Yesterday I was in the car with my kindergartner and my first grader, driving home from school. They were telling me about what they had learned in school about Native Americans, given the quickly-approaching Thanksgiving holiday.
Ransom, my kindergartner, made a passing comment about how there are no Native Americans around today. I said, “Well, that’s not true. There are Native Americans today. Most of the time they wear clothes like the ones we wear. Sometimes on the reservations they do dress in traditional ways.”
This led to a further conversation about reservations, Native Americans, white people, slavery, and the early days of our country. We talked about how we, as a country, have not always treated people nicely and made good decisions. We talked about how white people made Native Americans leave their land and claimed it as their own.
We pulled into the driveway, and as he was getting out of the car, Ransom said, “I sure am glad I’m… (pause)… not one of those guys… I’m glad I’m not a Native American. Or a slave.”
He’s glad he’s white. Those are the words he was looking for and couldn’t find.
At first, it caught me off guard. This is the LAST thing I want my kids to think – that, somehow, being white is preferred over being a person of color.
And yet, the truth of that statement struck me as profound. He’s glad he’s white, because – at five years old – he recognizes the position of privilege he has and did nothing to earn.
And when we start to recognize the privilege that we have because of the color of our skin, we acknowledge the ramifications of that privilege on others.
We recognize that, when we don’t get pulled over because of the car we drive and the color of our skin, someone else is getting pulled over, because of the car they drive and the color of their skin.
We recognize that, though life isn’t necessarily easy, though there are always obstacles, there are more obstacles in the path of a person of color.
We recognize that we have an inherent trust in police officers and the government based on our experiences, but many people of color do not share those experiences.
We recognize that the system works for us, but the system doesn’t work for everyone.
I’m thankful that my five-year-old is glad he’s white, because that gives me hope that, as he gets older, he’ll continue to recognize his privilege and be an advocate, both by using his voice and – even more so – by listening to those with experiences different from his. Pretending every person has the same access to resources and opportunities accomplishes nothing but intensify the access of the privileged. If we continue to do this, today’s 5-year-olds of color will grow up in a world no more welcoming and equal than the world of their parents and grandparents.