On Teaching Our Children: White Privilege, Ageism, and Maintaining an Open Dialogue

Courtesy of Turn Left 2013
Courtesy of Turn Left 2013

Today, I saw a Facebook conversation happening between some other white folks. It went like this:
Status Updater: I want to talk with my 10 year old about the complex ideas of racism, the U.S. during the Jim Crow Era and the Civil Rights Movement. What films/documentaries/etc. can you recommend?

Commenters: Give a few helpful suggestions.
Commenters: Let him be 10. Why force this on him so early? Why can’t we just let kids be kids?
Commenters: But racism isn’t just about black and white.

Y’all, I almost blew up. I’m not even sure that now, several hours later, I have the vocabulary for what I want to say about this.

1) Making statements like “let kids be kids” in reference to not teaching them about complex things misses the complexity inherent in childhood. Children aren’t simple, and they’re not non-discriminatory. They can be ruthless and often are.

2) There is, for some reason, no distinction being made between learning about something and having a particular belief “forced on” someone. For that matter, if we want to talk about force, let’s just talk about the force that has been used, wielded, against generations of 10 year old boys-and girls-in the U.S. because of skin color. Let’s talk about rape culture, racism, and ageism. Let’s talk about not being able to make a choice about learning these things because learning them meant the difference between life and death. Suddenly, giving them a book or watching a film with them is “forcing” something on them? Oh, please.

3) We all know that racism as a word doesn’t refer to any particular race. But American history combined with today being Martin Luther King, Jr. Day lends itself to talking about a particular sort of racism, a sort that has been an insidious part of our culture and done more harm for our country than we seem able to repair–white on black racism. No one disputes the existence of racism outside of that context, but that’s no reason to stop discussing it inside this context. It’s both our history and our present. It will continue to be our future, especially if we don’t talk about it.

4) We talk a lot about white privilege, and we talk a lot about men’s privilege. Basically, if you’re a straight white able-bodied male, you’re guaranteed things some of us aren’t just by virtue of birth-you can see representatives that look like you in magazines and other media, the government is made up of people who mostly look like you, etc. Those things are important. Introducing a 10 year old to ways that others are less privileged than he is not a bad thing. Generating empathy at an early age is, in fact, a very good thing.

And there are more things, yes, that bug me. But those are the major things, and they’re important to discuss, especially today. Especially in a time when, as this DailyKos 2011 blog post suggests, Martin Luther King, Jr. has been co-opted and his legacy has been complicated by a privilege that finds it hard to comprehend all of the things that Dr. King was fighting for and about. Especially when we consider that, at 10, a child has already had years of contact with people of other races-so, in fact, 10 may be too late to start the conversation. Ten is a time to extend an already-started conversation.



Leave a Comment

  1. You made me cry all over again. As a school teacher I had to deal with a large number of black and Hispanic kids, mostly teenagers, and a lot of them with behavioral challenges that made them most teachers’ least favorite kids. I learned a lot about why they act like they do and what adults need to do to correct that. Beating them, hating them, and reviling them are things that are NEVER the answer. Some of my all-time favorite kids from 31 years of teaching were black and Hispanic. What am I supposed to do now that health prevents me from teaching? Who is going to love them now? The fact that you could post this as a resident of New Orleans gives me hope. Thank you.


    1. Thank you so much for your kind words.

      I grew up in Mississippi and have spent most of my life in the South. I’ve encountered a lot of beauty and a lot of ugliness. I’ve tutored and taught developmental English on junior college and university levels and have been overwhelmed by the racial bias still in play and how that affects who ends up in which class all the way up to the university level and beyond. It’s sad, and the system itself is the worst part. But there are some really good people out there working to change it. And I think we an all help them, in our own ways, even if it’s through drumming up conversation and awareness.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Part Time Monster and commented:

    I have not publicly posted very much about the situation in Ferguson, Missouri.
    The truth is that I’m out of words. I’m out of words for black boys dying in our streets. I’m out of words for police brutality. I’m out of words for a broken system.
    I leave you with this piece today, something I wrote on MLKJ Day. Think about it. Consider the privilege, and consider the ages at which children grapple with but aren’t conversed with about that privilege.

    Liked by 2 people

Talk to Me

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s