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091: Do I have privilege?
26th May 2019 • Your Parenting Mojo - Respectful, research-based parenting ideas to help kids thrive • Jen Lumanlan
00:00:00 00:48:39

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This episode is part of a series on understanding the intersection of race, privilege, and parenting.  Click here to view all the items in this series.
Each time I think I’m done with this series on the intersection of race and parenting, another great topic pops up! Listener Ann reached out to me after she heard the beginning of the series to let me know about her own journey of learning about her White privilege. Ann and her husband were a ‘normal’ White couple who were vaguely aware of some of the things they could do to help others (Ann works at a nonprofit) and saw politics as an interesting hobby. Then they adopted a Black daughter and had a (surprise!) biological daughter within a few months, and Ann found that she needed to learn about her privilege – and quickly. She’s had to learn about things like the features of a ‘high quality’ daycare for both of her daughters, how to keep them safe, and we get some feedback from Dr. Renee Engeln about how to help Black girls to see and be confident in their beauty. Ann is openly not an expert on this topic, and does not speak for adoptive Black children, or even for all White adopting parents. But she finds herself far further along this journey of discovering her privilege than the vast majority of us – myself included, until I began researching this series of episodes.
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Jen: 01:24 Hello and welcome to the Your Parenting Mojo podcast. When I started this series of episodes on the Intersection of Race and Parenting, I had no idea it was going to go on for so long. I had initially planned to do the episodes on White Privilege and Parenting with Dr. Margaret Hagerman and White Privilege in Schools with Dr. Allison Roda and then How To Talk About Race with Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum. After the conversation with Dr. Tatum, I realized that we hadn’t talked a lot about what we should teach about topics like slavery and the Civil Rights Movement, and so we went on to cover that with Dr. John Bickford and then I got to chatting via email with Ann Kane who is a listener and who’s our guest today. And so before I tell you about Ann, I just wanted to tell you a snippet about my own journey toward learning about my privilege. Jen: 02:06 I was actually listening to an episode of The How To Get Away With Parenting podcast, which is published by my now friend, Malaika Dower. And in it Malaika made a comment about how it might not be safe for a Black toddler to have a tantrum in a store. And the implication was because the White parents would potentially find this threatening in some way. And if you’d ask me before that moment whether I had White privilege as a parent, I would have said, I really don’t think so because I’m really not sure I could have named a single way in which I experienced this. So uncovering my privilege has been a very deliberate exercise for me that’s taken a lot of hard work because the point of privilege is you don’t really see it. It’s there to protect you from having to see it. Jen: 02:48 But our guest Ann has been forced to confront her privilege in a completely different way. So Ann who is White, spent 10 years working in the field with Doctors Without Borders and she left to work in Program Finance for a nonprofit in New York City so that she and her White husband could raise a family and she adopted a daughter, Alice from the foster care system. Alice was 8 days old at the time and is now just over two and she is Black. And then Ann and her husband had a surprise baby named Audrey who is almost two and is White. So when Ann and I started emailing about this, she told me, “Raising Alice in a society that still has so much structural racism is my biggest parenting worry. I’m so afraid that my White privilege is going to harm her. There’s so much I’m unaware of. And as a White person, I don’t feel I can prepare her for all she’ll face.” Jen: 03:35 That’s when I knew I had to talk with Ann in an episode, because while she isn’t and doesn’t claim to be an expert on race or racism or raising a Black child, she’s been forced to confront her own privilege as a White person and as a White parent to a much greater extent than I have. And then I think probably many of my listeners have as well. So my goal for today is that perhaps you hear something in Ann’s journey that resonates with privilege you didn’t know you had, and maybe you’ll take an action to lift somebody else up who has less privilege than you. So with all that said, welcome Ann. Ann: 04:08 Thank you. Hi Jen. Jen: 04:09 Hi. Welcome to the backside of the microphone. Ann: 04:12 Okay. Jen: 04:13 So, we started each episode in this series with both me and my guests stating our privileges. And so you have heard this before and some of the listeners as well. So I’m just going to state mine really quickly. My Whiteness, my economic status in the upper middle class, heterosexuality, able-bodiedness, my education, and my presence on the land of the Chochenyo Ohlone native Americans to whom I pay a voluntary tax called the Shuumi Land Tax as a form of reparations. Could you please start by telling us some of your privileges? Ann: 04:43 Sure. I think I have pretty much all of the privileges. I’m White, my economic status is the upper middle class, I’m heterosexual enabled body. I have a Master’s Degree. My upbringing in a working middle class family back when it was more financially feasible to do so. I have two married parents who have always been supportive. I think the list goes on and on. Jen: 05:04 Okay. So, I wonder if you could tell us a bit about what you thought about racial prejudice and structural racism before you became a parent. Did you already have an understanding of your privilege? Ann: 05:16 I thought that I did. The more I learned, the more I realized how much I don’t know and how much I still need to learn. Before becoming a parent, I realized how unfair the world was to Black people, but it’s become so much more apparent as the parent of a Black child. Growing up, I was pretty clueless behind the basic history lessons of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. Race wasn’t something that was discussed in my family. However, as I get older, I moved to a diverse liberal city and started traveling internationally. So, I became more