Raising WMAs

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 in 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?

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 that Cort and I grew up in.  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.

The Jackpot in this world.

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.

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 fall 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 a Hispanic aunt.  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 than I am?  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 than 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 that 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”.

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About Katie

Just a small town girl...wait no. That is a Journey song. Katie Sluiter is a small town girl, but she is far from living in a lonely world. She is a middle school English teacher, writer, mother, and wife. Life has thrown her a fair share of challenges, but her belief is that writing through them makes her stronger.

Comments

  1. When I read this post, I immediately thought about a Designing Women episode…here’s a clip…I think Julia says it best…http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bVl4bmGcn3c.

    There is a huge responsibility that comes with being a WMA. I think you and Cort are great parents though, so your kids kind of have won the lottery in that aspect.

  2. Oh Katie this post is amazing. I couldn’t agree with you more and I’m in the same boat, I’m not sure how to teach them about equality without pointing out differences that they don’t even see. Gorgeous writing, I love this and need to visit you so much more.

  3. TheNextMartha says:

    I just hope to raise my sons with the understanding of other races and cultures without the judgement. I loved this.

  4. Kate, I wasn’t sure what i was going to find on the other end of the link, but I applaud your perspective and bravery. I am a minority and I get so flummoxed when male white men I know whine about “reverse racism” (which by the way, is the dumbest term ever. racism is racism). But as a minority, I don’t just think of it as white men hitting the jackpot. I feel like I hit the jackpot too. I may not have appreciated or understood why I was given the challenges I was given in my life when I went through them, but I am proud of where I am because of it. I kind of feel like everyone who was born into a situation where they had love, some stability, a decent amount of wealth and opportunity really has hit the jackpot. There are white young men right now who are living in dire economic situations. There are neglected white boys in our foster system and who are homeless too. We need to lift them up too. There are too many people in this world who who did not “hit the lottery” and I feel like they are forgotten. They can be white too, though. Not all poverty in this world is confined to non-whites.

    There are too many people in this world who need lifting. I think we all need to appreciate the parts of the lottery we have won, or which we have overcome and just help those who “need.” No matter what color their skin.
    xo,
    kiran

    • I agree with you, Kiran, so many people in this world hurting regardless of their race. My point was, though, that my boys are WHITE. They won’t get their car searched because they are a black man. They won’t be assumed a terrorist because they are Arabic. They don’t have those racist profiles working against them. I want them to understand their luck, but also understand and feel empathy for those who DO have to fight against stereotypes every day.

      I want to raise them to, as you put so well, “lift” all people no matter the color of their skin. To ignore stereotypes and fight against them. Even if they don’t apply to them.

  5. Both my girls are the in the minority at their schools (and believe me, I’m not just talking about the color of skin), and we’ve never had a serious “race” conversation.

    They bring up questions like why does “billy” has two dads, and why can “jenny” have awesome braids and barrettes in her hair (and they cannot). And questions like why we don’t have a pretty menorah at home but the girl she sits next to does. But that’s about the extent of it.

    Much of what you touched upon in this post is the primary reason I’ll never be moving back to a certain everyone-is-like-everyone-else town, because I don’t think I could go back to such a “middle” place of living. A huge reason chose to live urbanely is so we can live and have community with so many different types of people on a daily basis, which I think is good for kids.

    I mean, as cheesy as it sounds, if we want change, we need to BE the change, or at least raise the people who will BE the change.

    • I love this because yes, we do need to be the change. So for me, since we don’t live in a diverse, urban area, I have to bring the discussions to my sons. I need to have the open communication with them so they can learn and grow in social awareness.

  6. Cody Sluiter says:

    Kates,
    I’m going to have to disagree with you on this one. You brought up the real reason you hit the lottery, but brushed passed it and focused too much on race. The real reason you and your boys hit the lottery isn’t because you are white, it’s because you grew up/are growing up in a house with two parents you love you and worked hard to provide for you.

