How Do I Teach My (White) Sons About Race?

I want my sons to realize that racial relations in our country need healing. I want them to bear the responsibility and burden to help.

Race relations in this country are broken. This simple fact, we all know, is black and white. I desperately want our nation to be reconciled. Honestly speaking, my power in the world is here, at home, as a mother. I have incredible influence over what is within my own walls and I want to use that to create a better world.

But I am looking at the young faces of the privileged. Therefore, I find myself challenged by the task of creating a more compassionate future for all. As a mother to two white sons, how do I help?

Months ago I would have answered my own question differently. Back then, before church shootings and more Ferguson shootings, I truly believed the only way to racial equality was for human beings to be colorblind. I longed for a world where no one had to check what race they were on a college application because it just didn’t matter. All that mattered was what we do with ourselves.

I wanted to raise my sons to be colorblind.

But now, I am not so sure. The answer seems far more complicated.

I was confronted with this racial education quagmire recently.

During one of his school days, my kindergartner was sent home with a storybook on Jackie Robinson. My son loves baseball so it seemed like a good fit: He would learn about an important, cultural-changing event within the world of a sport he is enamored with.

After school, we immediately sat down and started to read it together. By page four I closed the cover and told him, gently, that I would prefer to read something else. I slid the book under the couch, hidden.

The book is from the fictional perspective of the batboy for the Brooklyn Dodgers during Jackie Robinson’s controversial start. The batboy openly shares how he doesn’t think he should be made to help a “Negro.” He refuses to do anything for Robinson because his father taught him it isn’t right for a white person to serve a black person.

I later finished the book on my own and the story is, as you might guess, one of redemption. The boy realizes how wrong he is.

Of course, I agree with what the book concludes. That boy was certainly wrong.

But, still, it made me pause. Should I be filling my very young sons’ minds with these concepts even (perhaps especially) if it is from a school book? At what point does an education evolve into the power of suggestion?

Right now, my children play with anyone. Their lives are preoccupied with who can tie their shoes, who can get across the monkey bars, and who shares (and who doesn’t). They talk about who is good at basketball, who runs down the hill fastest, and who hit who in the afternoon argument. Everyone is equal on the playground.

I am not sure that implanting a long ago idea that black people are not worthy through a picture book on sports is helping racial relations.

But, then, it’s complicated.

Because I also want my sons to grow up with an awareness of how privileged they are to be white males in our society. I want my sons to realize that racial relations in our country need healing. I want them to bear the responsibility and burden to help.

So I go back to the self I was before that book came home, before the all-too-often racial killings, to the me who believed that my children should learn to assess every human they met on merit and soul, not skin color. Ideally, this sounds beautiful.

In reality, my children will not grow into a colorblind world. There will be slayings, and violence, and slurs, and hurt…so much hurt. My family lives in an area that is moderately diverse, but it is nowhere as integrated as it can be, as it should be. Colorblindness cannot happen if kids don’t see enough color, either.

Looking at the news, feeling the hurt, I am so confused. I no longer know where to turn my power of influence. At what point does explaining become an integral step to being responsible? Or at what point does a picture book about Jackie Robinson introduce discrimination in the first place?

As a mother I fervently want to raise good stewards of our nation. I want to leave behind a legacy of compassion and love.

How do I raise my two white sons to be part of the solution?

Allison Barrett Carter is a freelance writer in North Carolina whose pieces have appeared in many places, such as The New York Times’ Motherlode, The Washington Post On Parenting, The Mid, Mamalode, The Good Men Project, and in several print anthologies as well as various local news outlets. She is on a journey to keep learning and finding the best life, documenting it all on her website. She can be found on Twitter (@allisonbarrettc) or on her Facebook page and welcomes the opportunity to connect.

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