What It Means To Be White

My son’s are 2 and 3 at the moment. Neither of them are aware of Ferguson the Eric Garner case the horrible incidences of police violence against and apparent murder of African Americans the event that has taken the lives of 9 American’s in a church praying, and for now that’s fine. I’m in a position to never have to discuss race with my kids. Both I and them are white middle class male’s in America. If we ever hope to end the constant cycle of tragedies, both of the acute variety and of the overarching sort that allows entire lives with potential that could solve many of the worlds problems to play out in despair, white dads who hope to change this have to begin to speak to our white kids, especially sons, about the truth of our lives. At present it certainly feels like the world we inhabit will offer endless opportunities to us for discussing the unusual brutality and the common inequality that we choose to explain away rather than to resolve.

Life is hard. Even for white guys with jobs. And my kids will surely be angry at times about how much they don’t have. This may blind them to what they do have. When I see this I intend to address it directly and to discuss with them the following realities as far as I see them.

  • Be aware that you have lived life free of being assessed negatively on sight. This is a distinct and ever present advantage you have over your counterparts of other demographic distinctions. This is the result of constant systemic disadvantages that have nothing to do with them. But over time, to have the world look at you like this, in every situation and at all times can be crushing and formative at the same time. Greet anger with empathy whenever you can.
  • Be conscious of the fact that your successes are not solely yours. They are the result of a thousand factors, mostly beyond your control and benefiting you in ways that may have cost someone of a different background access to the opportunities that you may think you accomplished free of bias. You are white, male, American and as a bonus, you’re in all likelihood, tall. All of these factors have helped you. A lot. And unfairly.
  • If the world changes for the better it may be uncomfortable for you. Don’t whine about that. You’re still likely to have systemic advantages, just, hopefully, not as many.
  • Be intentional about inclusiveness. Some might suggest that a meritocracy is the only fair option. In my opinion they are invested in the status quo in which they, and you, are afforded distinct advantages not easily seen by you, but evident to the many people not similarly fortunate.
  • Our country’s original sin of slavery created a false economic reality based on dehumanizing people, crumbling their self-worth and codifying their inequality. To this day you have housing laws, drug laws, educational funding laws and even voting laws that SEEK to continue to segregate people from the opportunities that have been protected for us. We have a long way to go to truly level the playing field. Like I said above, if things are harder for you, they should be. You have a massive Karmic debt to pay, one not of your specific making, but you are the rightful inheritor. And not just to black men or men of other backgrounds, but also to ALL women. I’m paying a piece of it now, but mostly I’m still benefiting from a world that favors me. To wit..
  • The world tilts toward you. Be proud of what successes your life brings. Hard work is still hard work and what you have earned you should respect. Try to create opportunities that will empower. Distribute those opportunities to people that aren’t reflections of yourself. As you would find in any distribution, some people will disappoint and some will surprise, but either way, its just right to try to repay some of the favor the world shows you.
  • Don’t be afraid of people who appear ‘different’ from you. Try instead to be curious. You’re likely to find they are just like you in what they want from life. They want security and friendship and to laugh and to provide and to feel good about themselves. But sometimes life is so insistent that these are not attainable (a problem you won’t have to deal with in any real way) that we can see only people’s defenses and armor and forget that they are whole beings needing of what it is we all need. Life reinforces for them in a way you can’t fully understand, that they are suspect, feared and not to be trusted or loved. This can have tragic consequences. Much more often the outcome is remarkable and beautiful and truly inspiring evidence of the human spirits ability to endure and prosper. All too often the world ignores these outcomes to fit a narrative that reinforces fear of differences, no matter how small. Don’t buy it.
  • Be part of the solution. I don’t know what that means yet. I hope my life will be assessed in such a way that you will be proud of the person I am. I KNOW I’m still the beneficiary of discriminatory policy. But keep looking, keep trying and never forget to be thankful for all that life has afforded you.

The debate in the media aside, for whatever tragedy of the moment we are dissecting when i get to these conversations, I hope I’m able to keep my head unburied and hope they find themselves in a world changing to meet our highest ideals. I know I’ll discuss them forthrightly and encourage them not to be too self-pitying when life is hard or unfair. Truth is however unfair it is to me or them, and we all will face cruel misfortune from time to time, the odds make it likely that they will have it good.

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8 thoughts on “What It Means To Be White

  1. mclaryn5508

    Interesting read, Joe. You covered a lot of territory on topics that are much meatier than the more lighthearted posts normally found by dad’s parenting young children. It is rare and refreshing to hear the adult male that happens to be a dad and not just the “dad” perspective (hope that makes sense). Everything they learn begins at home and shapes and molds their minds from so much sooner in their lives than we ever think possible as young parents. They are lucky to have a dad who realizes they are observing already, not only by words but by actions as well. My sons are grown now and my talks with them were from a somewhat different perspective with the common thread being gratitude, respect and reverence for every life on this planet. I tell them to this day that everyone has a story to tell and every story is worthy of our time and has something in it meant for us to hear. Thanks for sharing!! I have recently started a blog and I think I have finally figured out how to follow people so I’ll add you to my list 🙂 Oh, you probably won’t recognize my page from this, I need to change it eventually but this is Mary McLaurine Kent Vaughan/Sassy Lassie! See ya in The Bunker 🙂

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  2. daddydonnell

    Bravo! As your children grow older I hope they understand and appreciate the path you are trying to set them on. Not only to work hard and empower themselves but to also be empathetic of all the different people they will share this planet with. This piece reinforces that there are thoughtful and compassionate people out there working to improve the future for our children.

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    1. joejmedler Post author

      Thank you so much for such kind words. Any of the credit for these qualities in me goes to my parents who chose to make my giant family of origin one that was quite multicultural. I hope I’ll be able to teach the same lessons as they did. Thank you again for your very kind words! Have a great weekend!

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  3. Shatrice Grimes

    Amazing! We all deserve the right to know the truth no matter how ugly. I applaud & appreciate what you wrote on so many levels! Your children are blessed to have such a brave man to call their hero! Peace, Love & Happiness!

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    1. joejmedler Post author

      Your words are very very kind, Shatrice. Thank you so much. It’s a shame that many things are the way they are and it’s the least I can do to acknowledge that they are so and to teach my kids the same. Hopefully my kids will live in a world where they’ll have less to report to their own kids someday! All the best for you and yours!

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  4. Tinaya

    This was such a thoughtful thing to read and literally made me feel so much less frustrated with all of the dismissals I have been seeing lately on FB and other internet sources. While we have a long way to go in this country with regard to racially harmonious relations, the sort of empathy, curiousity, and lack of authority with which you wrote this is magical!

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