I’m white. Like whiter than white. But my children are Hispanic. Specifically, Mexican and Nicaraguan and indigenous/Native American. This puts me in a weird situation as far as discussing civil rights and racism, the same sort of situation as white parents who adopt children of color (and of course other parents of biracial children).
I support Black Lives Matter and similar groups trying to protect marginalized people in the US. As a child of the early 70s, I remember when race riots were still a topic of national discourse. Things seemed to quiet down in the 80s and 90s. That’s not to say that racism went away. It just got ignored again.
But then, oh lordy, we got ourselves a black President. People lost their minds. Obviously he had to be from Kenya because (apparently) that's the only place black people come from.
In my naïveté and privilege, I had sort of thought that Obama’s election signaled that racism in the US was on the wane. Boy was I wrong. The ugliness that poured out astounded me, and my view of what Americans are changed dramatically.
It’s hard to push back against the seething mass of hatred, fear, and anger that was unleashed following the 2008 election. My voice is small, and the volume of negativity has continued to get louder and more vicious.
I talked to my children, tried to educate them, and I became more mindful of my own privilege and how I could use it to help stem the tide. I know I will never understand or experience what African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics, and other marginalized groups have to deal with on a daily basis. The only way I could hope to relate is my struggles against the misogyny I’ve encountered in my life. But if I’m honest, which I should be, my socio-economic background has insulated me to a certain extent there, as well.
See, the thing with white privilege is that you grow up without having to fear for your life any time you leave the house. It has never occurred to me during a traffic stop that the police officer might shoot me if I said anything wrong. I’ve never walked to the store with the knowledge that some random vigilante could find me threatening and blow me away. When I’ve had to knock on a stranger’s door, it has never been with the fear that I would be seen as a threat and killed before I had a chance to speak. I’ve never had to fight to assert my right to live unmolested and safe. I’ve never had to prove that I matter.
I never expected to have to warn my children about the prejudice and aggression they will encounter because of their skin or their surname.
When Donald Trump rode down that ridiculous elevator and stood in front of the cameras, he chose to accuse Mexicans of rape and murder and insisted he would rid the country of these evil-doers. I’ll ignore for the moment that the vast majority of Mexican immigrants are hard workers, dedicated to their families and communities, and living lives that would make the average suburban white person weep.
The thing that sickened me most about that speech was that it signaled that racism was socially acceptable. Since that day, I have heard and seen more racism, bigotry, and intolerance than I think I had in my entire life up till that point. Because now we have this open culture of hate, and to our shame, a great percentage of our citizenry has jumped up on that wagon.
My oldest son told me once that he “feels white.” What he meant is that he has been sheltered and essentially accepted into the predominantly white environment due to our family’s financial advantages. He’s never been treated like a “lazy Mexican.” Even so, I had to warn him that there are many people out there who will remind him he’s brown, and that he might even miss out on job opportunities just because of the name at the top of his résumé. He didn’t believe me before the Trump speech. Now that he’s seen the aftermath, he realizes that it’s only too true. I hate that he had to have that revelation.
My youngest son asked me if Trump would deport his father. He is genuinely scared of this. He is proud of his heritage and cannot understand why people would hate his grandparents, his father, and him because of it.
As a white woman in the suburbs, I don’t know if I’m really qualified to talk about racism, but I think I need to anyway. I think we all need to. Because if it’s socially acceptable to let hatred and bigotry have a voice, then it should also be okay to speak out against it. So even though I’m steeped in white privilege, I’m not going to stay silent. My children will not stay silent. And I hope that at the very least, I can leave behind a legacy of descendants who will be unafraid to speak the truth.