colour-conscious children rebelling

March 1, 2011

A few nights ago my wife had “the talk” with me. Now, I put this in parenthesis, since I assume that I’m not the only one who gets “the talk”, but since I’m new to the whole conversation on kids I might be wrong. It was the talk about our bad habits, and how we need to think about them, since we don’t want them to rub off onto our children. Well, I guess I already changes the meaning of “the talk” by using the plural “our” – yes, this was not the wife-nagging-the-husband kind of thing, but a truly heart to heart about our own lives.

She’s quite tactful, this wife of mine. She started out with the things she believe we will be quite able to transmit to our children (I will not list these, since I believe that every experienced parent will laugh at our naive idea that we might achieve some form of success at this thing called parenting). After the list of nice things, kind of stroking the ego of this future father, the hit me with the bomb: “I fear about the ideas concerning race our kid(s) might grow up with”…

Now, my more conservative friends following my thoughts over the past year or two might hope that my wife has finally made me see into my foolish ways of always talking about racism, and that becoming a father will now knock me to my senses, so that I will become a good liberal (yes, I do think conservatives sometimes want us to become liberals, if ever these definitions is still helpful), stop talking about this pestering problem, and quite down. But if this is what you hoped for, then I have sad news: it was exactly the opposite which she had in mind.

Now, we’ve put some thought into issues concerning race in the past. We “have black friends” (I have a coloured friend who always laughingly refer to the people who say that they aren’t racists since they have a black friend). We spent some time thinking through this intellectually. We’ve made some choices in our life to specifically change the spaces in which we live in order to embrace our position as a white minority in a place where we don’t hold power (knowing that we stand the chance of actually confirming the power we have as wealthy white people, since we are in a position to choose to change these things). Yet still she knew, and I knew she was right, 500 years of racialization is so deeply embedded within us, that raising kids not bound to this ideology is almost impossible.

Now, we both come from families whom have been considered “liberal” concerning issues of race at various times. We both are the second or third generation in our family attempting to work anti-racism. And although our parents might disagree with us on this point, we both believe that we’ve been able to build on what we found in our parents attempts at working for a post-racial South Africa, and that we have taken this quest to a deeper level. We both think (although this might just be the delusion of delayed adolescence striving to be rebellious) that we have sometimes frustrated our parents because we weren’t willing to settle for their attempts, but insisted on our own attempts.

So, we continued our conversation, emphasizing how important it will be that our children live in spaces where they know that not only white people, but also black people (when I refer to black I imply all those who was subjected being dehumanized in the way we constructed the ideas surrounding who was valued and important – thus everyone not finding themselves in the position of being white), are teachers. Not only white people, but also black people are managers, decision makers, and family friends. On an even more complex level is the question of whether we also want our children to live in a world where (should the social hierarchy of class continue) they know that not only black people, but also white people at times occupy the position of the worker (and then we still need to think how we want to help them to learn that the ideas concerning class need to be deconstructed). But when all was said and done we had to face one thing:

Our children will come to us one day asking how we could have taken part in the continued racism which we are trying to fight. And that is what we hope for. Maybe that is the best white parents can do. We won’t be raising colour-blind children, we should get rid of that myth. But hopefully we will raise colour-conscious children. This do not imply children hating their own skin, but children knowing the history of being white, in all it’s harsh realities. Remembering so that they can be a voice to say that this might never happen again. We hope that our children will be able to move even further along the road which we are traversing, coming back to their parents and calling us to take the next step towards a place which we cannot yet imagine. Or maybe they will just frustrate us, frustrate us because they won’t be willing to settle for the choices we have made. Might this not be part of what parenting is about in this racialized world?

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