I have been pretty overwhelmed with being a working mother of two, one 4 month old and one 6 years old. Between that, returning to work in healthcare in a pandemic, postpartum hormones, and pumping like it was my job, well, I am already on system overdrive.
When the recent news of the many deaths of people of color at the hands of police officers hit the news, I was so very overwhelmed that I struggled to process the information. As the protests began and responses began flowing over social media, I tried my best to process the information so that I could do the work of being an ally.
But my privilege.
My privilege lets me turn it all off and not think about the injustices and violence for a while. My privilege lets me focus on the job of motherhood without letting all of the stress and anxiety of recent events and historical events set in. My shame comes from allowing myself to turn it off.
I am trying to move from shame to action. And, my action, I think, needs to correspond with my season of life.
The question I have been asking myself is this: Where can I be most effective in addressing racism and injustice right now in this season of motherhood and life?
I am not saying that I shouldn’t be out marching and protesting. I probably should be. But where can I start right here and right now?
The answer came clearly and loudly.
Home. Home is where I start.
I have two boys. Two privileged, middle class, white boys who will, one day God willing, grow to be two privileged white men.
Am I cultivating a home environment where they are learning cultural humility?
So first, let’s back up. What is cultural humility?
According to the NIH (National Institutes of Health), cultural humility is “a process of reflection and lifelong inquiry, involves self-awareness of personal and cultural biases as well as awareness and sensitivity to significant cultural issues of others.”
This is something that I use in my social work practice on a daily basis.
I ask myself, “Who am I? What are my biases? Where did they come from? How might this impact those that I am in service of? How can I do better?”
How do I communicate cultural humility to my children?
I sometimes look at racism and prejudice through the lens of a 12 step program. In order to fix a problem, you must first admit that you have one.
We’ve begun to dialog about racism, bigotry and recent news events. I’m asking, specifically the 6 year old and myself, pointed questions to identify what biases are present. The answers are illuminating!
Some questions to start your dialog:
- Tell me about what you know about other kiddos that have a different skin color than you?
- Did you know that some people treat them differently because of their skin color?
- What do you think about that?
- What would you do if you saw someone being hurt, treated badly or being made fun of because of their skin color?
- Who would you tell?
- What do you think that person should do?
- Is it okay for some people to treat a person of color one way because of their job, like a police officer?
- Why or why not?
Once biases are identified, employ Byron Katie’s famous 4 questions:
- Is it true?
- Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
- How do you react when you believe that thought?
- Who would you be without the thought?
It’s amazing how easily this helps children and adults clarify previously strong held beliefs.
Now that biases are clarified, what do we do?
We have begun to use the phrase “I’m sorry, I can do better,” whenever one of us hurts the other. What I want to teach here is, once you know that you are wrong, apologize and then make a plan to fix it!
How do we do better?
First things first. Listen.
Dear Lord, I know this is hard for adults so I can only imagine how challenging it must feel for little people. But, listening, really listening, is the first step to making lasting change with cultural humility in mind. Listen to people of color without defensiveness. When I listen with cultural humility, I am being very clear that I don’t know what I don’t know. While it is not the responsibility of people of color to educate anyone at this point, even children, we can very easily listen to what is already being said. So, can I teach my 6 year old to listen to someone without a need to jump in and explain why he’s not wrong? It’s hard, but do-able with practice.
Here are some responses that can be given to express to someone that we are listening without jumping in:
- “I hear you.”
- “Thank you.”
- “I appreciate you trusting me with those thoughts.”
- Paraphrasing “What I heard you say was….”
So, we practice this with a question (Tell me how you feel about….). Like every day, maybe once or twice a day. Both he and I. With a reward – maybe an M&M, maybe a skittle, something small. No response allowed other than the ones above no matter how much we are dying to respond with more.
It is my responsibility as the mother of two white male children to be active in their cultural education. It is very definitely my responsibility, not their school, not their peers, and not their teachers of color. There are wonderful lists being put out each day with resources for children – TV shows, books, podcasts, restaurants and stores owned by people of color. Check out the bottom of the blog for a few of these lists! It is my responsibility to actively incorporate these things into our daily lives. It is also my responsibility to admit when I have made a wrong choice in this education. This goes back to “I’m sorry, I’ll do better.”
Once we have done all these things, we evaluate. Are our actions effective? How are things going in our house? What do we need to keep doing and what doesn’t work well? How can we continue to evolve? Part of cultural humility is admitting that we may never fully understand the walk of someone of a different culture, but we can always support.
The work of cultural humility is never done. And while that may, on its surface appear frustrating, it should also be motivating. Every day I can work to do better and be better. That is the message that I hope I’m communicating to my children, stay in the work, stay in the struggle, and always stay humble.
See below for some great education links and resources. Feel free to add your own in the comments!
American University’s Diversity and Inclusion External Resources (there is also an amazing book list on their Facebook page!)
An ever evolving list of black owned businesses in Acadiana found at ShopBlacklisted.net
Here We Read – diverse and inclusive book options for all ages spearheaded by a woman of color