A couple of weeks ago, I published a blog piece prompted by a new report on the lynching of blacks from the time of Reconstruction to the World War II. The piece was also picked up and published as an op-ed by several regional newspapers in the South. While my thoughts on lynching, racial privilege, and accountability didn’t garner any comments on my blog (thought not much has – speak up people!), I got quite a number of personal emails in response to the op-ed’s that appeared in the newspaper.
When I first watched the videos of young, white fraternity brothers casually singing their song of racism and lynching, I was transported back to my own college days in the mid-80s. I can’t be absolutely sure I heard that song but it was painfully familiar in a sickening and repulsive sort of way. I sort of knew what was coming before they sang the next words, which makes me think it was buried in the deep recesses of my conscious.
My third grader is a white child in a Title I school in our town. She’s writing a report on Harriet Tubman for her Black History month project and has spent the week devouring information about Tubman and proudly sharing stories and facts about her life with our whole family. “Mom, did you know Harriet Tubman was a spy during the Civil War!” We have spent the week talking together about Tubman, slavery, and the history of racism in the South. As a white mother of two white daughters, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to educate my children about history and slavery and how each of these continue to shape the racism in our communities and in our lives.
It is imperative that I teach my children that their white skin is a privilege in a country where brown people are discriminated against in both conscious and unconscious ways. But, talking about privilege is hard, and not just for parents. For most people with privilege, talking about it makes us uncomfortable. Admitting that we have privilege seems unseemly at best, but worse than that, for many of us, it feels arrogant. The fact that people have difficulty even recognizing their own privilege is well documented and one of the reasons that privilege is so hard to address as a cultural phenomenon. For starters, how do I teach my children about social privilege without reinforcing social privilege? Well, its not easy, but it certainly won’t happen if we ignore it or pretend like we don’t have it.