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Here’s what I said to my white son about race in America

Dec 07, 2021


Certainly you’ve heard the shouting about Critical Race Theory (CRT) and the demands we ban it from our children’s classrooms. All of that commotion is overshadowing what’s really happening and distracting from the conversations we need to have with our kids. First, CRT is not taught to students in kindergarten through 12th grade. It’s a concept that’s part of a college-level curriculum. Second, when we talk about race with our children, rather than gloss over the facts, we should provide the truth and help them understand their responsibility to ensure the future.

Lately there have been a ton of stories in the news about white parents arguing against the inclusion of critical race theory in public school curriculums.

Senate Republicans introduced a bill condemning any attempts to require teachers to be trained in CRT, Trump obviously rails against CRT all the time — because he’s racist.

First, let’s be clear. Critical race theory is this very specific academic approach that views history through the lens of systemic racism.

It’s also not really being taught in public schools. It’s not like teachers are interrupting math class to say, Hey, how does systemic racism factor into this equation? 

What is happening is that educators are correctly increasingly looking at the omissions and factual inaccuracies that have been fed to kids for decades. 

I mean, when I was in school, sure. I learned about slavery, but it was pretty whitewashed – pun entirely intended. And I was also taught, you know, the civil rights movement basically fixed it right? No.

Our country has a horrifying history of racial inequality and many of our nation’s institutions still work implicitly or explicitly to preserve the dominance of white people, especially white men. This is important stuff to know. Educators are also increasingly trying to introduce more works by people of color into the curriculum. Great, different perspectives. I love it.

One of the ideas that I hear being brought up by white parents who oppose teachers addressing the entrenchment of racist ideologies in our country’s history is that these teachings are making their children feel bad. They feel badly about themselves. They’re allegedly running home crying, “Mommy, if I’m a white man, does that make me a bad person?”

Um, first I would just like to acknowledge that it’s not like these same parents are concerned about their children’s black classmates learning from history and life every time they step out the door to feel badly about themselves. But I digress.  

You know, my son, who is a white man or white boy at this point, asked me a similar question when I tried to talk to him about our country’s history of oppressing people of color in favor of white male dominance. And he wanted to know because he will grow into a white man: Does that mean that he is bad? And you know, he’s young and it’s a good question. And so I tried to answer him honestly, and instead of rushing to the school board to demand that they strike any mention of racial inequality from the curriculum.

Here’s what I said to him.  I told my son that being born a white man does not make you bad, but it does make you responsible, not for our country’s history, but for its future. Because being born a white man is like starting a relay race in the second lap. You’re already way ahead. And it is important that you take responsibility for that simple fact of privilege, not so that you can feel badly about it, but so that you can recognize the world for how it really is. And you can work to lift up others who weren’t born a hundred yards ahead in the race.

So critical race theory is an academic approach. That’s interesting, and it’s important, but it’s also not really what’s being taught in public schools.  

What is increasingly and thankfully being taught is the importance of taking a good, hard, clear look at our country’s history of systemic racism and it’s present, and the importance of listening to the infinite variety of voices that are out there, willing and ready to tell the truth. And that, my friends, is a good, good thing.

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