aware of our country’s long historical structural racism and how it still exists today. We knew when we became foster parents, it would most likely be for African American child. So, we did take that responsibility seriously and really tried to learn all that we can. But as I faced these issues on a daily basis with my daughter, I have learned how much I was unaware of and how much I still have to learn as she grows. Ann: 06:14 I don’t pretend to know anything about what it’s like to be a Black person in America, but being Alice’s mom has taught me a lot about my own privileges. Jen: 06:24 And so what are specifically some of the things that you’ve learned about your privilege as a person? Just as a White person, not even as a parent of a Black child over the last few months? Ann: 06:33 Sure. I think the main one is how much I didn’t have to think about things as I go throughout my life and have conversations in my job and with people on the street and I never have to question anything. I take it at face value that they’re talking to me as me and not as a minority or as how they view me because of my skin color as the dominant race in this country. I know that people are talking to me because of me and with Alice, I have these questions all the time. Is this because of her race or is it for something else that I’m not realizing? So that lack of understanding of how it’s in so many situations that race is a factor. Jen: 07:10 Yeah. I had one of those realizations recently. I went to an event at work, it was called a building bridges conversation and they started out with an exercise, they made us all dance around the room and of course as a profound introvert, this is extremely uncomfortable for me. And so I was kind of annoyed that they were doing this thing. Most of the people who work in a consulting firm are pretty extroverted. They get on well with clients and like socializing and that kind of thing. And I was annoyed that they were putting me in this situation. Jen: 07:41 And then I had a realization afterwards, what if this was how I felt at work all day, every day. The absolute discomfort with just being in this situation with people and also the annoyance that they would put me in that situation. And that was a really profound awakening for me. And I’m not sure that was the lesson I was intended to take out of it, but it was profound for me. So I wonder if we can go on and talk about some of the things you’ve learned since you became the parent of a daughter who’s Black. You told me that you can no longer live just anywhere and you have to live in an accepting community with people who look like Alice and so I think you live in Harlem right now (which for those of you who don’t live in the US is a neighborhood of New York that 60% Black and it holds a huge place in Black history and culture). Did you live there before you became a parent? Ann: 08:30 Yes, I moved here to go to Grad school roughly 15 years ago. Jen: 08:33 Oh, okay. And why did you pick that neighborhood? Ann: 08:37 It is near the university that I attended. It’s actually been gentrified quite a lot. I’m not far from a predominantly White university, but this area was within walking distance but still did not have a lot of White people. And I moved in basically for affordability issues and I have seen gentrification and how it’s affected my neighbors in my neighborhood as I’ve been there quite a while now. Jen: 09:01 Yeah. And so I’m curious about whether you’ve taken Alice to predominantly White neighborhoods, maybe to visit your family or friends and are the interactions between Alice and that community different than when you’re in Harlem? Ann: 09:15 Sure. We have been to various areas that are predominantly White and we grew up with White families. So, this is the norm for us. Most of the blatant things we’ve been warned about, for example, being followed around by (in stores) security guards, scary interactions with Police, obviously aren’t things that are happening to a 2-year-old. Most of her interactions go through us simply because she’s not old enough to have full conversations. We’ve heard this from other adoptive parents that they turned from cute children into adults quite quickly in the public’s eyes and you’ll start to see these things. But so far our interactions have been different in these areas, but not in that regard. In these areas, what we’ve noticed is there is a certain kind of othering. I feel like they pay more attention to Alice and not in a negative way, but they kind of fond over her in a way they don’t with our other daughter who’s only 5 months younger. Ann: 10:07 They tried to touch her hair, which of course we don’t allow and go on about how beautiful she is. I obviously don’t know their intention, but it feels like their way of saying they approve of her, our family without directly coming out and saying that, which is obviously a nice gesture and it’s better than the alternative, but other ways it seems unnecessary and we’re not asking for permission to be us or her. I’ve read these feelings from other transitional families, so I don’t think I’m totally imagining it. However, it goes back to some of the things I discussed earlier is when you’re a White person you never have to question your interactions with others. In this case, is it because she is cute? Obviously I think she’s cute. Are they only paying attention to her by chance or is this a racial thing where they’re trying to make us feel accepted? Jen: 10:52 And is this primarily White people who are doing this? The touching? Ann: 10:57 Yeah. Yeah. Mostly. Jen: 11:00 Okay. All right. Yep, that makes sense. And I’ve definitely heard about that as well, that White people feel as though they have to sort of exhibit this acceptance in ways that potentially aren’t so appropriate on the receiving end of it. I wonder if we could talk a little bit about daycare. What kind of setting do your daughters attend now and how did you choose that? Ann: 11:19 Sure. Our daughters are in a small in-home daycare run by an African American family. Making sure Alice was around people who looked like her was our number one priority with other priorities being of course, we want a loving environment that keeps the girls safe and happy. We also wanted something within walking distance to our home because we wanted to build a community within our neighborhood. And logistically taking two babies on the subway ride everyday didn’t seem doable. When searching, we didn’t find many places that had both Black and White children. There seems to be daycares with mostly all Black kids