An Answer to Liberal White Parents

whyLast year, teachers from the Seattle Public School district organized a Black Lives Matter event to raise awareness about racism in our society.  Yesterday, Monique Judge, a columnist for The Root, posted a new piece about it; she’s been following the response to the event closely since it received backlash from parents in the district.  Most of the complaints were from white parents living in wealthier neighborhoods within the school district.

What were they saying?  In general, the event was “too militant, too political, and too confusing for their young children.”  Here are some of the direct quotes, taken from emails:

  • Why is skin color so important?
  • What about red and black or yellow and white and black? How does supporting Black Lives Matter help that gap?
  • My daughter said she ‘felt bad about being white.’ And that ‘police lie and do bad things.’

Judge further notes that “white parents in Seattle are a microcosm of supposedly liberal white people all over America …”

…which is why I’m writing this piece.

The white parents in Seattle aren’t much different from many of the white parents in my own suburban area.  I’m based just outside of Detroit, MI, and I’ve heard similar words from well-intentioned white folks here – people who may have sincere questions, but no one from which to get answers.  Because it’s not the job of people of color to educate us whites, I’m going to take a moment and try to answer these questions sincerely – no sass, just honesty – from one white person to another.

Today, we’ll start with: “Why is skin color so important?”

The answer is, it’s not… and it is.  Skin color is about as biologically inconsequential as eye color is among whites.  Yet socially, it holds so much power and meaning here in the U.S.  It’s considered a social construct – we as a society have given skin color power.  Why was the event about skin color?  Are they making it about skin color?  The event wasn’t actually about skin color.  It isn’t about race.  It’s about racism and racism is a disease that we are all afflicted by.

The vast majority of White Americans walk around rarely thinking about our race or skin color while many Black Americans will say it’s never far from their mind.  It’s always right in front of them, reminding them on a daily, sometimes hourly (sometimes by the minute) basis – every time they walk down the street and notice bystanders wearing fearful expressions or clutching their purse, every time they walk into a store only to get followed around like a thief, every time they look to buy a car and wonder if they are offered a fair price, shop for a home and wonder if they are being steered to the “black” section of town, apply for a loan and get a higher interest rate, apply for a promotion and wonder if the white guy got it because… and the list goes on.

Consider the following facts:

– By the age of 10, black boys are viewed as less innocent, more likely to be mistaken for older than their age, be perceived as guilty and face police violence if accused of a crime – American Psychological Association

–  African American students are suspended from school at rates three to four times higher that the state average (CA) – this comes from a 2017 report from the Brookings Institute

– For decades, police drug raids have targeted poor communities with predominantly black populations, even though study after study has shown that drug use rates are no different among whites than blacks.  Whites simply live in wealthier neighborhoods and have more power to avoid drug arrests.  Reports from the Sentencing Project in Washington and the Human Rights Watch both show an overwhelming focus of law enforcement on drug use in low-income urban areas, with arrests and incarceration as the main weapon

– According to a recent New York Times article, “if a white man and a black man commit the same crime, the black man is far more likely to be arrested and convicted.  African Americans make up 12 percent of drug users but 32 percent of those arrested for drug possession.

– There are now more black men who have been in a U.S. prison or involved with the criminal justice system than were enslaved in 1850 – from Michelle Alexander’s well-researched book, The New Jim Crow.

And did you know?  Once you have a criminal record, it’s much more difficult to get a decent-paying job and you may no longer be able to vote in elections.

And I haven’t touched on police stops yet, about the fear that strikes the heart when you see those blue and white flashing lights in your rear-view mirror.  My heart used to skip a beat when I was younger, but now I’m twice the age of most officers and know I’m a “wholesome” looking adult white female (I’ve literally been told that).  I actually joked around with the last officer who gave me a warning for having expired plates, instead of a ticket that would result in points on my record.

I have never in my life, even for a moment, thought that when I reach into that glove compartment to get my proof of insurance and registration, that the officer will assume I’ve got a gun in there and will shoot me. 

That has never crossed my mind.  And yet it has likely crossed the mind of every African American today.

Yes, skin color is important.  It shouldn’t be, but it is.  Racism drives it to be important. The Black Lives Matter movement is not making this about skin color.  Our country has made it about skin color – for centuries.  Our country has valued black lives less than white lives.  You need only to look at incarceration rates, poverty rates, high school and college graduation rates, even average lifespans, to know I speak the truth.  When you hear the name of the movement as Black Lives Matter – listen for the implied “too” at the end.  Black Lives Matter, too.  Because in today’s society – nearly every turn of events shows the Black American that his or her life doesn’t matter as much as my white life.

And trust me when I say this conversation belongs in our public schools – it’s not just for adults.  The kids – they know.  They see, they watch, and they pick-up on our cues, on the cues of those around them.  Not talking about it won’t make it go away.  It’ll only teach them not to talk about it.

Hoping this reaches you – from one white person to another.

 


Kat LaTosch is a diversity and inclusion consultant based in Michigan.  For more information on this and other blogs, visit her website at www.LaToschConsulting.com.