    I think this is where a lot of people are off base. I don’t care what color you are or how much money you have. If you are raised with parents who love you and look after you, you are much more likely to go further in life than someone who doesn’t, regardless of race.

    • Cody Sluiter says:

      Re-read my post and want to clarify my last point. You don’t have to have your parents, necessarily, but people in your life who are there for you. Whether they be caregivers, a single parent, or otherwise. The people around you, who are there for you make the biggest impact on who you become.

    • But Cody, the point of my post isn’t about where people go in life, it’s about what they will have to go against as far as society and stereotypes. I definitely agree that when you have family loving and supporting you, you will go farther than if you don’t. Minorities like President Obama is proof of that. But even he had race issues. No one is going to stop Eddie some day and search his car based on his skin color. No one is going to accuse Charlie of terrorism because he “looks” Islamic. My point was, that my boys won the racial lottery. It is a fact that in this world to be a White Male American is your ticket. You just have to cash it in.

      I realize that a LOT of circumstances go into making someone successful and I am not suggesting that race is the only thing, just that it’s a large thing that I don’t want them to take for granted. I want them to be racially aware and socially conscious adults someday.

      • Also I should say I have a WHOLE OTHER post about how you can overcome crap and defeat stereotypes no matter who you are. But I have to get some permissions before I tell that story. 🙂

  7. Every race has obstacles, has frustrations for being who they are. How you choose to overcome them and look past them that makes us feel like God intended us to feel, which is blessed, blessed with the gift of life.

    • I agree with you, Liz. My point was just that I hope to raise racially aware, socially conscious boys who know that while they are part of a race that has very VERY few obstacles built into it, other races are not so lucky.

  8. This is a tough topic for those of us who do live in a not-so-diverse area. It’s not something that I had brought up to the kids, but I try to integrate literature that shows a diverse group of people. Very recently, my two oldest have commented that they aren’t as comfortable around kids with darker skin. That really bothered my husband and I and so we did have a great talk with them about the beautiful ways that God creates each and every one of us. I hope it helped.

    • I agree, Amanda. Our boys will probably be going to the school district we grew up in, which is more diverse than it was when we were there, but it’s by FAR not as diverse as where I teach. In my opinion it’s the one check in the “con” side of the argument that sticks out to me the most when we were deciding what to do for schooling. However, with our family being so diverse and where I teach being so diverse, we feel confident in their exposure to differences. But it’s hard! I also try to bring in books with diverse characters and, like I said, Eddie’s doll is black. It’s a conscious effort though. I would love to show my boys the WORLD of beauty and differences that God creates. People, places, animals, plants…all of it. 🙂

  9. Mamaintheburbs says:

    Very well written and an interesting topic. I grew up in a part of Long Island that was very diverse. There were many times in high school the white boys got into fights with the black kids and when it came down to punishment, I swear the black kids landed in more trouble. I think part of what Cort said was true. The boys all had different parents and its how you’re brought up by your parents that matter. Granted stereotypes will never ever go away in today’s society. But I guarantee those boys got different punishments bc their home life. Some parents were very involved in their child’s upbringing and others not so much. The ones with the lack of interest tend to get in more trouble, tend to have their car searched and tend to be labeled. This is a tricky conversation. One that eventually always gets brought up with your children. More if you live in a diverse area.

    • I agree that home life is another area that affects who we become. I will say, I have a whole other post about not becoming what you were brought up in, but sadly race, socioeconomic status, family life, etc tend to be intertwined to create stereotypes…or to revoke them. It’s definitely a messy subject that can’t be boiled down to an easy answer.

    • Oh, and I should say that was Cody (my BIL), not Cort who commented 🙂

  10. Kate, I think about this all the time. I have had several conversations with my husband about the injustices of the world and how I feel … guilty, somehow… that Ryan has everything he could ever possibly need just by the sheer luck of being born into a stable, middle class family. He has the luxury of being pissed when I make him drink from the Mickey cup instead of the dinosaur cup… cuz he always knows he’ll have milk, so that’s the worst thing he has to worry about.

