Swastika bearing white supremacists march openly through the streets killing an innocent defender of human rights and beating a black man with sticks. Their country’s leader justifies their actions. Even seemingly less extreme caucasians are offended by this commercial saying things aren’t really all that bad and they shouldn’t be vilified in such a way. People call out those who enjoy white privilege and choose to stay silent. And I am tired. I am tired of fighting against the tide every single day.
Many a well-meaning person is wondering aloud what to do, how to help. People search for grand gestures and spectacular social media posts they hope will go viral to voice their outrage and hope for change. But how about cleaning up your own house first?
“What?” you say. “I am not racist or bigoted in any way!” Perhaps you are not but your actions may inadvertently be contributing to the problem.
First some background information. We are a two mom family. As such, the topic of diversity is at the forefront in our house for obvious reasons. We talk to our kids about how families come in all shapes and sizes – some with two dads, some with a single parent, some with children being raised by grandparents, etc.
Even so, this is what happened the other day. Our daughter came home from day camp announcing that she wanted to marry her counselor. Without missing a beat my partner asked her if her counselor was a man or a woman. Here’s where the story goes sideways. My daughter blinked. She blinked and hesitated a moment before answering that her counselor was male.
In that one little blink the tide pushed us all back again. Despite the family she is being brought up in, she had a “hunh?” moment when it was subtly suggested that she may have had a crush on a girl. Despite all our efforts to talk about diversity and inclusion, at the grand old age of five and a half, society has done its job on her and enforced its “norms”.
Well what’s that got to do with me you might ask? If you can’t see where I’m going with this, let me present you with a situation. You are visiting a friend when her 12 year old son comes home from school. Your friend teasingly mentions that he has his first big crush. You smile at him as he blushes and say, “so, what’s her name?” I am willing to bet most of you are still wondering what the problem is with that response. If so, you are inadvertently part of the tide.
Whether that boy is straight, gay, or trans, you have just imposed a societal “norm” on him that, when repeated frequently enough, will ingrain itself in his mind. Heaven help him if he is in fact questioning his sexuality and has now been made to feel at best extremely awkward and at worst like a freak of nature.
You want to know how you can help? Think about this. If you walk around assuming all of your children’s friends are being raised by a mom and a dad you are part of the tide. If you live with the assumption that every woman you see was born with a vagina you are part of the tide. If you are a mature woman and you refer to your common-law male spouse as your “boyfriend” rather than “partner” in case someone might think you’re a lesbian you are part of the tide. If I am chatting about my children and you automatically ask about my husband you are part of the tide. If your child has tried to describe someone to you and when you meet the person you discover he/she is black and you ask “why didn’t you tell me he/she was black?” then you are part of the tide.
In most cases these things are not done malevolently. However, they are exclusionary and harmful. Obviously this is not on the same scale as white men openly beating a black man with sticks in public in 2017, but the roots of the evil are the same. They begin with learned beliefs. Beliefs that things should be a certain way. Beliefs that we inadvertently reinforce by making assumptions constantly.
You want to make a change? Start opening your horizons. Entertain the possibility that that kid across the street is gay or the mom next door was born male. Then adjust your vocabulary and responses to be inclusionary for everyone. Talk to your kids about diversity without being prompted, because the day your daughter comes home asking why Suzie has two dads (whazzup with that mom?) it’s because she already perceives it as being outside of the norm.
The fight for human rights is not some glamorous social media battle. It is nurtured in the everyday things we do and say. It is cultivated in our children by our actions. Our best hope for the future is to raise children who won’t blink. At anything.