On this Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, and after my 1960s-era interaction over the holidays with dated, narrow-minded views, I’ve thought more about a few simple concepts I hope my toddler boys can internalize as young as possible (though they’re concepts some – or many – adults are incapable of understanding.)
So a few concepts to share with my two kids:
Boys: you are white. By the luck of your skin color, you’re set for success.
You will not know what it means to grow up “of color” in your country.
I need you to try to understand four things:
1. You will not be racially profiled over and over and over again. You will never know the frustration of being eyed suspiciously in a store, in a restaurant or on the street. “Stop and Frisk,” no matter how effectively it might have deterred crime, will only ever be an inconvenience for you, not harassment. These elements of harassment are very, very, very frustrating for Black people. But you will never know what it feels like. Count yourself lucky. So you must have empathy for those who are the targets. You don’t walk in their shoes. You can’t tell them how to react or how to feel.
2. When forming your opinions about people, you can’t judge an entire population due to the behavior of one. Comments like “they’re lazy, they’re dangerous, they’re disrespectful” will have no place in our household about any group of people. Plenty of people of all colors are lazy, dangerous, or disrespectful. But most people aren’t. You can’t even say “those people.” Would you want your entire preschool to be judged by the actions of one little jerk who steals the blue paint?
3. It’s not about skin color, because racial issues are scapegoats for socio-economic issues. What on earth do I mean by that? Poor people are often driven to do bad things to survive in our country. It’s not because they’re Black, or Asian, Latino or White. It’s because they want to have what you have: food, warmth, a few toys. It’s not because of their skin color. It’s because of money. But because of the actions of a few desperate people, an entire population is found guilty. And that’s wrong.
4. The system is stacked against poor people. Some kids don’t do well in school, but it’s not because of their skin color. It’s because of a whole host of reasons: they have underfunded schools, they didn’t eat breakfast, no one ever read to them like I read to you. Some teens drop out of school not because of their skin color. It’s because they don’t have the educational background or support at their house to strive for greater academic achievement. Some parents can’t give successful tools to their kids, but that’s unrelated to their skin color. They never had those tools in the first place, because they weren’t born into a lucky position with support and resources. It’s a repeating cycle throughout generations. But it’s about economics, not race.
Boys: you can strive to empathize, listen and study. But it’s not easy to judge the behavior of other people, because you don’t know what it’s like to walk in their shoes on a tired, hungry, harassed, beaten-down day.
So give credit, treat with respect, and listen to understand, not just to respond.
And try to see the world from others’ perspectives. You’ll understand a lot more about people and about yourself.