or daycares with mostly all White kids. And for the first year our daughter who’s White, Audrey was the only White child at the daycare. But now there’s one or two other White children. It’s been such a blessing, this daycare. I don’t know if I’m being honest, we probably wouldn’t have prioritize this as much and we might have missed out on the chance to go to this school that our girls love and that we love. They really treat them like family. The grandma (all the kids call her grandma Barbara) helps us with Alice’s braids, something that I’m still working on and we’ve just been very lucky to have found such an important place in our life. Jen: 12:31 Yeah. So, I’m curious about whether you think Audrey might have benefited in the same way from attending that daycare if Alice wasn’t in the picture, you were still living in that neighborhood anyway. It was still an option. What direction do you think you might’ve gone in for Audrey’s care? Ann: 12:46 Hard to say, but our number one priority wouldn’t have been diversity. We would have looked for it, but in our experience we didn’t find it. It was mostly all Black or mostly all White were the two options. Audrey has us that look like her, so we felt like we’d prioritize that for Alice. And she definitely benefits from being there. It’s an amazing environment filled with people that take good care of her and her friends. At the age of two, she loves it very much. So, I think she’ll learn to be with people that looked different than her as she grows also. Jen: 13:20 Yep. And how are you preparing both Alison and Audrey for school? What kind of school environment do you think you’ll choose and how are you getting ready for that? Ann: 13:29 Sure. We will most likely go public schools, there’s quite a few public charter schools in our neighborhood that we’ll be looking into. My husband and I are products of public schools and had positive experiences that we would want to give our children, New York City and our neighborhood. Those are the most diverse options which would be our top choice. Again, it’s what we’ll have to prioritize to make sure Alice sees people that look like her on a daily basis. I think picking schools, our definition of what a good school because we have a Black child has changed. Maybe in the past we would have focused only on test scores or other indicators that most White parents are using. But now while those things we will look at, they’re not our number one priority. Jen: 14:11 And so is it that you see diversity as more important or is it that you see that test scores are not necessarily an indicator of what is good about a school? Ann: 14:22 I think both. I think it’s reprioritizing what you think is the best opportunity for your child. And while I want both of my girls to get good grades and learn all the textbook facts, I think it’s more important that they’re good people. And I think the way to do that is to have them around people who look different than them and have different religions and have different viewpoints so they can learn from their experiences also. Jen: 14:46 Okay. So your sort of understanding of this and your approach to school has probably shifted a little bit because you’ve had this experience, right? You’re not necessarily going to look for the public school with the highest test scores, which you might have done previously? Ann: 14:59 Exactly. And I think it is another area that shows my White privilege in a different way. I haven’t seen a lot of research that says if you put a White child in an adequate school, as long as they have adequate supports at home, they’re mostly going to do okay. So, we would have certainly searched for Audrey, but it doesn’t seem that it’s as important or significant as it feels with Alice. We have to get this question right with Alice, because there is a lot of research that shows that many schools are failing the country’s Black children, and I wanted to make sure she’s not facing that. Jen: 15:31 Yeah. We definitely learned in our episode on White Privilege in Schools which will have been released by the time this episode goes out that more than half of parents say they value diversity in national surveys, but they aren’t willing to travel further to attend a diverse school and possibly less of a concern in New York City where everything’s a little closer together. Although it might involve a subway ride with young children, but there are definitely parts of the country where you’re going to be bused across town if diversity is important to you. And so I think what parents need to think through is do you think it’s going to be critical to your child’s success? And I think there’s a lot of indicators that say that content knowledge and being able to pass the test is one part of being successful. And that being able to get along well with other people and not just get along with them, but know how to collaborate with them is going to be an even more critical skill in the future. So, I think that your approach of selecting for diversity is actually going to end up benefiting both of your children more than potentially a school that just has high test scores. Ann: 16:34 That has been my experience with a lot of these things like I mentioned with the daycare, we wouldn’t have found it, but it’s been such a blessing. So, diversity isn’t always easy and sometimes there’s some uncomfortable with it while it’s happening, but in the long run it’s better for our whole family. Jen: 16:50 Okay. I wonder if we can just dig into that for a minute. What kinds of discomfort do you experience that other White parents who might be thinking about this might be thinking, yeah, I could make that extra step, but it just doesn’t feel right. It feels as though my child is going to be missing out. How would you describe how that’s played out for you and what would you say to those parents? Ann: 17:08 Sure. For us it feels like we’re learning what Alice might feel like. We do go to preschool events and the graduations and things and we’re the only White people in the room and that’s the norm for Alice in her life because her family is White and her grandparents are White. And that’s what she’s going to have to deal with. We want to counteract that as much as possible by getting other people that look like her around her. But it’s not going to be a reality. It’s not the reality of many Black people in many workplaces and then in many cities. So, I think recognizing when it feels like to be the person who’s not in the majority has helped us when we...





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