How I Taught My Black Kids How To Teach White People How To Treat Black People

I’m white. Red headed, freckled, fair.

My husband was black. A beautiful shade of brown, actually. Big, strong, handsome. Larger than life.

I knew nothing of racism before I started dating him. He taught me, not only to recognize those feelings in others, but how to overcome them.

The first time I recall encountering the blind distaste of the uninformed by myself was a beautiful summer day in a small town where my husband was working for the season. I had taken two of my kids, my son who was aged six at the time, and my daughter who wasn’t yet two on the long drive into town. I wanted to stop in a country craft store to pick up a few things, and peeking in the windows, saw it wasn’t the kind of place to bring four very curious little hands.

The shop was in a small commercial building, its windows fronting on to the street, but its entrance located just inside the building, along a large wide corridor that led to other shops within the building. I left the kids together, baby in the stroller, 6-year-old proudly standing guard, and popped into the store. I was in there about fifteen minutes, found what I wanted, and was waiting in line at the cashier beside the door.

It was a feeling more than exact words that drew my attention from the packages in my hand to the customers around me. The cashier, who also happened to be the owner of the shop, was confidently discussing the lack of parenting skills it takes to raise such brats. My first thought was that I was going to catch it for leaving my kids alone outside, despite my white privilege knowing them to be perfectly safe.

But that wasn’t it. The cashier was doing her best to convince the other customers – there were four ahead of me – that (whatever it was that my kids were doing) was to be expected from ‘those’ children, ‘obviously raised by imbeciles who shouldn’t be having so many kids in the first place,’ etc. etc.

I could just make out the top of my son’s head from where I was standing; they were fine. So I continued to listen to this woman’s critique of me and my family. As the first customer in line left the store, I could hear my daughter laughing loudly, and knew her brother was doing his best to entertain her while he was in charge.

So I eavesdropped some more. The cashier went on with the next customer, and the next, and the next. While none of the customers outright agreed with her, there was the odd nod of agreement, and not one defied her claims. I was looking forward to paying for my items, my inner mama-bear taking a deep breath and prepping for battle.

And then I heard my husband’s words in my head.

Racism isn’t hate; it’s fear.

Some people just don’t know better.

Getting mad at them doesn’t solve anything.

Know when to walk away.

I got to the counter and the woman greeted me warmly, but with an apology for the ridiculous behaviour of that coloured (!) kid right behind her on the other side of the window. Despite all instinct to pull her eyelids up and over the back of her head, I reacted calmly and rationally.

“What exactly is he doing?” I asked.

“I just paid to have that window cleaned, and that kid is out there licking it. Licking it! All over, like a dog with an ice cream cone. ”

I cringed on the inside. Not one of my proudest Mom-moments.

She took a deep breath to begin again, but I stopped her, interrupting sternly. “I’m sure he means no harm by it. He’s just a little boy.” I smiled, paid quickly, and stepped away from the counter before she could go on. But she continued her tirade with the customer behind me.

I stepped out the door to find my son, face pressed up against the glass, blowing against it so his cheeks would puff out, and, yes, licking the window. As my daughter fell over in her stroller in peels of laughter.

He wasn’t being just some kid; he was being an awesome kid.

I crouched down beside him and hugged him tight.

“I love that you’re such a great big brother,” I told him. “But the lady who owns the shop is really angry that you messed up her window.”

He looked at me with bright eyes, clearly considering the window for the first time. He looked at it, all smeared and lip printed, not sure if he was in trouble.

“Oh Sweety, I’m not mad. But I think someone needs a lesson here.”

“I’m sorry, Mom. I won’t do it again,” he promised earnestly.

“No, not you. The lady inside.”

He looked genuinely confused.

“That lady got mad that you messed up her window. She didn’t care that you were making your sister laugh. She didn’t care that you were having fun. She didn’t care that you’re only six years old. She only saw that you’re black. So she thinks you’re bad.

“Now it’s our job to go change that. It’s not ok for people to treat you like that. You have to teach them how to treat you. And you do that by showing them that you’re a good person.” He seemed agreeable enough.

So we went back into the store, waited patiently in line, and I will never forget the look on that poor woman’s face when she recognized me, connected me with the kids, and realized what an ignorant fool she’d been.

Before she could apologize, I pushed my son up front and centre. He was amazing.

