help the skin I was born into any more than they can.  I can’t change the fact that there are privileges I have, that they will rarely have, for no other reason than being born with fair skin.

I too was born into a low income home.  I too dealt with abuses.  I rarely found moments in which I felt supported.  I often raised my siblings.  I didn’t finish High School, dropped out in 10th grade.  I was married too young, had children too young.  I connect to these kids on more levels than they will ever understand and fewer levels than I can understand.

It was surreal, these many thoughts running through my mind as I hugged every one of my students after they received their diploma.  I don’t know if I was technically allowed to, but I stood at the foot of the stage stairs like one of the faculty and hugged them all as they came down the stairs.  I know that life is about to hit them harder than they’ve ever known.  BUT I also know that this group has an outstanding chance.  Maybe it’s my bias because I taught them, talked with them and learned from them, but I feel like this group is really going to go somewhere amazing. They are fighters for their own education.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on 24/05/2012 in art, being a student, teaching

 

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