    Part of me is, naturally, so thankful that he has all of these things. The other part of me aches for little kids who are JUST like him, yet have so much less provided for them or so many barriers they will have to climb in their lives.

    I don’t know what the answer is and how we guide them to appreciate what they have and to want to help those who have less. The best I can come up with is to model the behavior of appreciation and compassion at every possible turn. We are their best role models. It strikes me that you remember how angry your parents got over your grandfather’s language. It was your first exposure to that kind of language, but also your first exposure to those you love and look up to being outraged by that language.

    Anyway, great post about a topic I think a lot of parents think about.

    • Meg I agree…we need to lead by example. But I do think we also need to talk about it. My hope is that it will be a natural thing to have dinner conversations about everything from movies to what they did at school to heavier subjects like race and politics. Communication goes hand in hand with the modeling of the behavior, ya know?

      • Agreed. I think we’ll find that there are a lot of opportunities to talk about these subject in an age-appropriate way throughout the natural course of our days/weeks/months/years. They will be exposed to issues of race and poverty everywhere, from TV to the playground to school to friends, and each instance will be an opportunity to have those discussions.

  11. I am coming at this from a different perspective. I myself am white and grew up in a literally all-white rural town. Now that I am raising a bi-racial son, I have done a lot of research on this topic. We now live in a diverse area and he obviously has diversity in his family, however I wanted to make sure I approached the topic in a sensitive way and having very little experience in my own childhood I started reading. Most everything I read says to not just teach by example of “color blindness”. If you do not actively teach and speak about race, children will eventually come across situations of racisms and will be unprepared for the situation. And it’s possible that these experiences will help form beliefes and opinions In their impressionable minds, especially if you have not spoken to them about it before. I am probably not explaining it very well, so here is a good article
    http://m.psychologytoday.com/blog/are-we-born-racist/201104/should-we-talk-young-children-about-race

    • YES! this is what I am afraid will happen. If I don’t bring the conversations to them, they will happen anyway…and not by my own guidance. Just like sex ed stuff. If I don’t make it clear that we talk about all the things, then they will experience all the things without their parents voice on the topic…or at least our opinion, you know? I am not sure just “leading by example” is enough in this case. I feel like maybe we need to be the conversation starters…because once they come to us with questions, they will have already started forming an opinion in their mind. Great points, Samantha!

    • Great perspective. I had never really thought of it that way, to be honest. I wonder how my parents broached these topics with me… I’m going to have to ask them. I never remember really having those sort of discussions, but I think we must have. This post and the comments really have me thinking.

  12. @embarrassminds says:

    I think it is a responsibility – especially when it’s boys.

  13. As a middle-class white family raising four white kids (girls outnumber the boys here, which makes for a “girls rule” sort of environment) — I’ve struggled with the same thoughts.

    I was very proud of my 10-year-old trying to point out a person that a very cute puppy in his arms. Instead of narrowing it down by his race (he was the only Black person in the small crowd), she identified him by his green shirt.

    I’m hoping my kids stay as color-blind as possible. But by not making it a point of discussion, am I making the issue seem unimportant?

    • Eddie will do that too! He will point out people by the color of their clothes…not their skin. Sigh. Why can’t we do this forever? What changes?

  14. We use both books and activities. Having diversity in our household my 3 year old has already asked questions like “why is daddy brown?” Or “am I like you or daddy”. We like the book “the colors of us”, but there are a few more I can’t think of. We have also done a painting activity about skin color where we talk about different shades and melitonin and mix different shades of brown and beige to match our skin tones. In our case this was good since he ends up being a conbination of mommy and daddy, but even two “white” people will have different skint tones. Whatever you do, at least you are aware and being proactive! 🙂

    • My in-laws have “The Color of Us” because they are an interracial family: the parents are white, but they adopted Ethiopian twins. Also, my brother’s wife comes from an Italian heritage and her skin and hair and eyes are darker than my Mexican sister-in-law and my oldest nephew used to call her “brown Ashley” when he was younger (He knew a very pale, blond Ashley as well). So we have talked about why people have different shades in their skin. Thanks for this discussion…it has been very helpful to me 🙂

  15. I remember working with preschool aged children. It’s amazing how, not only don’t they care about skin color, it seems they don’t even notice it.

