My sons are two and three at the moment. Neither of them is aware of Ferguson or Baltimore or Charlotte and for now that’s fine. I’m in a position to never have to discuss race with my kids. Both they and I are white, middle-class males in America.
If we ever hope to end the constant cycle of tragedies—both the acute variety and the overarching sort which allows entire lives that potentially could have solved many of the world’s problems to perish in despair—white dads must begin to speak to our white kids, especially sons, about the truth of our lives. At present, it certainly feels like the world we inhabit will give us endless opportunities for discussing the unusual brutality, and the common inequality, that we choose to explain away rather than resolve.
Life is hard. Even for white guys with jobs. And my kids will surely be angry at times about how much they don’t have. This anger may blind them to what they do have. When I see this, I intend to address it directly and discuss with them the following realities as far as I see them.
Be aware that you have lived a life free of being assessed negatively on sight. This is a distinct and ever present advantage you have over your counterparts of other demographic distinctions. It is the result of constant systemic disadvantages which have nothing to do with them. But over time, to have the world look at you like this in every situation and at all times, it can be simultaneously crushing and formative. Greet anger with empathy whenever you can.
Be conscious of the fact that your successes are not solely yours. They are the result of a thousand factors which are mostly beyond your control and which benefit you in ways that may have cost someone of a different background access to the opportunities that you may think you accomplished free of bias. You are a white, male American and, as a bonus, you’re in all likelihood tall. All of these factors have helped you. A lot. And unfairly.
If the world changes for the better it may be uncomfortable for you. Don’t whine about that. You’re still likely to have systemic advantages. Just hopefully not as many.
Be intentional about inclusiveness. Some might suggest that a meritocracy is the only fair option. In my opinion, those people are invested in the status quo in which they and you are afforded distinct advantages not easily seen by you or them, but evident to the many people not as fortunate.
Our country’s original sin of slavery created a false economic reality based on dehumanizing people, crumbling their self-worth, and codifying their inequality. To this day you have housing laws, drug laws, educational funding laws, and even voting laws that SEEK to continue to segregate people from the opportunities that have been protected for us. We have a long way to go to truly level the playing field. Like I said before, if things are harder for you, they should be. You have a massive karmic debt to pay; one not of your making, but you are the rightful inheritor. And not just to black men, or men of other backgrounds, but also to ALL women. I’m paying a piece of it now, but mostly I’m still benefiting from a world that favors me. To wit…
The world tilts toward you. Be proud of what successes your life brings. Hard work is still hard work and what you have earned you should respect. Try to create opportunities that will empower. Distribute those opportunities to people that aren’t reflections of yourself. As you would find in any distribution, some people will disappoint and some will surprise, but either way it’s just right to try to repay some of the favor the world shows you.
Don’t be afraid of people who appear “different” from you. Try instead to be curious. You’re likely to find they are just like you in what they want from life. They want security and friendship and to laugh and to provide and to feel good about themselves. But sometimes life is so insistent that these values are not attainable—a problem you won’t have to deal with in any real way—that we can only see people’s defenses and armor and forget that they are whole beings needing of what it is we all need. In a way that you can’t understand, life reinforces for them that they are suspect, feared, and not to be trusted or loved. This can have tragic consequences. Much more often the outcome is remarkable and beautiful and truly inspiring evidence of the human spirit’s ability to endure and prosper, but all too often the world ignores these outcomes to fit a narrative that reinforces fear of differences no matter how small. Don’t buy it.
Be part of the solution. I don’t know what that means yet. I hope my life will be assessed in such a way that you will be proud of the person I am. I KNOW I’m still the beneficiary of discriminatory policy. But keep looking, keep trying, and never forget to be thankful for all that life has afforded you.
The debate in the media aside, for whatever tragedy of the moment we are dissecting when I get to these conversations, I hope I’m able to keep my head unburied, and hope they find themselves in a world changing in order to meet our highest ideals. I know I’ll discuss them forthrightly and encourage my sons not to be too self-pitying when life is hard or unfair. The truth is that, however unfair it is to me or them, and we will all face cruel misfortune from time to time, the odds make it likely that they will have it good.
This post was originally published on Developing Dad.