BY RACHAEL QUINN EGAN
Dear fellow white liberal, parent: You’re not a racist, but are you parenting nice kids with racist white conditioning?
Please let me explain.
I am a white Irish woman who grew up all over the world in places such as Egypt, Malaysia, and Ireland. Even though I saw the world, and always tried to be nice to everyone, I was afflicted by racist white conditioning. Adopting children of color kickstarted my recovery from that. Part of that recovery is this letter to you.
For many parents, there were two themes that dominated the summer of 2014 — our kids dancing around, singing the wonderful songs of the animated movie Frozen, and the unnecessary killing in Ferguson, Missouri, of Michael Brown, a young black man. What if I suggested to you that there was a connection between Frozen and Brown’s killing?
Entertainment like Frozen is conditioning you and me and our children to expect a white-washed world where people of color are “the other.” I know it’s hard to fight Hollywood, but did you talk to your children about how that movie did not fairly represent people of color? When I think about the police officer who killed Michael Brown, I wonder how his parents raised him? To be fair, he was simply the guy who pulled the trigger; we all killed Michael Brown.
At its root, Brown was killed because being black in America is being ‘the other’. In Frozen, and too many of the movies that our kids and ourselves are influenced by, black people are not even the other; they are often not even represented. Now, many white folks might wrack their brains, thinking I am wrong, and might try to remember the black faces they saw in Frozen. Trust me, apart from a few guests at the ball who never appeared again, they are not there, certainly not in any valid way.
When I complain to my white friends about Frozen, and about movies such as How to Train Your Dragon 2, where all the characters were white (except for the bad guy) my white friends defend the movies with cries of “historical accuracy”. This is simply not accurate. These movies are fictional fantasy; we all know dragons are not real, and snowmen don’t talk. A person of color with a speaking part, should not be such a stretch.
Frozen is not even historically accurate in representing the population of Denmark (where the story was based) as white. There were people of color in Denmark at the time this story draws its origins from. You will find this excellently proven with documented fine art at medievalpoc.tumblr.com.
We are all conditioned from birth in matters of such things as equality, beauty, design, comfort, and tradition. We are all affected by what we see around us. Whether we like it or not, our world conditions us all from a point of white dominance. To actively exclude people of color from children’s entertainment, is especially racist and destructive to our society.
I grew up with Enid Blyton books full of fabulous white children and black golliwogs.
Television shows were mostly white and male dominated, Santa Claus and all his elves were certainly white. Even God was a white man. While my brain was developing, all of my environmental stimuli, were conditioning me to accept a white, male-dominated world in which most depictions of people of color, were intensely negative.
Beauty in commercials and magazines was catered to men with a passion for skinny white women, the art world was dominated by crazy white men, and the world was run by rich white men and at least one brutal white women. Some of my musical influences were black, but then Elvis died, and Michael Jackson changed his face. I realize things have changed a little, but not nearly enough.
I was raised to be a nurturing and giving child. I was taught to have pity for the plight of the poor people of Africa. I picked rose hips by the millions, collected pennies in a box for Black babies, and donated my dolls and my golliwog (inherited from my grandmother) to charity.
Very subtly and powerfully, my young brain had imprinted beauty, power, wealth, charity, and goodness with being white. Criminals, famine victims, the desperately poor, and the receivers of charity, as black and brown and other than me. Of course there were exceptions, but this was my general environment.
Being a nice white liberal woman, I rejected white liberal racism and inequality. In the 1990s I moved to New York City, and I began working to help underprivileged youth, who were mainly people of color. I dated people I was attracted to, regardless of their race, and I socialized with a very diverse group. I was never a racist, but I had racist white conditioning that I could not even see.
Mortified and disgusted by racism and inequality, many nice white liberal people are still complacent. Our white movies, commercials, TV shows, news reports, and all the other racist white conditioning keeps on coming, and we keep on buying it, as if it’s not killing people of color.
Adopting my dark skinned daughter, whom I had waited for a decade to meet, forced me to shine a light inside my white-conditioned brain. It was like a cluttered basement, full of toxic rubbish, that you don’t remember having put there.
Now I’m in the trenches with other mothers of children of color, trying to protect my kids from racist white conditioning. I am asking that you help us. Please, look around your home and at your life right now. Are you allowing racist white conditioning to creep in to your children’s minds, or are you working hard to beat racism?
If most of the toys, dolls, and books, in your playroom fail to represent a diverse world, please work harder.
If you have a children’s birthday party in your house and all of your little guests are white, please work harder.
If almost all the music that you listen to in your house is white (even if you have a Jay-Z or Beyonce album) please work harder.