“I was the one licking your window. I was only doing it to make my sister laugh. I’m sorry I made a mess. If you can give me a cloth I’ll go clean it up.”

The woman looked at me and my mama-pride screamed loud and clear that he had come up with that on his own.

She looked back down at him and visibly melted. I felt the win.

She came around the counter, squatted down to him and my daughter and apologized to him for thinking he was a bad boy when she didn’t even know him. They swapped names, had a bit of a talk, and then she happily returned his great big little boy hug. She told him not to worry about the window, apologized to me, and we headed home feeling like we’d made the world just a little nicer that day.

Dad was pretty proud of us, too.

We saw that woman around town several more times that summer. She always stopped to say hi, introduced us to whomever she happened to be out with. And I am positive that she’s shared this story with others over the years as well.

Now, fifteen years later, all five of my kids know that they are ambassadors for their people. All of their people: the black, the white, the mixed-race, the short, the tall, the overweight, the underweight, the disabled, the mentally ill; they cover quite a few subgroups!

It’s a big responsibility; and they’re ok with that. They understand that they are role models, whether they like it or not, whether they want it or not. The minute they get out of bed in the morning, someone is watching them. Someone is making assumptions and opinions based on their behaviour, every minute of every day – and more so these days. And while they’re certainly not perfect – did I mention one of them spent 15 minutes licking a shop window once? – they make me proud.

And maybe, just maybe, one of the best things they’ll ever teach anyone, is how to teach others how to treat them with respect and dignity.

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An Open Letter to Potential Refugees

Dear Refugee:

I am one of the Canadians who is not supporting our new Prime Minister’s promise to bring you and thousands of others like you here to relocate.

There is a good chance I’m going to lose some friends over this. Fact is, if anything I say here comes as a surprise, they didn’t know me very well. But please, hear me out.

This does not make me a bad person. This does not mean I don’t care. And it does not make me racist.

It does, however, mean that I will protect my family and my friends, my safety and my way of life before I will blindly accept you on your word. The fact of the matter is, I don’t know you. You have an incredible story. It’s very likely a lot worse than you’ve been able to express. And I don’t for a minute pretend to understand what you’ve been through.

But I do understand enough to know that I cannot let you bring danger with you.

Chances are, you have a great deal to offer Canada. You likely have skills and ideas to improve things here. You are probably capable of contributing to the compassion, culture, and success of our land. You will bring new opinions, traditions, and perspective. These are actually the ingredients that have made Canada the beautiful place it is!

But I don’t know that. I don’t know you. You can’t possibly just expect me to trust you. And that has nothing to do with who you are, where you’re from, or what deity you think created us all.

It does have something to do with the people who are chasing you from your home.

You see, if I were a bad guy, I’d make sure me and some other bad guys blended in with you and your families, and I’d wait for some caring, big-hearted country to let us in, and, well, really, it’d just be too easy. Things have changed in the 500+ years that immigrants have been joining this nation. Gone are the days when people arrived not knowing what a suicide bomber was. All it takes is one lone murderer, one who is convinced of his mission and is not afraid to die, to threaten the safety of innocent Canadians. That price is too high to pay. And I for one do not want to be sitting at the funeral of two hundred of my friends and family consoling myself with the fact that at least I didn’t hurt some poor refugees’ feelings by not trusting them.

Now, I’m not saying you can’t come here. On the contrary, like most Canadians, I’d like to do more to help those who do come find their way once they’re here.

What I am saying is, I’d like to see a better way to get you here. As our neighbours in Newfoundland reacted to hundreds of sudden visitors on 9-11, there are countless families in Canada who would be willing to help – to put their own money, not just their tax dollars where their mouths are – and our Government should encourage that. I’d like to see every family who supports this initiative sponsor a refugee family. Sponsorship should include lodging, within or close to the sponsor family’s home, provision of new and donated supplies, goods, and belongings, intensive guidance to help the new family find their way through our health and education systems, our employment and banking systems, even our grocery stores and garbage collection protocols. Sponsoring a refugee family should mean inclusion into Canadian culture – all facets of it: our food, our dress, transportation, entertainment. The sponsor must ensure that the new family understands Canadian manners and masters at least one of our official languages. And the sponsor should be completely and totally, 100% responsible for any negative impact their charge may have on our community.

