As a black South African, I have spent so much time observing myself, my blackness, my consciousness and what I believe I want my world to be shaped by. I do not think that this is unique to me. I feel that this is something quite common to the Black South African person.
It might sound like a lot, but in truth, the ability to see ourselves in relation to others is the only thing that gives us strength. It is not something that we have been taught to do. It is not something that education has gifted us with the tools to do. Yes, education has allowed some of us access to more tools, finer, more delicate tools but ultimately the awareness of blackness in relation to the world is something that we, as black people, realise and navigate through as a means of staying sane in this racially constipated society.
At this point in my life, and in society, I feel that the question, “What are white people doing for their white children?” seems late yet highly needed.
I work with parents, white parents who are adopting black children. These white people are readying themselves for a lifetime of questions based on a reality that they feel they have very little, to no control over. They are right, they can not change South Africa’s history. Sometimes, sadly, some of them hope that their family alone, will be enough of an example.
What are white parents of white children preparing themselves for? Nothing. White parents of white children don’t encourage their children to ask questions like, “Mom, why are there only whites at this party?”
White parents of white children don’t prepare themselves to answer questions, important questions such as, “Dad, why are all of your friends laughing at the way that black man speaks?” “Why did you ignore that woman at the window.” “Why don’t you give that family a lift home, our car is completely empty.” “Why are all of your facebook pictures/ family holiday albums and wedding pictures filled with only white people? Why does Precious live with us even though she just had her own baby and looks like she needs to cry every second of every day?”
Black children of black or white parents ask questions all of the time. Questions that are almost impossible to answer. Questions that grind your teeth and make your stomach cramp. Questions that have no answers and also only one, “Because you are black and the world is designed for whiteness!”
If white parents took a moment to acknowledge their whiteness and made an effort not to pass whiteness on to their white children, we, and I really do mean all of us, could be looking at a future filled with a change that we have all desperately been wanting. We don’t want unification, we want inclusion and the normalisation of variety
My white school friends often send me WhatsApp voice notes asking me the questions that they should be asking their parents. Sharing with me the fears that they should be sharing with their other white friends. These white people believe that race is a conversation that takes place between those who are affected by it.
Are white peoples not affected? Are you really not affected? Look at your life? Look at your fear? Look at your shame and guilt? Are you not affected? Look at your children, know that they are taking in everything that you are. Know that they are observing your unspoken languages and thoughts. Know that they can see you turn your head away from the person at the window asking for R1. Know that they can see you stiffen and move faster as you pass the person buying food in the supermarket. Are you not affected?
Your children should be asking the questions. You should be having the conversations. As a parent, your want should be to make your child stronger, better, braver than what you are. Is this not what we want for our children?
If you were opening up your home to conversations about the reality of South Africa, conversations about your whiteness, conversations about your fears, conversations about your shame. If you were the one to ask your other white friends “Why is everyone here white?” If you were the white person to leave a restaurant because there were only white people in it, your child would begin to realise that the world is unfair.
Your child would stop causing racially harmful interactions at school, such as “Your hair is so spongey. Why is your mom white? Or, when you have straight hair, you look like a princess. Your child would understand that whiteness is harmful to humans beings and that whiteness is different to being a white person.
White people who raise white children, your responsibility is not to simply be a nice person, a nice Christian, a nice neighbour, a nice employee, a nice customer, a hearty donator. It is your responsibility to open the eyes of your child, let them see the world, let them ‘see colour’, let them ask all of the questions that make you sweat and squirm.
When your family holiday photos look like my family holiday photos there will be nothing abnormal to ask about. When your friend group looks like my friend group, your child will have no need to ask, loudly, “Mom, why is that black person holding that white, brown, black, man, woman, persons’ hand. Are they friends, lovers, brothers, sisters?”
So then, Dear white people raising white children, now is the time. Have the conversations.
Image: Issa Rae – Paste Magazine.