10 lessons I’ve learned as a white parent striving for racial justice

It’s hard to believe, but A Striving Parent turns a year old today. A year ago, after the Charleston massacre of 9 Black people praying in a church, I started this blog because I had no idea where to start as a white, cis-gender, heterosexual, affluent mother who cared about racial and social justice, but had remained on the sidelines for far too long.

A year later and A Striving Parent’s birthday is not a cause for celebration, but it serves as an opportunity to reflect and welcome new parents to the fold. After the horrifying deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille, I’m observing many white people I know, online and in my day-to-day life, begin their own journey towards action. I’m at once encouraged that so many parents in particular are trying to figure out how they can combat white supremacy in the context of their families and I am incredibly saddened by the level of brutality and injustice it takes to propel a person like myself to that point of reflection.

Yet here we are and I remain hopeful that with action, change is possible. I do not pretend to be an expert on anything other than my own experience, but after a year of researching and applying strategies on how to be a more conscious parent, I thought I’d share some of what I’ve discovered along the way. This list is especially for parents who are just starting to think about the intersections between parenting and racial and social justice advocacy.

Here are 10 of the lessons I’ve learned as a white parent striving for racial and social justice, in no particular order:

  1. Resources exist to help parents learn how to talk with children about race and other forms of oppression as well as strategies to dismantle those systems. In fact, there are numerous organizations and individuals committed to helping parents raise racially and socially conscious children. Showing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ) is a national network of groups and individuals organizing white people for racial justice. They have a branch that focuses on families, which has an awesome Facebook page. Through SURJ, I discovered Raising Race Conscious Children, a blog as well as a webinar that I highly recommend. SURJ also connected me to EmbraceRace, a non-profit and online community of discussion and practice around caring for and raising kids in the context of race. Mamademics, Raising an Advocate, My Reflection Matters, Little Proud Kid, WeStories…the list goes on and on. These organizations and the individuals who run them continue to light the way for me.
  2. Raising kids to “not see race” is harmful, not helpful. Research supports that infants as young as 6 months old can identify racial differences and by three or four, children can demonstrate racial biases that do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the adults around them. Research also supports that naming race with kids is an effective approach to prevent racial stereotypes from forming. Pretending I don’t see color or hoping my children will learn some version of “everyone is the same on the inside” may be rooted in good intentions, but will leave my kids to draw their own conclusions about race.
  3. Books are easy and powerful tools to broach tough subjects with my children. Adding books to our children’s library that include diverse characters and story lines have created easy and repeatable opportunities for me to name race, discuss gender identity, talk about sexuality and more. The right books for each family depend on so many individual factors that I will not include a list here. Charis Books & More is a great store to visit if you’re in Atlanta and the folks that work there will help you determine your needs. People in the St. Louis area has WeStories as a resource. Otherwise, ask your local librarian for suggestions. And of course, there are countless lists found on the above organizations’ websites, Facebook pages or you can conduct your own research on Google.
  4. Representation matters. A year ago, I had very few books or toys that featured people of color or diverse, multi-racial and multi-cultural story lines. Adding new books and removing problematic ones was the first action I made. Organizations like My Reflection Matters and Little Proud Kid helped me identity toys that are more representative and inclusive of our country’s diverse population. This is a work in progress, but something I am conscious of any time I’m purchasing a gift for another family or for my own children.
  5. Oppression is intersectional. Anyone who reads this blog knows race is not the only topic I grapple with as a parent. I started this blog as a direct result of a racist act, but I’ve learned the word “intersectionality” over this past year, which means systems of oppression do not operate independently of each other. Racism intersects with sexism, which intersects with homophobia, and so on. Here’s an article worth reading by Kimberle Crenshaw, the academic who coined the term: Why intersectionality can’t wait.
  6. I need to curate my own news. Reading CNN, The New York Times or my local paper will not provide me with a full scope of the racial and social justice issues happening across the country. Mainstream media cannot and will not cover stories that pertain to social justice movements unless it garners national attention. I shared the top publications, organizations and individuals I follow here. The bottom line is, I need to be an active consumer of the news and maintain a healthy criticism of the way all media is presented.
  7. Building community with like-minded parents is important. When I first started writing the blog, I had spoken about racial justice with only two local friends. My social justice community remained in California, where I attended graduate school and worked in education. I felt isolated and insecure. So I consciously started building community with other parents who care about racial and social justice. I joined SURJ’s family Facebook page, formed a social justice book club, started hosting Raising Race Conscious Children webinars at my home and began attending local community events that focused on social and racial justice. I’m currently working with Charis Books & More to develop a conscious parenting group that will gather monthly. Forging these relationships has helped me tremendously.
  8. Community with like-minded people is important, but I should not de-friend or ignore people who make racist, homophobic or other types of oppressive comments. This was one of the first topics I ever wrote about on this blog. As a person of many societal privileges, I have a responsibility to check oppressive behavior since outside of feeling awkward or anxious by engaging in a potentially contentious conversation, nothing about my life or place of power is at risk. That doesn’t mean it isn’t hard or that I’m always successful. Over the past year, I’ve focused my efforts on in-person encounters and practiced the art of “calling in” versus “calling out.” “Calling in” means that I approach the person who holds values different from my own with as much care and compassion as possible. This takes a lot of effort, but I’ve learned if I lead with respect, I have a greater chance at moving a conversation forward. Yes, it would be much easier to ignore people who make racist, sexist, homophobic or transphobic remarks and keep it moving. But it’s my obligation to fight these battles whenever possible. Black, brown, queer and other marginalized populations should not be expected to take on this burden.
  9. Start small and build capacity. When I first created A Striving Parent, I wasted a lot of time and energy feeling guilty for what I was unable to do as a parent with young children. I learned to focus instead on the actions I can take that are sustainable within the context of my family and personal life today. Not tomorrow. Not in five years when my kids are in school full-time. Right now. A year ago, that looked like educating myself by researching and reading articles; then I enrolled in a Raising Race Conscious Children workshop where I learned strategies for naming race with my kids; next I diversified my children’s library and toys and so on, step by step. Over time, my capacity has changed as my skill set and confidence grew.
  10. The need to listen, learn and grow will never stop.
    I have learned so much in the past year and I’m certainly on the right path, striving towards becoming the parent and person I’d like to be. But this will forever be a work in progress. I will always need to fight against my privilege and implicit biases. I will learn new terminology that I need to start using or realize I need to remove certain words from my lexicon. I will mess up and need to apologize for those mistakes. As a white person, I will struggle with when to shut up and listen and when to use my voice within my community. De-centering myself and my experiences in order to amplify the voices of those I seek to support is crucial work.

The past year has shown me that the process of striving for racial justice as a white parent is not linear and it has no end. For those of you just starting your own journey towards conscious parenting, you are not alone. Keep going. For those of you who have traveled alongside me this past year, thank you for the support, the feedback and the personal growth your participation has afforded me. The work continues.


11 thoughts on “10 lessons I’ve learned as a white parent striving for racial justice

  1. theallypress says:

    Happy birthday striving Shannon!! I know you said everyone’s needs are different in terms of a children’s library, but do you have any favourites that you’d recommend?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Irene says:

    This post was shared by a non-parent and being read by this grandparent. Informative, educational and helpful reading for all that interact with children. Thank you.


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