If you’ve been anywhere near social media, news outlets, or even outdoors, you know the United States has been fighting an epic battle of good versus evil. Every day somebody throws a punch in the direction of evil and every day there is someone there to punch back in the name of goodness. It’s a super Saiyan free for all. However, we need more people on the good side that know how to punch in the first place. Those people are the children of people of color and their allies. Yes, children of POC realize they are different but do they know that it is OK? Do they realize that they are entitled to share the same space as everyone else? In their innocence, do they also know that there are those that hate them, or have biases against them?
My daughter has questions for me almost daily. On our ride to school every morning we listen to the news, and she is aware of what goes on. She shares her thoughts and opinions with me but struggles to understand the grandeur of it all. At the moment, she is a lucky kid. Her schoolmates are accepting, her friends are her allies, her teachers are multicultural (though still mostly white), and anti-bullying is a top preventative in her school district. Recently, our local community immigrants’ rights group issued a request to our school district to take steps to make it an immigrant safe zone. Today she is safe and happy, but what about tomorrow? What about the times she’s not in school? For that, I’ve written a list for myself. They are my keys to helping her become smarter, stronger, and more capable of consistently having conversations and covering topics relating to struggles of POC. Here they are (in no particular order).
- Recognizing misconceptions from other people of color. Specifically, misconceptions from people who assume she’s not “Mexican” enough only because she doesn’t speak Spanish or even as stupid as not struggling enough because she’s an American citizen. Yes, she is privileged to have been born here, but her experiences of being Mexican are still not invalid. When these questions come with negativity or anger, then honestly the only thing she needs to know is that she can turn around and ignore them. The “holier than thou” attitude because they’re Latino and can speak Spanish doesn’t give them the right to belittle her. Sometimes, these questions come with genuine curiosity and then she has to decide how to answer – this is her decision. My job is to let her know that there is an option. She does not need to take on the role of educator for someone else’s ignorance. However, the opportunity to answer the questions with intelligence and facts will, hopefully, educate someone new. Alternatively, a “cheater” option, is to work on just telling people that their question is antiquated and they should not ask it. If they refuse to accept that, then we stop acknowledging them.
- Teach her how to identify comments (or misguided compliments) against her, against people of any race, against women, and how to stop them. An example is know how to fight against people who demand her family “learn” how to speak English properly or similar bullshit. Breaking news: the US does not have an official language! It won’t deter racists from heckling her to know that bit of information, unfortunately. As long as she understands the years of work and effort it took her non-English speaking family to learn a new language – the effort it took to assimilate into a culture that doesn’t even like them anyway. It takes some skill to catch the underlying racism, or misogynistic tone in comments when you’re only a tween. The best I can do is talk about what I hear or read in my own life. I share an article that talks about what women endure from men. We read about the good things women have accomplished. She learns about the triumphs of other people of color. If she knows what is correct, what is possible, and what is good, then she’ll eventually learn to defend herself. What I want her to know is that it doesn’t matter what you do as someone who isn’t a white American – as long as she understands that, any comment similar to this is just racism.
- Teach her about her body, how to love it, how to protect it, how to give it, how it belongs only to her. When I was young, my family planned a trip to Mexico that would only include my siblings and my dad. My mother couldn’t take the entire vacation off from work so she would meet us later. I distinctly remember, the day before we left she sat me down to talk about my dad. She said that just because he was my father did not excuse him from misbehaving with my sister or me. I was shocked. I could never imagine my dad wanting to harm us, but my mom knew better. She knew to equip us with knowledge, even if we never had to worry about my dad. We knew from a young age that our bodies were ours. I had the same conversation with my daughter. She wasn’t going on a trip with her dad, but I was leaving her with him for a journey of my own. We had a long conversation; she had a lot of questions (always lots of questions, thankfully). We’ve had many similar discussions since then. Sometimes they’re easy, or they manifest themselves naturally (first period), but they can be difficult. I explain to her that sometimes it’s not easy to find the best way to talk about something but that it needs to be done. It’s not a topic where I can always see the fruit of my labor. She will continue to have life experiences so therefore there are still many conversations to come. This is where I strive to keep our lines of communication open – trying my best to not judge her questions and answer her honestly.
- Teach her how/when/where to read the news and find reliable sources. Being up-to-date on current events is how we learn where our voices need to be heard the loudest. There is so much information out there, and it seems as though each source of news wants to sway you in their direction. What I’m aiming for, when we talk about the news I’m reading, is always to have multiple sources. Read news from local communities, from news organizations run by POC, by media outlets who support POC and even news that is reported by outlets outside of the United States. It’s tough to have your own opinion lately without needing to have reliable facts to back them up, but when you are reading for yourself, it’s not required to retain where you found a specific fact. It is only necessary to increase your knowledge, to keep being educated, and to continue to keep media accountable. Read my darling, read A LOT.
- I volunteer and participate in marches. This one is new to me. I’m not an extrovert. I don’t do well with big crowds of people. I don’t make friends easily or engage in conversation with strangers easily. However, it is important to me that she knows how impactful it is to volunteer and participate. I can see in her face how proud she is to see me help others. She’s not always ready to take part in significant events herself, so it is my job to show her that she can. I’m gone from home, but I’m gone for a good reason. I didn’t make dinner today, but it’s because I was helping others or educating myself. Our children see everything we do. I’m not a perfect parent, but I try my damn best. These events are also the ideal setting for meaningful conversations. They encourage us to have face-to-face interactions. She can see in the expressions on my face when a topic is hurtful or happy. I let her into myself so she can see how vulnerable or how strong I am, and therefore she knows how vulnerable and how strong she can be. When we do participate together I point out every action, reaction, poster, overheard conversation and ask her if she understands. What’s the point of engaging in something without comprehending why you’re there? She comes away from these events with more questions than answers, but that’s exactly how I want it.
My story isn’t a manual for how to talk to your children. This isn’t a list of how to live your life as a POC either. There’s inclusivity in acknowledging that there are POC out there that fear to participate or acknowledging a movement that involves them. It’s ok. There are others out there fighting the good fight for you. My only suggestion, if you know someone like this, is to keep them informed anyway. Don’t continue the cycle of oppression and ignorance by keeping them uninformed.
Do you have other suggestions for this list? Let me know. I’m always up for a good conversation.