I recognize words are trite at this point—the apologies, justifications, defenses, and even the well-meaning statements of support, carry little weight when the systems of injustice remain intact, and life can carry on carefree for those with privilege. I include myself in this category.
My mom moved to the United States from South Korea at 19 years old, not knowing how to speak or read the English language. Growing up and attending mainly white schools, I felt the intensity of wanting to blend in, of wanting my mom to look like and speak like everyone else’s mom. I felt the receptionist’s judgement when I had to read the medical forms to my mom at doctors’ offices and the receptionist’s annoyance when my mom asked questions I could read but couldn’t answer for her. I felt a deep anger and embarrassment when I saw how salespeople dismissed my mom’s intelligence because they couldn’t understand her thick accent, how small I felt translating for her. In a college class about multicultural education, our assigned reading was an article about unpacking white privilege with our reflections to be discussed together as a group. As other students shared their cultures and stories, all of the experiences and emotions I had bottled up for over a decade shook loose, and I sobbed, acknowledging and grieving the sadness and pain of being ashamed of my mom’s culture and of denying and hiding half of who I was for most of my life—Literally grieving how I had checked the white box on standardized tests because I didn’t fit into any of the descriptions. The point of this college course was educating and empowering future teachers to celebrate racial and cultural differences in their classrooms because it is the silence—the lack of acknowledgement, the “color blindness”—that hurts people and perpetuates racism. Because of my mixed background, I was able to hide and blend into white culture, which isn’t possible for my mother, which isn’t possible for children with beautiful chocolate colored skin. It is a heavy burden to bear to feel different from the dominant culture. Every child should see themselves in the books they read, in the movies they watch, in the careers they dream about, and every child should feel seen and celebrated in their classrooms and schools. As a former teacher, and as a mother, I know I need to step up to be a vocal advocate for multicultural education in my own children’s classrooms and in my local schools and to be willing to volunteer and donate to help in this area.
I don’t have to fear for my son’s life if he is wearing a hoodie at night. I don’t have to fear for my husband’s life when he is pulled over by the police. I know my children won’t be watched suspiciously at stores. I know it will be easier for my children to be included in honors classes in high school and that their network will make it easier for them to get a job. I know my family, because of their skin color, will be given the benefit of the doubt, and I know people I love do not have this same right and privilege, because of their skin color. To say this is unjust does not capture the severity, heartache, and atrocity of the racism in our country.
Personally, I know I contribute to racism by being silent myself through the years and today. When I’m uncomfortable with what someone says but then say nothing out of fear of rejection—choosing people pleasing over bravery, when I neglect to admit a bias I hold in my own thoughts, when I judge someone for how they look or their background, when I choose to let the books I should be reading to learn more about white privilege and racism sit and collect dust on my shelves, when I bristle and take offense when I’ve been called out, when I choose the easy or passive path instead of the hard and active one. I know how easy it is for me to be distracted back to the busyness of my daily life, and I know I will need to be held accountable to commit to the journey of learning how to be a co-conspirator for equity.
Just like I have worked harder for my children to embrace their own heritage—they are proud to be a quarter Korean, proud of their Hulmoni and want her to visit their classrooms to share about their culture, I know they benefit from white privilege. I will work harder for my children to learn about white bias and white privilege and to take that knowledge to act justly, and to intentionally and genuinely widen our circle of friendships. I remember hearing this wisdom—to widen your circle, pick one of the following not in your current neighborhood—job, church, school, home.
I will continue to teach my children to love others and that, more importantly, love does.
These are the books my family and I are reading and working through and lessons I’ve purchased for family conversations—
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad
How To Be An Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendo
This Book is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewell & Aurelia Durand
More guides and lessons to be purchased from Naomi O’ Brien @readlikearockstar and LaNesha Tabb @apron_education
Instagram accounts to follow for diverse books for children
I believe this is the article we read and discussed in my college class—“White Privilege: Unpacking The Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh