Gary Bailey, MSW, ACSW, is a Professor of Practice at Simmons College Graduate School of Social Work and at the Simmons School of Nursing and Health Sciences. He also has an appointment as an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Boston University School of Public Health. Prof. Bailey teaches the race relations curriculum at Simmons. Among the classes he has taught are the Dynamics of Racism and Oppression, and the Realities of Racism and Oppression in Todya’s World. In addition, Prof. Bailey is the current president of the International Federation of Social Workers and a past president of the National Association of Social Workers.
I think that talking about race, in a pro active and non reactionary way is treated in many ways the same as other topics that parents sometimes find it uncomfortable to talk about – sex or drugs (smoking or alcohol for example), texting and driving – or texting and walking even in some cases and it makes many parents uneasy. It is a privilege of Whiteness to not have to discuss race or what it means, and doesn’t mean to be White with a child. Many students who enter college will say that they never thought about race until they entered college and then they are like sponges wanting to be exposed- or they are unsure how to enter into the conversation because they come with so many preconceived, parentified ideas about the topic.
Some have been told who they can – and in some instances who they cannot and should not bring home or fall in love with.
Dr. Peggy MacIntosh in her article “Unpacking the White Knapsack of
Privilege” refers to this as an unearned privilege – something which
has occurred by accident of birth. What these parents do not realize is that the absence of dialog and discussion with our children about challenging and complex topics and issues are often viewed from the child or the young person’s perspective is more of a statement of a parent’s fear and inability to help them to navigate their own questions and find appropriate solutions.
” If we talk about condoms then they will have sex, so lets not discuss it ” or we may decide to make our homes Alcohol abstinence zones” because we believe that by not having alcohol around our children won’t drink; or we are a smoke free household and therefore they will not be exposed to smoking and wont in the future. From my perspective this more like magical thinking and does not prepare our children for the time when they will have to negotiate for themselves these terrains and have not had the support to develop healthy and appropriate negotiation and coping skills.
I can only assume that the topic of race is like that for many of these parents who were a part of the CNN survey. Many may have grown up believing that to notice race or any difference was a quote unquote “Bad thing” . That race should not matter and that we are all human beings- that “the content of our character should mean more than the color of our skin”- as Martin Luther King, Jr so eloquently stated. What often left out is what King said after that line –
“one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”
King was not saying that he wanted his children to not know that they were black or the others white rather that there should not be negative judgment assigned to his children solely due to their race.
It is a fact of life that is that race does matter and ignoring that difference exist is to ignore what makes us unique and special in the world . I would argue that it is the meaning that we assign to that difference that is at issue. Is someone viewed as not as good as someone else based solely on their race? Not as intelligent? Not as gifted or worthy of our caring, or of our trust and concern?
It may be that many of these parents just don’t know how they feel and therefore don’t know what to say about the topic of race. Do they believe that we live in a post race America yet race is everywhere it is is in our cultural DNA.
Where race is present it matters- and pretending that it doesn’t sends a very clear and loud message about how scary it is to talk about it.
Discussions about race are an unavoidable reality for children of color, not matter what their socio economic status. At some point they will be confronted by the fact that though they are seen one way at home and in their community- they are often looked at as the other or as a threat in others.
The tragedy of the Trayvon Martin case has surfaced for so many families of color the challenge of how to keep their children (especially their sons) safe yet at the same time not making them afraid of the world around them. It is important that we talk to our children about the myriad of possibilities that the world has to offer them – and a diverse world is one that they will inherit and it behooves White parents to find ways to have discussions with their children and with other parents that are informed by facts and contribute to positive discourse around this and so many other issues.
Spinner, Theresa wrote:
> Mr. Weston, are you comfortable giving Gary your phone number? He does a lot of interviews and prefers to do “phoners.” Thanks!