Imagine coming to a country where you spend at least three years in close, protected, inclusive, and compassionate contact with a family who already knows what life in Canada really has to offer, and sponsors would enjoy untold tax breaks to help offset the expense of having a second family to support until they’re on their feet.

Of course, Canadians who are truly against this humanitarian immigration would not feel compelled to participate, but could rest easy knowing that those refugees who do arrive are making connections and building relationships with their Canadian sponsors, neighbours, and community in a positive and meaningful way. As we get to know each other, we build respect. And trust. And you become one of us, contributing everything good that you, your family, and your culture have to offer. Trust me, Canadians will always welcome a new food and another reason to celebrate!

The bottom line is, I’m afraid. I’m as afraid of the bad guys as you are. In some ways, I have more to lose. We enjoy a peace that you probably can’t imagine. One that I’d love to share with you. But to do that, we first have to protect it. And if we’re stupid about this whole process, you could very well be making the trip for nothing.

Give Your Kids The Gift Of Age

After bingeing through Season 3 of House of Cards yesterday, I decided to give Netflix a bit of a break and started digging through the DVD stash. I found a copy of “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” that I didn’t know we had; Paul must have grabbed it at some point. I told the kids I’d never seen it, but let’s give it a try. It’s about old people.bestexoticmarigold

They stayed.

The only thing better than the movie itself was the fact that all three of them – my oldest son and two youngest daughters – not only sat through the whole thing, but seemed to genuinely enjoy the story. They recognized two of the actors from Downton Abbey, one from Pirates of the Caribbean, and one from a James Bond flick. Their reviews were all quite positive and thoughtful, with a unanimous thumbs up for the film.

Did I mention the movie is specifically about old people? It’s about old people – getting old. And all the crap that comes with it. It’s about broken hips and dead spouses and boring retirements and lost loves and death and fear of, well, life, and aging, and death. It’s about culture shock and homophobia. And misguided family and lost retirement funds. But it’s funny and hopeful and a grand adventure. It’s about loveable characters and one or two not quite so. It’s about overcoming fear and learning to live a full life. It’s about learning to blog in your final chapter.

And the kids watched.

No bored sighs. No extended bathroom breaks, popcorn runs, or naps. Teenagers. Old people. Remarkable.

DSCN0713I think I shall have a little chat with Nana today at Sunday dinner. Last night was her doing. Watching my kids I realize what a gift I have given them by nurturing my relationship with my Mom. Nana comes to dinner every Sunday. She comes to football games and plays and swim meets. She stays over for days at Christmas. She comes to the cottage. She even squished herself into an RV with us last summer and spent a month in a tin can with me and 5 twenty-teens as we trekked across Canada. She puts her four cents into every conversation, whether it’s welcome or not. And never thinks twice about giving a kid a good talking to when she thinks he or she has it coming. She sticks up for me. And she tells me when she thinks I’m wrong. And after all is said and done, my kids see her as an integral part of our family. We’ll be starting renovations on the house this summer to move her in with us. It will be crowded and probably more than a little challenging. But the idea of having to double up bedrooms, store extra stuff, weather yet another major renovation, and all the crap that comes with it, went over with the kids like chocolate on ice cream. No problem, Mom. What do you need us to do? Because Nana needs this.

Wow.

I think she’ll like to hear of the impact she has on my kids. And that, annoying as her requests for inconvenient help can get at times, she has taught my children a healthy respect for and understanding of the elderly. (Please don’t tell her I just called her that…) I want her to know that, as much as she has meant to me as my mom when I was a kid, my life is richer now for having her as Nana. Not sure how – or even if – I could ever thank her for that.

I get that many kids never get the chance to get to know their grandparents; my own have lost their dad. I understand the loss. But kids still need grandparents.

If not their own, then perhaps a borrowed set.old man and child

You see, it’s super easy to get to know old people. You just have to find them – we usually keep a bunch of abandoned extras locked up in batches. Spend some time listening to what usually turns out to be some of the best stories ever! Volunteer to take some of them grocery shopping or to just sit and talk – better yet, listen. Make a friend. Introduce them to your kids. And then bribe them with a good home-cooked meal. Ta-da! Adopted grandparents! Next thing you know you’re buying gifts, inviting them to graduations, and sneaking salt shakers into the nursing home.

In the end, teaching our kids how to treat the elderly is an investment that will eventually make us the primary beneficiary! And if we have to make a few old people happy along the way, well, so be it.