My kids are insanely privileged. We’re not wealthy by any means. Hell, I may not even be middle-class anymore, since the divorce. (Although, the middle class is getting poorer by the minute, so I probably still qualify.) Nevertheless, my kids are insanely privileged. They have toys and games everywhere; they have a million cable channels; they even have internet access in the car thanks to my stupid smart phone. They go on vacation every year, belong to a nice pool in the summer, and get to do “extra” stuff like go to the movies on a pretty regular basis.
Generally speaking, they handle this in stride. I mean, sometimes they get a little greedy and sometimes I wish I’d never turned them onto any kind of electronic media. But, mostly they’re good kids who handle their privileges responsibly. And, if they don’t, I can just cut them off from all that until their behavior improves.
But there’s another way that my children are privileged over which I have no control. I haven’t talked to them about this privilege and I’m fairly certain they don’t recognize it yet, but the reality is that my kids are privileged because they’re white. And one of them is doubly privileged based on the fact that, not only is he white, he’s also male. Really, based on the fact that he’s an able-bodied, white male who has an apparent liklihood of heterosexuality, my son kind of has it made.
But, there’s a lot about this fact that sucks, isn’t there? I mean, through no achievement of his own, my son is playing with the deck stacked in his favor. And my daughter? Well, her deck’s not stacked quite as well as her brother’s, but she still has advantages over some of her friends. I guess they’re lucky, as am I, but it’s hard to be grateful for something that’s based specifically on an accident of birth and more generally, on our country’s shameful history of slavery.
So, how do I teach my kids that this privilege exists, but that it shouldn’t? That they should appreciate the fact that they will likely have it easier than others based solely on the color of their skin, but that this is, in fact, pretty horrible? How do I teach them that privilege needs to be replaced by equality? For EVERYONE?! So far, in my own life, I talk about stuff like this more than I do anything about it. And, I don’t even talk about it as much as I should. “Treat everyone equally and be nice to people” is fine as far as parental platitudes go, but it’s really not much of a lesson. If I start having deeper conversations with them now, I’ll be teaching them to treat people the way they already do and maybe it won’t be so hard for them to keep it up.
Kids are pretty awesome before we adults completely screw them up. My kids have friends of relatively diverse racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. They just like each other. Or, they don’t. But, either way, there’s an innocence to their discernment that disappears too quickly as they age. Today, someone they meet on the playground at 9:00 am is their “friend” at 9:01. It’s up to me to make sure that, as much as possible, they don’t lose that ability to look at any other person and recognize their shared humanity, rather than their individual differences.
For me, the story about the death (and possible murder) of Trayvon Martin is my latest reminder that I’m privileged. His mother believes that her son is dead because of the color of his skin. If that’s true, and it certainly looks like it may be, I honestly can’t empathize with her. I just don’t have to worry about that. And that’s great for me. And it sucks for all of us.
Update: I reread this in the wake of the events in Ferguson, MO. In the years since I wrote this post, I did- and do- make a point to talk to my children regularly about white privilege, about male privilege, and other forms of inequality. My heart is heavy that things appear to be the same, if not worse, since I first published this.