I was born to a middle-class, white, married couple in 1978 in a safe, conservative town in Michigan. My parents are still married almost forty years later, and they still live in the home I grew up in, and they still have good jobs – and because they are smart with their money, they are comfortable.
I have never been afraid that we would lose our home.
I have never wondered if I would get food on any given day.
No one has ever assumed I was a less-worthy person or a scary person or a violent person based on my looks or my school or my background.
I have occasionally been told I can’t do something because I am female, but it’s never been a real barrier that I believed actually hindered me from achieving anything I really wanted to do.
Had I wanted to, I could have been just about anything I was talented enough to become.
I won the lottery by being born.
Why me? Why did I get so lucky?
My sons were born to a middle-class, married couple in today’s society. We live in that same safe, conservative town in which my husband, Cort, and I grew up. We are both employed. We are trying to be smart with our money, and although we feel like things are tight, in the grand scheme of things, we are comfortable.
Our boys have never felt (and we hope they won’t) the anxiety of adult worries about shelter or food or clothing. They are very comfortable.
Plus they are boys. White boys. Who will become White Men. In America.
White Male Americans.
They will not know what it feels like to be suspected of ill-intent because of the color of their skin. They will not feel the assumption of failure because of their home life. They will not be assumed guilty until proven innocent because they are ‘those people’.
They won the lottery by being born.
This bothers me.
Winning a lottery should feel good. This does not.
I have friends, students, even family who I know have certain struggles solely because society views them differently than they view my boys. Even if it’s subconsciously so.
Racism is alive and kicking in the United States and it hurts my heart when I read about friends’ sense of belonging questioned because of the color of their skin. When their honesty is questioned because people have clumped them into ‘those people’. You know how ‘those people‘ can be.
No. I don’t. “Those people” are my friends…my family…and they would give you the clothes off their back if they knew you were in need.
My sons, Eddie and Charlie, will automatically get a pass from cops on certain suspicions. They will have a better chance of becoming President.
I am not saying people can’t work hard to beat the odds and make it happen. Look at President Obama. But he had odds to beat. My sons don’t.
I’m also not saying my sons will have everything super easy. They may not. In fact, I am sure there will be things that are hard or challenges or obstacles they will have to overcome…or fail to. But they are not built into the way our society thinks.
Instead of only celebrating this “lottery” we have won (because, yes, I am grateful), I find it an enormous responsibility.
As a woman, how many times in college did I whine about how everything we read was by dead white guys? I longed for more female voices. I also longed for diversity.
I couldn’t take a social studies class…or read the news today…without shaking my head at the messes that white men have made (yes, other people make/made messes too, but if you look at the US track record? White men outnumber all the other people in horrible things).
I don’t want my sons to turn into arrogant, self-centered white boys.
I don’t want my sons to be part of the mess, but rather part of the clean-up and resolution.
I read a post this week about talking with your children about race. I thought about it. Eddie and Charlie have black cousins. They have an aunt who is Hispanic. They have Cort’s cousins who are all different races. They visit me at school and see the huge amount of diversity of the student body I work with. Eddie knows Baby (his doll) has beautiful brown skin like his cousins. It means nothing to him.
He sees it, he appreciates it, and then he moves on because it doesn’t impact him. He hasn’t gotten society’s views engrained in his mind yet.
When did I first think skin color meant someone could be different from me? Did someone bring it up? Did I hear someone I trust and respect make an off-color joke?
I remember my grandpa having a black baby doll he found and referring to it as a ‘N-baby’ and my parents getting very upset. It’s the first memory I have of it being important not to call someone a name just because their skin is different from mine. But I also didn’t have many people around me who were different.
Do I need to call my son’s attention to race to teach them about it?
They will someday be white men. White men whom Cort and I raised.
I don’t want them to be sensitive to race. I don’t want race to be anything to them other than something on a family tree that shows where people come from.
But that would be a naive way to parent them. Right?
They will have to know about the struggles and the challenges that their non-white brothers and sisters in humanity have to battle.
And I hope I can teach them to see the battle, and stand firmly beside their friends and family who are fighting and take a stand too. Until the battle is won.
He won the lottery by being born
Big hand slapped a white male American
Do no wrong, so clean cut…
Dirty his hands, it comes right off.*
*Lyrics by Pearl Jam from the song “WMA”.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net