The Talk


I was really trying to avoid commenting about the Zimmerman trial, but it’s just not going to happen. My Facebook feed is schizophrenic again, because I have a very diverse group of friends, and the comments are all over the place.  The “Nugent says this vindicates citizen patrols” just put me over the edge. And, the saint-like portrayals of this young man are almost as bad. So here goes.

None of us know what happened between Mr. Zimmerman and Mr. Martin. For my own sanity, I have to put faith in our justice system. As flawed as it may be, it’s one of the best in the world. The verdict is what it is, and I was proud of President Obama when he said as much.

Having said that, a young man is dead, and another young man’s life is ruined. The whole situation is tragic. I’m thinking there might have been a bit too much “fight or flight” going on, which I know from my own life often has dire consequences. Here’s another thing I know from my own life – whether there was racial profiling involved in this situation or not, it happens. It happens in 2013. Please stop acting like it doesn’t.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to explain to my beautiful 8-year-old son that he will likely be treated differently during his lifetime, because of the color of his skin. The way I’ve raised him, he has no clue that he’s any different from me, and I will have to break his heart with the news that he is. At some point, he will be treated like a suspect, he will be guilty of “driving while black,” he will be confronted about something he hasn’t done, and it will be because he’s black. I hope that’s as bad as it gets. I will never, ever again buy him a hoodie.

I listened to a great NPR story this morning on “the talk” that black families have to have with their kids, to help them understand what I’ve described above. There’s not much I’m scared of in this world, but being a white mother and having that talk with my black kids scares the hell out of me. I barely know what I’m talking about, and I’m a member of the oppressive class for God’s sake.

When my 14-year-old gets followed around at the mall, but her white friends don’t, how do I explain that? When the school administrator dismisses my daughter’s concerns, but listens to the white bully, how do I explain that? And, when my 8-year-old looks over my shoulder at Facebook and grins and says, “Is that me on Facebook?” How do I say, “no that’s a dead black boy who looks a lot like you?”

And, finally, how do I sleep at night, when I know that just like a lot of you reading this, when a young black man pulls up next to me, with his music playing a little too loud, without conscious thought I stiffen and move to lock my doors. I racially profile, and I am the mother of three beautiful, black children. I was not raised that way, I don’t think that way, yet my fight or flight kicks in because of stereotypes that have been burned on my brain. I am more ashamed than I can say.

I’m convinced that if racial healing is going to happen, it will be because white people confront their assumptions and beliefs – really confront them – and proactively and deliberately begin the healing process. Tomorrow I’m attending a vigil for racial healing that our local YWCA is hosting. I’m also part of a Witnessing Whiteness class hosted by our local YWCA that is based on the book by Shelly Tochluk.  I challenge you to challenge yourself and your ideas about race by reading the book. If you have other suggestions for racial healing, please offer them in the comments for others. But whatever you do, please stop telling yourself you’re not a racist. Stop telling yourself you’re a progressive, educated person, because odds are you’re not as progressive as you think.


5 responses to “The Talk”

  1. Caroline Northenor Avatar
    Caroline Northenor

    I agree with your post.
    I myself am white & I was raised by parents on either side of racism. My moms best friend was black & had 3 kids that both my sister & I spent tons of time with. We knew all the “black slang” and were usually the only “white folk” at all the cookouts & gatherings.
    My dad, was a racist….I have many memories of him using the N word, especially while driving.
    Something that caused me much confusion was how racist all of our black friends were. Way more so than what I witnessed from my dad. I heard the term “cracka” and probably used it myself. I remember once being told that my family wasn’t like other white families, we were cool.
    My point is, it goes both ways.
    I’m the one that doesn’t laugh at black jokes, I voted for our president, and I try to treat everyone equally. But, i too have grown up in a racist world & I’m not going to lie about having to check myself on regular basis.
    I’m doing my best to raise my 12, 13, & 15 yr olds with out racism. My boys best friend is black, he just had a sleep over last week with himself and 7 white boys. Next week he’s having 5-6 black friends stay the night. He himself said he wanted to have a white party & a black party, my boys told me while giggling. I don’t get it?
    All three of my children have been told by black classmates that they are too white??
    I’m not sure how many generations will pass before racism is truly a thing of the past, if ever. I can only hope that situations like this will spark conversation and change, and slowly things will change for the better.

    1. I have a very slight understanding – – my maiden name was Pacheco (and there was a notorious Mexican gang – the Pachucos in California. Even though I lived in Wyoming, once people heard my last name – – looked at my black hair – – yup I was a spic. Of course I also had freckles from my Irish ancestors – – but the name Pacheco and the black hair trumped everything. I did push a kid down a flight of stairs for repeatedly calling me a _______ spic – – but the principal saw the whole thing so he just pulled me into his office and suggested I NOT push the next kid.

      There will all be prejudice in some form (your body size, your accent, your name, your religion) – – If your skin color is different – the prejudice can be immediate. But I’m sure those with Oriental shaped eyes would say it wasn’t so easy after World War II either.

      Tolerance and acceptance are two important words to build a cohesive unit (family, business, or country) – – they’re just sometimes not an integral part of some people’s vocabulary.

  2. I enjoyed reading this entry and can understand your concerns. You face some very difficult challenges. And like you, I wish the world were different. Since I was a little (white) boy I have had deep concerns about racial divisions and could never understand why blacks had been slaves, denied rights and endured so much hardship and misery. It all seemed quite unfair. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. And as I have grown older I have continued to be very sensitive to racism and injustice. Even though I am white, I feel as though I have a personal stake in the issue. Because I do. We all do.

    But I was also struck by the one-sidedness of your conclusion to this post. Taking it at face value, it would seem your view is that the onus for repairing the racial divide in our country rests exclusively with white people. Not only is that patently untrue (even given the relative hierarchical roles/positions whites historically played), but to find a workable and lasting comity among the races, one would think that all parties would need to play a role and have a seat at the table. That means self-reflection, confronting stereotypes and fears, and being willing to communicate about them in open and hopefully, frank, dialogue. I suppose you could argue that the “oppressor” bears more responsibility but the story of race in this country is not simply about A inflicting something on B. Perhaps at one point in our history, it was. But no longer. Today, the issue is about about A and B interacting with one another, recognizing the historical record. If it only falls to whites to fix the race problem, then I would submit that whatever fix that is will be empty and short-lived. I think the response to what appears to be a just albeit unsatisfying verdict clearly shows we all have work to do.

  3. We all have biases, whether we own up to them or not. If we have any delusions about how we have progressed beyond racism, a cold splash of reality is not far away. I recently was confronted with this one:
    Click through and choose the “Race IAT”. And after that dispiriting experience, try the “Featured Task” (in the upper right hand corner). The other IATs are revealing as well.

  4. Shelley: check the 7/17 WSJ for an article on this very topic. According to Twitter there is one.

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