    • I agree. Renae’s (eddie’s daycare mom) son’s best friend is their neighbor. He is black and adopted from Ethiopia. It’s like Eddie doesn’t even notice he is black, but he did tell me. “TJ is from Af-ca yike Kingson and Ky-ee”. He’s just another kid to Eddie.

  16. Don’t worry, they could still be gay!

    In all seriousness, though, I think you make a good point about the responsibility of raising the next generation of WMAs so that we might move closer to a day when that means nothing at all.

    • Ha! This is funny because after I posted it, I thought. Man, I should have added “if they are straight”. But that is a WHOLE other post 🙂

  17. I enjoyed reading this and agree with you.

  18. *melanin. Lol. 🙂 although right now I need some melatonin.

  19. When I was talking to my husband about going to BlogHer this summer, he said, if you go, we go as a family. But there might be problems, and he said it jokingly, but not really.

    You see, my husband is Libyan. He looks slightly Arab. He has a Muslim name (because he is). He has an Australian passport. Which thing do you think will get him stopped at customs when we land in the US? And we say it half-jokingly because we expect these things to happen to him. To people who look like him. Never mind that he’s an Australian citizen, has no criminal record, and will be travelling with his (Chinese) wife and two children.

    It makes me sad and a little angry, that this is an assumption that will probably come true. I wonder how I would explain it to my boys. Why their Papa would be the one folks would pick out of a line, why he would be more likely than not to be viewed suspiciously.

    I do think racism (and any other prejudices) ARE taught. Children learn from their parents, and the people around them. I wouldn’t want to shield my children from it, because I’d rather they learn what racism is, how to deal with it, and how NOT to be one, from us.

    Thought provoking post, Kate. I have a post brewing in my head about raising bi-racial children in a multicultural and multi-religious society. Should be interesting. 🙂

    • See, that is what I mean…I am sure it’s the whole world, but I always feel like America is just more racist and profile-y than other countries. We are so terrified of “different”. But I guess if you look at history, it goes back to our European roots when they were afraid of the Asian, African, etc “moving in” to their territory. Of course “different” was also a religion thing…and still is here. But that is a WHOLE other post I have brewing in my brain.

      I am excited to read your post. I love the dialogue and perspectives on these topics. And I am so proud that things have stayed civil and really quite enlightening over here on this topic!

  20. reading Alison’s comment, I thought ..THIS IS WHY we should all read and write pieces like this, to stand up against the stigmas.

    you know what I think is even more ironic, is that when the boys were born, the NICU nurse told me that they’d be fine, but be prepared to have them here a few days longer than you expect. White boys do the most poorly here in the NICU. I joked and said “Why because they expect their mothers to do everything for them?” she didn’t even laugh..she just looked at me, like “YEP!”.

    it was the first time I realized that my sons would always think themselves “Priveleged” and I think I have thought of it every day in one way or another since that January.

    thank you for writing this, I actually hope you get to read it at BLOGHER this year on stage, because it’s important.

    I shared on Twitter and FB, hope that is ok.

    • Kir this is an ENORMOUS compliment. When I wrote this, I noticed I had two posts and had to delete a lot of personal stuff and stick just with my boys. I have another post about my own whiteness and the responsibility I feel to society to use how God made me to do positive things. I am sure that post will come out when it’s ready. I also have one about being defined…or not…by where you come from. How it’s not something you should be victimized by, but neither is it a “guarantee” that you will have no troubles.

      I think it’s this whole turning 35 thing. It’s gotten me very introspective lately 🙂

      Thank you for your words and your thoughts. Both are very special to me.

  21. This post is amazing and so powerful. I love how you write about these things… it makes me think and want to be better as a parent.