Soon after I woke up this morning I read about the shooting of Philando Castille, and then I read updates about the shooting of Alton Sterling. Because I teach and do research about multicultural psychology, these stories of lost innocent lives and the complexity of race relations and discrimination in our country are not entirely surprising. But this morning I found myself contemplating the events in the context of being a mother.
I walked around the kitchen, preparing cereal bowls and lunches. Preparing my children for the day ahead, preparing clothes and combing hair. Our roles as mothers always involve preparation. The one area that I never have to prepare my kids for, though, is how to exist in this world as a visible ethnic minority.
To give you a little background, my mother is Latina and my father is White. I identify as being of mixed ethnicity and have spent a good deal of time exploring my privilege associated with that identity and the way I look. While my children have South American family members and they feel connected to their Latino ancestry, they look 100% White and are always identified as White.
So today I've been struck by the privileges of being a mother of children who look White. These are unearned privileges, because I didn’t do anything to get them. Yes, I am a hard-working mother. Yes, parenting is not easy and we have challenges as a family. And yes, there are obstacles in life for my daughters because they are girls. This is all true, but I still have unearned advantages that others do not have.
As I try to wrap my head around this idea I think back to one of the most powerful essays about White Privilege by Peggy McIntosh, in which she describes a list of advantages she has because she is White. She notes everything from being able to shop in a store without being followed, to finding a band-aid that matches her skin tone. I realize that my own set of privileges related to parenting are similar, but also unique in some ways. Because parenting and the protection and positive development of my children is so fundamental to my life, all of these privileges have profound benefits.
Below are just a few of the daily advantages I have as a mother of children who look White:
*I have confidence that teachers and professionals are interacting with my children without bias.
*If my children get in trouble in public, I know they will not be seen as bad examples of their race.
*I can find toys and books that have characters who look like my children.
*If a concern emerges at school or daycare about my child, I can feel confident that the teacher has not magnified the issue because of my child’s race.
*I can be confident that my children will learn about role models, public figures, and accomplished professionals in the world who look like them.
*I can let my children wear whatever they want, even clothing that is trendy.
*I can feel confident that if my child is not invited to another child’s birthday party it is not because of their race.
*I can be sure that the world will have high expectations for my children.
*I can write a blog entry like this without people accusing me of trying to “play the race card.”
There are so many other privileges I have, but this one is perhaps the most poignant to me today:
*I can hear news about shootings of innocent teens like Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice without feeling like I could lose my children one day in the same way.
This post is dedicated to the mothers.