If you really really want to join that Golf Club, and feel that it’s OK because there is one rich black family there, please work harder.
If you chose to send your children to a school which only has one rich black family, one Hispanic child with a scholarship, and three Asian kids, please work harder.
If you think that none of the above matters because you give to charity and you have a couple of friends from another race, please work a lot harder.
My list could go on, but finally, if most of the movies and TV shows that you and your children are watching do not represent people of color fairly, please talk to your children about race and about how it is represented in their entertainment. Find the shows with a fair representation of people of color.
Certainly do watch Frozen. It is a wonderful movie, but do also talk about how it failed us all.
If you don’t work on conditioning your kid’s brains, the world will simply continue to perpetuate the mindset of racist white conditioning, which creates the type of societal structures that allows police officers to kill young black men with impunity.
At the very least it kills the hopes and dreams of children like mine, to reach their full potential.
Rachael Quinn Egan is a writer and an adoption advocate. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, three kids, two dogs, and nine chickens.
“An Open Letter to my Fellow White, Liberal Parents” appeared originally at The Good Men Project, and was reprinted with permission.
Read more awesome The Good Men Project stories here.
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.
- Web |
- More Posts
As a white mom with two black children this is so important to me. This work of decolonizing myself so I don’t support their colonization is never ending. Something I think generations of non-white families in the U.S. can attest to better than I. The circumstances of how we became a family are complicated and add to the difficulties we as a conspicuous family often have. It would give me life to hear more about the practical side of “trying harder.” More about that difficult line of ‘loving blackness’ without appropriating and creating a caricature of it. I have similar struggles with gender. The images they get of what it means to be a man or woman as well as poc are just as terrible. My son and daughter weren’t raised on Disney because because it fails on the issues of gender, race, romance, and class and what it means to claim personal identity and experience genuine love.
A primary learning we’ve had as a multiracial family is that love is not enough. Telling me to work harder and pointing out that my children cannot be be the sole source of diversity in our lives without harming them seems the tip of the iceberg. I read this blog because I believe the bloggers voice constantly invites me to go deeper still and work harder.
I feel like I never do enough even though I would never put my children in any of the situations you gave as examples.
Awesome and perceptive. My beautiful, bright, sweet brown daughter goes to a predominantly white school where the “liberal” parents vote for Obama, treat us politely, and keep us at arm’s length. We are friendly people, and we did not experience this at her last, more diverse school, so before you racism deniers say anything: no, it’s not us.
Everytime I see a trailer for another Pixar or Disney film with a white family or white heroes and maybe one black or Asian or otherwise non-white friend will be a tiny part side kick, it kills me. I was just at Alexander and the Horrible, etc etc very Bad Day. This film could have been about a black family. easy. No problem. But it wasn’t. There was trailer for some Pixar movie about a girls’ feelings, a white blonde girl. Why? WHY? I refused to see Frozen because it was another white, blonde, skinny princess, and though eventually my kids saw it at their Grandma’s house and I couldn’t stop it, I shouted loud and clear that I was mad they made a movie about white people, and I don’t want to see that anymore. At least they know that it is not OK with their mother.
This is so important. Thank you for articulating what I, as a Black mom, have been feeling for years. I try to explain to my liberal, Northern California White friends why I am not comfortable with my Black children joining their families for a trip to the movies, the toy store, the bookstore, or even just the TV/Internet. They think I am being restrictive but I am desperately attempting to preserve and protect what I can of my children’s self-esteem! I don’t want them to be exposed to the subtle but pervasive message implied by most of children’s toys and media: In the ideal world, Black kids simply don’t exist.
I grew up fascinated with Ewok Adventures, having to imagine myself as little blonde-haired Sindel running through the forest with her furry pals. It always felt like the magic of childhood was actually reserved for White children. Now my boys are voracious readers who devour entire sets of Harry Potter, 39 Clues, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and Magic Treehouse. I don’t want to discourage them from reading (of course) but they will NOT find themselves anywhere in those books. And why not? Are Black kids still invisible in the worlds of magic, mystery, adventure, and everyday kid life? Geesh!
The latest trend among progressive White parents in my area is this hipster DIY thing. They teach their kids to make everything from scratch, appreciate world music, meditate and do yoga, grow their own food, play in the dirt. Yet when I show up with my kids they look at us like, ‘What are you doing here?’ Really?? Because playing in the dirt is now reserved for White kids too? Damn!
Reading your comments on my writing has filled my heart tonight. We are all in this together and I hope to keep on growing with you towards supporting all of our children in this crazy world.