I was working with a group of parents whose teenagers attend schools that are working on creating more ethnic and racial diversity. The parents of color were sharing stories about the work that needed to be done by White parents, particularly those parenting White children.
One Black mother’s story:
My son was asked by a good friend of his who is White to take the subway to a certain stop and meet him there and open the entrance door for him, because he did not have a metro card. Her son, thinking he was doing his friend a favor, agreed and did it. (So right now if you are thinking ‘well that was wrong’, you are about to miss the point and make my point about racial differences in this country.)
Immediately, they were surrounded by 3 undercover police officers. The Black teenager had already been told by his parents to never hop the train no matter what he saw others doing. First of all, it is illegal and second of all they knew that undercover officers were always around and they made it really clear that he could not do what his White friends did. He had shared with them that it was something that a few of his friends did frequently. So, when the officers surrounded them, their son immediately stopped and apologized and said he did not think it was as bad as hopping the train and that he was helping his friend.
His White friend chose to run from the police and then struggle with them when they caught up to him. Her son was watching this while talking with the undercover officer who stayed with him. The officer told him that his friend was an a**hole and then proceeded to talk with him about why he should never do this again. His friend was arrested and did not want his parents called (who by the way are financially well off enough to supply their son with a lifetime metro card), but her son felt they must be called and he called them to come bail their son out. He also called his parents immediately to share the story and to apologize and say that he would be paying the $100.00 ticket he received for his actions. (Like they didn’t already know that!) This mother ended her story with “I need White parents to do their work.”
Parent after parent shared everything from being told by White parents when their children were entering middle school that their White children were too young for conversations about race while knowing that Black parents and many White parents of mixed race children were having these discussions with their children long before middle school.
Other parents shared their fears of their Black child riding in cars or being out in public with their White friends and being stopped by the wrong police officer and their White friends acting from privilege making the interaction worse. You can read my own letter to the parents of my son’s white friends in my Psychology Today article written when White allies were hooked on wearing safety pins.
The fear and frustration level in the room was high among the parents of color and the fear and hesitation among the white parents was evident. Waiting until the “right time” to have these talks, have workshops or do anything that involved ruining the happy, free from worry about racial issues lives they had created for their White children was the universal sentiment. But I am here to say Why We Can’t Wait.
Dr. King wrote his own book entitled the same. While I am not as eloquent as he is, I dare say I’m just as frustrated, concerned and adamant. We can’t wait because:
As more white parents look for diverse neighborhoods and schools, your children are developing friendships with our children and our children are already aware of the vast and dangerous differences that have been created in this society, because of how white people have historically viewed and treated race.
Each day our children go out in to that society perfectly aware of who they are and trusting their friendships not understanding that far too many white children have no clue that the way they get to navigate in this society allows them to be children, teenagers and adults who “just make mistakes” rather than being viewed as criminals and this is dangerous for our children.
White children whose hearts are in the right place, but have not had a real conversation about race and institutionalized racism in America will exert their “right to speak up” for their friends (our children) in a way that is fine for them, but can lead to escalation of the situation and harm for our children. Because Parents of color carry a heavy weight that has us living in almost perpetual fear and is creating DIS-EASE in overwhelming and monumental numbers.
It is 2019 and ENOUGH of this already!! Everybody needs the veils lifted and they need to get on board.
Some of you may be wondering how do we as White people get on board? How do Parents of color offer up ways for their White friends to get started on this journey and I will offer some concrete ways to begin this work next week so please stay tuned. But right now, please give this some deep thought and get ready.
I am also starting a group for White people who would like real leadership, guidance, knowledge and calling you in to look at your stuff, but also helping you get out there to have these conversations at home, in the workplace, at school, in your communities, on social media or with those family members who just don’t get it.
I would love to invite you or if you know someone who needs to be a part of it to check it out here.
It’s time folks. Leading in Love I say “We Can’t Wait so stop asking us to.”
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