My daughter will grow up white in this world — and I’ll make sure she knows what that means.
When I was in 1st grade, I came home excited to share a story about a girl in my classroom. I described the girl in detail — her shirt, her glasses, what her laugh sounds like. My parents weren’t sure which girl I meant. I never mentioned she was Black — the only Black kid in my class. Did I not notice? Or did I know I wasn’t supposed to notice?
I wonder now what else I “didn’t see”. For one, I didn’t see many Black people. I grew up in a highly segregated part of Texas. The only Black person I really knew was my childhood nanny, who I loved like another mother. I hear the privilege and problems in that sentence now, but growing up it didn’t cross my mind. There was never more than one Black student in any of my classes and no neighbors with skin darker than mine.
That changed when I arrived in Philadelphia for college, where I saw more diversity on campus than I could dream of growing up. At the same time, I was regularly reminded not to walk too far from campus. West Philly wasn’t “safe” for a white girl like me. There, I learned habits rooted in deep racism that I am still unlearning today — to clutch my keys for self defense when walking home, to cross the street if someone “dangerous looking” was coming my way. In the City of Brotherly Love, I found my first Black friends and I learned that I was white.
I grew up white, but I didn’t understand what it meant. I saw myself as a brunette in a sea of blondes. I’d proudly check the “Hispanic” box on every form, as if to say “not me — my skin doesn’t match the peach color crayons”. I was often a woman in a crowd of men. I saw my differences, but I denied my privileges. Those were for other, whiter, wealthier people.
I didn’t acknowledge my privilege for a long time. I took for granted that I’d never be followed around a store while shopping. I believed the police were always there to help, that I shouldn’t hesitate to call them. I thought racists were only people who used slurs or denied employment. I assumed everyone was given a fair chance to succeed in school and life. I took daily advantage of my skin tone without consciously knowing it. That may be my biggest privilege as a white woman — my ability to deny my privilege, yet still experience it every day. I’m still learning what that means for me and my community, in all the things I take for granted and in the inequality my ignorance perpetuates.
I can do better.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about how I was raised and how I want to raise my daughter. I’ve remembered how my Mom stood up to her mother, kicking her out until she agreed not to use the “N-word” around me again. How I was raised to be “colorblind”. How race wasn’t a topic for polite company. It was progress over the previous generation, but it wasn’t enough. I owe my daughter, and everyone’s daughters, more progress.
My daughter will grow up white in this world — and I’ll make sure she knows what that means. I won’t teach her to be color blind. We’ll talk about race at home and read books with diverse characters. I’ll teach her the mantra “I’m not better than anyone. Nobody’s better than me.” We’ll find diverse, inclusive communities to live and educate ourselves in. I won’t let my discomfort stop me from explaining racism to a toddler. She’ll grow up with more understanding than I did. She’ll push me to be better.
I’ll do the work. I’ll make mistakes. I’ll keep going.
I can do better. I will do better.
[Note: I debated about publishing this. As I’ve spent time listening and learning in the past few weeks, I found writing to be a valuable exercise in reflection and personal commitment. My debate was also rooted in fear and embarrassment that I would likely say something wrong and be judged for that. I don’t want to let fear hold me back, or I won’t really be doing the work I am committing to here. Please feel free to correct me, privately or publicly. I truly welcome the feedback.]