On White Boys in AntiRacist Struggle: Where and When They Enter

Last Saturday, I brought my white 10-year-old son and his best friend to the local game store to buy Magic cards, and while the boys were geeking out over Magic, I bought a jigsaw puzzle for my sister. It is called, “Nevertheless, She Persisted,” and has drawings of famous rabble-rousing, nonconformist women on it: Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, Malala, Gloria Steinem. After far too long in the dank game store, I took the boys to get ice cream, and, while they were slurping, they looked at the puzzle, figuring out who they had heard of, and who they hadn’t. There was some lovely exhanges, like,

Notice the dusty rose packaging?  

“SHANNON!! This boy does not know who FRIDA KAHLO is!”

“Well, you didn’t know who Ruth Bader Ginsberg is!”

I was delighted to see these two tween boys pouring over this puzzle that is clearly marketed to girls and women. They knew quite a few of the women, and read the little blurbs about the others, and continued to try to feminist-shame one another on people they didn’t know about.

Later on that evening, my boy was looking at the puzzle again, and said, “Mom, it’s funny how all these people are fighting for the rights of their own people. Like, they’re all in the group that they’re fighting for.” And he was, in one way, right: all of the women were fighting for either women’s rights, in general, or for the rights of a group to which they belonged: civil rights for their racial group, or a better life for their own countryfolk.

This is where I am struggling, this right here. I know that these women were and are fighting for more than themselves; they were and are working towards an expanded view of what it is to be human, and for an expanded view of the beloved community, and for a world that is more just and sustainable for all of humanity. But, to my ten-year old white boy, and, I would guess, to many others, it may read as, “It is only the job of the oppressed to fight their oppression.”  Those granted privilege, in the many intersecting ways that privilege presents itself, do not, it seems, hold that responsibility in the common narrative of freedom fighters and struggles.

My son has done reports on Nelson Mandela, on Desmond Tutu, and on Claudette Colvin. He’s been to two Women’s marches, and to Black Lives Matters marches. My white boys have see and read about many models of political resistance to oppression; what they don’t have not seen much of, though, are narratives of white boys men who dedicate themselves to expanding the beloved community, to fighting *with* others, for our common freedom, rather than *for* others, lending their privilege in exchange for a savior complex, a killer college application essay, or an “invitation to the barbeque.”

I am wanting a rich, complex narrative — that I can offer to my two white boys — about how racism (and sexism/homophobia but that is a different post, for now) diminishes us all, sickens us all, poisons us all. I want them to understand, deeply, that “white privilege” is real, and will allow them countless more opportunities and the ability to move in spaces much more safely than their classmates of color, but that this privilege, while intoxicating, is also toxic.

They need to know, in the words of Paula Giddings, “when and where they enter” into antiracist struggles. They need to know and believe that their own freedom  — both spiritual and political — truly relies upon our collective liberation.

Raising children is hard. And between trips to get Magic cards and ice cream, and school pick-ups and drop-offs, and signing off on homework you think is kinda stupid, and haraguing the oldest to wear his retainer and the youngest to change his underwear more than once a week, we have to — we have to — engage in this imperfect, vexing work of raising antiracist white kids. We will make mistakes and question ourselves, but it will be worth it. Let’s create the narrative we so desperately need.



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