Thursday, July 14, 2016

Privilege: They Didn't Ask and I Didn't Tell

*Photo Source: Unknown

Sunday morning our pastor read the names of last week’s shooting victims, law enforcement and civilian, aloud during morning prayers.  The brick-walled room was quiet, sunlight streamed in through wide windows and I wondered what my oldest kids, seated at a table with us, would think about those names.  

Our older kids, just eight and ten, home for the entirety of summer vacation, are ensconced in a semi-rural white bubble.  John and I get most of our news online and, without the evening news hour on TV, our kids are sheltered from much of the world’s news save for occasions where we decide to intentionally break the bubble. 

We did so with the church shooting in South Carolina last summer, explaining about the shooting and its racist motivations over dinner.  Then we made a quilt square to send to a group in the south who were piecing a quilt for those impacted by the crime.  Still, we haven’t talked with our kids about the events of last week.  And they remained oblivious to our pastor's prayer, wrapped up in seeing their Sunday morning friends, doodling and folding paper airplanes.  

They didn't ask and I didn't tell.   

Monday morning I thought about it again as I worked to add yet another layer of paint to the dark wood paneling in our laundry room.  Would we tell the kids and when and how would we navigate the complexity of the discussions?  A new thought flickered in my mind like a light bulb - this is white privilege.  I get to choose when and where and if I talk with my kids about the complexities of racism because I believe it doesn't impact them and, more importantly, not telling them doesn't put them at risk.    

There are mothers across America who don’t have that choice.  To not talk about these deaths with their sons and daughters is to expose them to risk.  Information that feels optional for my kids is essential for theirs.  The idea that I don't have to address these issues and they do is a privilege born of the color of my skin, a burden born of the color of theirs. 

Later in the morning I read these posts by Lisha Epperson at Give Me Grace and Regina Stoltzfus at The Mennonite, both mothers to teenage boys wrestling with similar questions of when and where and how to talk about racism, but entering into the discussions with wisdom, bravery and fear because they cannot afford not to.  

I am a white woman raising three white sons along a stretch of road where pickup trucks of all shapes and sizes drive by with confederate flags proudly flying from the bed of the truck.  These aren’t unobtrusive confederate flag stickers pasted to a windshield, but a large 3x5 foot banners flying on a pole, statement sized flags.  I am a white woman who believes placing a #Blacklivesmatter sign in our yard would have real repercussions, so I don't.  
   
I want to preserve that bubble, to keep my kids safe.  But I understand now that doing so only keeps us all at risk.  No bubble that includes some and excludes others by reason of the color of their skin can ever be truly safe for anyone.  What appeared optional – talking with my kids about the realities of racism in our country – is, I now see, essential.  I cannot afford to say nothing.  

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I wrote this post on Monday and have sat with it since largely because I am afraid to say something wrong.  I now realize this hesitancy and the desire to "get it right" and not expose myself to possible ridicule or argument is another layer of privilege.  

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I turned on the evening news while driving home with the kids Tuesday night.  They were wiped out from a day of swimming and sat quietly listening.  We listened for five minutes before the questions began.  I turned off the news and we cleared up confusion and I turned it back on again.  Eventually, as we pulled in the driveway, my oldest son caught wind of the shootings in Dallas.  

"What are they talking about?" he asked.  "Was that another shooting?"

I asked him to wait while the twins went inside.  Standing in the driveway, I told him quietly about the events of the past week and he filed it away like kids his age do.  

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The conversation begins, it continues and we have no choice but to enter in for the sake of all our children.  

Please do take a moment to read the posts I've linked to above, both women share important perspectives.  Thank you. 

9 comments:

  1. It's a great point that it is a privilege that we get to decide when to address the racial issues currently grabbing our nation's attention. We've made sure our 10 year old daughter watches the local and national news with us so we can discuss any issues troubling her. What I love is her anger that people are treated differently just because of the color of their skin. She knows in her heart that it's wrong and not how God wants people to interact with each other.
    I totally understand not wanting to invite negative repercussions toward your home when you have children living there.

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    1. Thanks for commenting. Yes, my husband and I can tend toward passivity, especially when dealing with (or avoiding) conflict. Watching or listening to the news together is something we need to do more often.

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  2. You wrote this so beautifully, and I'm glad, as it was something I was considering. Sans kids, I have my own anxiety-prone brain to protect (when I say anxiety, I don't mean mild, either). I took the Twitter app off my phone; I couldn't handle any more Tweets about white people do X and black people are X. It was a conversation that seems about as safe to step in as a pit of lava on a place like Twitter. No one can explain themselves or be thoughtful; it's short bursts that all look like finger pointing. Facebook isn't safe, really, either. A few liberal friends share posts about #BlackLivesMatter and their friends in small-town America humiliate them. Family and friends share pro-Trump posts and fail to understand how any type of minority -- whom they don't even see on a day-to-day basis due to where they live -- can demand that they matter. I've got Twitter back on my phone, but I'm very careful....and this is all privilege. I can take these actions because I want to.

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    1. What a gift to have met you two years ago at retreat and kept in touch, Melanie! It's so important to protect your limits and find helpful ways to interact - you're so right about some platforms being fairly unsafe and un-useful for meaningful discussion. It's a long journey and slow. Thanks for being willing to reflect.

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  3. I've pondered this puzzle myself, Kelly, and it is indeed a white privilege to NOT talk about race with my (grand)kids.
    Thank you for the hard words to reflect on.

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  4. Kelly, thanks for taking the risk. Like you, I'm turning all this over in my mind, trying to "get it right," wondering how I can help. I always appreciate Lisha's words -- planning to check out the other post as well.

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  5. Gosh, Kelly, yes! What an enlightening post. We all have choices about how we deal with these issues. But we don't all have the same choices. God gives clarity and wisdom when we ask for it. May we continue to walk humbly with Him in wisdom and love. Blessings on your week!

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  7. I feel the weight of the risk in your words and so appreciate your honesty. Thanks for including my voice in this important conversation. Let's keep talking.

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