Black History month comes and goes every year. Revisiting the same culturally popular pieces of the civil rights movement that are packaged neatly and pretty, avoiding any discomfort, is disrespectful and dishonest. And convenient, allowing me to do the least possible to educate my child about our country’s past and current history for people of color in the United States free of guilt.
- Don’t I get a pass if I talk about black people during Black History month?
- Doesn’t it make me a good white ally?
- What more do you want from me?
My responsibility is to continue educating my daughter, Stella, about racism, systems of oppression, and biases. Just because it’s complicated and takes time doesn’t excuse me from this duty.
Last fall we were driving home from an event featuring voices of women and girls, predominately females of color. Given her perspective as a transgender girl and artist, one of her pieces was included in the event. I asked my daughter what she enjoyed the most about the event. “To be honest, I felt really uncomfortable and unwelcome, Mama. Everybody seemed nice but…I just didn’t feel they really wanted me there.” Surprised by this admission, I asked what made her so uncomfortable. After quite a bit of hemming and hawing she said, “I am used to the people speaking at events or leading assemblies being white.”
Being able to understand and recognize racism and white privilege is a learned skill that uses critical thinking. As parents and guardians of white children, how do you do that if you live in a predominately white neighborhood or community?
Reading about whiteness isn’t the same as experiencing it.
In our home, we do not avoid discussing our white privilege. I thought I was doing a decent job with exposing her to books, documentaries, TED Talks, and history to broaden her exposure. Even being in racially diverse schools hadn’t caused her to bump up against it. Not in a way that made a significant impact. Marching in #BlackLivesMatter events didn’t quite do it either. These experiences laid the ground work but hadn’t put her in a situation where she was the minority race in the room. And, more importantly, recognized it.
We don’t know what we don’t know until we know it. My daughter didn’t experience her white privilege until she did. She recognizes sexism in film, media and comic book characters, which was the theme of her art piece. In describing it she wrote, “This painting is about how women are not as appreciated as men. After looking at many, many women super heroes, I found that women are used for looks. I felt that we, as women, are very manipulated and were never thanked. My hope is that as a strong female society we can support other women and girls in the world that need it.”
When I described this event and the purpose to her it immediately resonated. Contemplating art she would create, Stella started talking about gender inequities in the comics she read. Being a transgender girl, she has her own experiences of femininity and marginalization. She continues to be directly target by legislation that financially incentive her peers to police what bathroom she uses in school. Feeling unwelcome and unaccepted is not new to her.
The event organizers were inclusive to all female voices. The theme of Stella’s painting was female super heroes and their value. She’s a Marvel fan, particularly Ms. Marvel. It delights me beyond words that my twelve-year-old trans girl’s super hero is a Pakistani, Muslim teenager. For the record, I geek out over this often.
The speakers for the event were captivating, brilliant, inspiring and all black. Majority of the attendees were also women of color. During a group discussion women and girls of color sat on the inside of the circle. The stories of vulnerability and honesty were raw, jarring and inspiring. My ego was so proud to be experiencing this with my white, trans daughter. Who was, I should mention, fidgety, unengaged, pouty, and genuinely annoying me and my self-righteousness.
I assumed Stella understood white privilege. It was a phrase used frequently in our home but the context was missing. I assumed Stella understood white privilege. It was a phrase used frequently in our home but the context was missing.
- How did white privilege relate to her?
- Why should she even care?
- Most importantly, how does she contribute to perpetuating it?
The suppression and oppression of trans people is not something I understood until I started witnessing it first hand through my daughter. I don’t need to be trans to recognize systems of oppression, discrimination, violence and injustice. I don’t need to be a person of color to acknowledge huge disproportionate inequities, police brutality and mass incarceration. Just because I don’t have the same experiences does not invalidate those who have live the daily impacts of racism and white privilege.
Being willing to educate myself, get involved, listen then act helps me be a part of the solution. Teaching Stella that it takes more than clicking a “like” button to directly impact on our community is critical. I parent from a sense of urgency. Waiting for the right or opportune time to educate Stella about racism is not an option. Violence, sexual harassment and sexual assault are the norm for females, even more so for trans females. Trans women of color are being violently eradicated while society looks the other way.
Like Hamilton demanded of Burr, “If you stand for nothing Burr, what’ll you fall for?”