Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Airick Leonard West: On a Bike in the Car Lane - A Glimpse Through Your Child's Eyes

During the upcoming retreat my sister Meri (a white woman) and I (a black man) will, in part, discuss our childhood and how it informs our thinking about raising children in multi-racial, multi-ethnic, and multi-cultural households. Her four (1 Taiwanese, 2 Haitian, and 1 birthed) and my five (4 African-American and 1 Vietnamese) are reflective of those values and lessons -- often hard won. I'm looking forward to gathering with you all and to the sharing that will take place.
But for this contribution to the conversation, I want to take a moment to honor three things my sister does for me today as an adult that are extraordinarily relevant to the topic and that offer sage insights into what culturally competent parenting looks like.

1. She's Able To Use "White Privilege" In A Sentence Without Freaking OutA dear friend of mine is white, married a black woman, and now has two intelligent little bi-racial sons. While the first was still gestating, I asked him how he was preparing himself to raise a child that wasn't white. He seemed genuinely surprised by the notion that society might receive his soon-to-be son any differently than it had received him. 

Meri's ability to effectively articulate the concept of white privilege -- whether using those words or not -- creates a safe place for my experiences to be accepted and interpreted gently. She understands the difference between oppression and discrimination. She's taken the time to educate herself on contemporary matters of race and ethnicity. She's not naive to the rampant forms of racism and ethnocentrism that continue to harm children of color in our nation in ways that often remain invisible to even the most well-intentioned white parents.

2. She's Prepared To Abandon Her Friends/Family If NecessaryAnother dear friend of mine brought his soon-to-be spouse home to meet the parents for the first time. In short: it didn't go so well and the parents effectively offered an "us or them" style ultimatum. He left and didn't return for several years -- until his parents came to grips with the reality that the world is a more diverse place than the one they grew up in.

Meri hasn't had to face this conversation from our side of the family; our parents are two of the most welcoming and caring people I've ever known. But as a child and as an adult she has had to draw the line with people who were not raised in the same enlightened manner. Her willingness to immediately stop spending time with any friends or family who might in any way be unaccepting of or whose behavior marginalizes her children because of their race qualifies her as both an amazing sister and a loving mom. She surrounds herself and her children with as many wonderful people of color as she is able. She protects them against racial violence (verbal, emotional, and physical) the same as she did me.

3. She Asks For My Perspectives And Listens To Them When I ShareConsistent with being the person who invited me to partner with her at this retreat, Meri has often sought me out as a discussion partner in her and Brian's child rearing. Her interest in seeking the point of view my journey provides demonstrates an understanding that her view of the world is fundamentally insufficient to prepare her for raising children who will likely experience a dramatically different view from either of ours. At the same time that her reaching out meets her need to best support her children, it meets my needs for validation and trust.

I am incredibly grateful for the gift that is my sister. She has been my tormentor, my protector, my confidant, my mentor, and most importantly, my friend. I am excited to share more of our story and ideas with you all next weekend.

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