In fact, it's been time for so, so long.
It was time before we knew George Floyd’s name, time before we knew Ahmaud Arbery’s and Breonna Taylor’s… It was time when we were kids, and when our parents and their parents were kids; time to talk about race and racism with our communities, friends, families and our children, and to do it immediately.
At one of my recent workshops, I’d asked the room of guardians and parents, "Who here has been talking to their kids about race & racism?" One brave parent raised their hand and answered, "I think of the race talk like I do the sex talk - when they ask, we’ll talk."
Makes sense, right? Although these days sex educators will tell us emphatically that no, it does not. Wait for your kids to bring up sex and it may be too late. Talk about it in age appropriate ways - often - and you stand the chance to arm your kids with life-saving information. The double bonus is you may succeed in de-stigmatizing the topic enough that they’ll continue to come to you when others wouldn’t dream of going to their parents for help.
But this isn’t how most of us were raised. Even now, the issue of age-appropriateness often serves as our #1 reason/excuse for waiting. Why impose the burden of grown up topics and concerns on our kids, stunting their childhood experience, any sooner than we need to? Again, it seems so sensible.
But this thought is, in and of itself, one that parents of kids of color cannot afford to have. This thought is, in and of itself, a perfect example of white privilege. (If you feel like the tone has suddenly shifted when I say the word "privilege," please give yourself a good, long belly breath, and hear this - talking about our privilege doesn’t mean we’re bad or ungrateful or didn't work for what we have. A few minutes watching the The Privilege Checklist will clear that misconception up quickly.)
If any of this seems hyperbolic, then this is the moment where I would insert the long, tragic list of names of black and brown kids and adults who have been terrorized and/or killed for doing nothing other than what white kids and adults do all day long - walking home in their hoodie with a bag of skittles in their pocket, playing with a toy gun in the park, playing outside their house, walking out of a store, playing music in the park, going swimming, mowing the lawn, going for a run, being in costume at a halloween party, getting into their own car - with their own keys, eating ice cream on the couch in their own home… I could go on and on and on. If you’re not aware of these incidents, every one of them is true and documented; Black folks and people of color have been and continue to be terrorized in the middle of doing nothing other than any random thing we white folks do every single day, and often with deadly consequences.
There was a time, many years ago, before my white ignorance was properly shattered, that I silently thought, “There must be a reason that happened, right? My black and brown friends are safe because they’d do something differently when approached by the police… right?”
Wrong. Dead wrong. All you need to do is research the details in these cases to educate yourself to the facts. But prepare yourself, because the process of knowing the truth about modern-day racism, losing your white-blindness and waking up to the facts of what BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) and their families live with every single day, will shake your white fragility to its core.
But as much as it hurts, it’s a hurt we gotta have, because this is our mess to clean up, people. And we need every white person who has ever cared about a person of color to burst their bubble of race-illiteracy and *decide* to do their part. The stress, pressure, and constant bullying that BIPOC and their families have to endure every single day is inhumane, and we, white people, have the responsibility to play the leading role in righting the sins of our ancestors, once and for all.
As it happens, this is simple work. Not easy, because we humans don’t typically like to be uncomfortable. But it is simple. Read, Listen, Learn, Look at your surroundings, play “Who’s missing?” from your friend group, neighborhood, school, workplace, dinner table, social gatherings…ask yourself "why?" Speak up, share. If you’re one of the people that felt pissed off at Robin DiAngelo’s title, “White Fragility,” then consider challenging yourself to prove your toughness, and stick your toe in?
Once we begin the process of liberating ourselves from racial illiteracy, we find the opportunities to stand up and walk our liberal talk coming to us without our even needing to look for them. In those instances, we're given the chance to be better than mere "allies," we can be actual anti-racists. Unfortunately, those opportunities are everywhere. And meeting them head on in front of our kids is like doing double duty. We’re learning how to rise to the challenge of calling out racism and our kids are learning right along with and from us.
We may find ourselves surprised at how much we missed before. At the dinner table, on a walk in the neighborhood, at the grocery store, in restaurants, at our kids’ sports games or plays, in book stores, on social media, in tv and movies, in off handed comments that come out of our own mouths…racism is everywhere, and the opportunities to name it, and respond intelligently and bravely, will willingly offer themselves at our feet. If we want to, we’ll develop muscle in places we never knew existed.
Recently I shared this Instagram post and a friend reacted in a way that made it clear she’d been triggered. As I read her comment, "we’re not white people, we’re just people," I felt her exasperation. How exhausting is it to be lumped into a category of people simply because of the color of our skin? How infuriating is it to be assumed to be a certain way based on what we look like? This is the reality of BIPOC every. single.day. But let’s pause and notice an enormous difference here. For white folks, it’s irritating to be stereotyped. It pisses us off or hurts our feelings. But for BIPOC, it’s not just irritating and exhausting; it’s life threatening.
To understand the challenge being issued here, all you need to do is try to speak up. Close your eyes and imagine hearing your mom, friend, neighbor say or do something racist - and speak up. There. Feel it? That thing, right there, that says, “Don’t do this. Danger. You’re going to offend them, piss them off, make them mad, make them not like you, they didn’t mean it, be polite.…” That’s the ‘niceness’ that has been programmed into our brains and that is responsible for keeping most of us in our complacent, conditioned white folk-fog. And it’s costing BIPOC their sanity, health and lives every single day.
One of my favorite parenting tools is the “do over” or, as we music and film people like to sometimes call it, a “Take 2”. At any point we can turn a typical parenting lecture into an opportunity to re-do what was done wrong and practice the feeling of what it would’ve been like it we’d done it right, or at least - better. I might say to my son, “So what’s a different way you can tell me how you feel right now?” And he gets the chance to think about a better way to express himself. He can have a do over, or Take 2.
Why not use this tool with ourselves and our communities, as well? When I notice myself or someone else saying or doing something racist, I can bring it up, and model - or discuss - a do over. The idea, of course, is if we do this enough, we’ll start to morph our behavior into that of more aware humans who are finally seeing the problems and working together to fix it.
I wish we could do this with the whole of our history, from the moment the colonists first set foot in North America. But since that’s impossible, it’s up to us to do everything we can now- with ourselves, and our children. It still won’t be easy. But it is simple. And it is our responsibility.
Action: Watch, Reflect, SHARE:
- You can use this article to start: Dear White Parents of My Black Child's Friends, I Need Your Help
- Need help in talking to your kids about race? Here you go: Your Kids Aren't Too Young to Talk About Race: Resource Roundup
- “The worst conversation adults can have with kids about race is no conversation at all,” says author/historian, Jemar Tisby. “Talking to kids about race needs to happen early, often, and honestly.” How to talk to your kids about race:
Danielle LoPresti is a mom-musician-anti-racist-world citizen. She lives and works with her wife and son in the Bay Area and is co-owner of Durga Sound Studios.