That made it easy to believe all those platitudes. It made it easy to ignore the race-based jokes I heard growing up, dismissing them as playful banter. It made it easy to believe the simplified version of race relations I received in school: racism used to be really bad, but it's better now, and anyone who tries to bring up racism as a problem is trying to stir up trouble. I didn't spend any time spreading this viewpoint, but I didn't have any reason to question it, either.
That's why Tomas Moniz's post Beautiful on All Sides really resonated me. It's part of a series at The Good Men Project that examines race and racism from multiple perspectives. Moniz's contribution looks at a series of questions he's fielded from his multiracial children, questions like “Why is it that boys get into trouble in school more than girls, especially the black boys?” and “Why can’t everyone live in north Berkeley, if it’s this nice?”
The post is beautiful and nuanced, and I can't do justice to the whole here, so you should go read it.
Moniz explains that his "youngest daughter has entered the stage of seeing ethnicity for what it is—socially constructed symbols of meaning, ways of inclusion and exclusion; she now actively looks to associate things with ethnicity." And he sees her working in ways to align herself with whiteness, which he feels conflicted about:
And as an adult who has identified with my Chicano history and worked to understand my bicultural sense of self, passing has always been the bane of my existence. In this U.S. culture, race is fixed, static—you’re black or Mexican or Asian. And for white folks, U.S. culture (read: whiteness) refuses to see itself, and instead, white folks tend to buy into the belief in the universal, which of course is whiteness; that’s the privilege of being white in the U.S.—you don’t have to see it.
He ends by explaining that he "wanted to create an environment where ethnicity was so visible that it lost its meaning, and we became who we wanted to be, not limited by definitions but not a nebulous attempt at universality."
And that's why race is (or should be) an issue for every parent. It's forefront in my mind as someone who studies rhetoric and race and as the white mother of a child of color, but my own upbringing left me ill-equipped to deal with the reality of a multicultural world, and it's left me scrambling to catch up.
Understanding identity is a complicated maze of meaning that we all have to traverse in one form or another, and having conversations about the way identity is created and maintained is something we, as parents, should do.
That doesn't make it easy. I have a lot of fears about these conversations. I fear that I will say the wrong thing, as it is a complex topic that has left me shifting perspectives often. I fear that I lack the ethos to do it justice. I fear that I will expect too much analysis from my daughter, or not enough. But none of those fears outweigh the sense that this is my responsibility, and it is one I take seriously.