White Privilege and Elementary Thanksgiving

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.

2 thoughts on “White Privilege and Elementary Thanksgiving

  1. Hi, new friend! Blogging is super brave! I hope to do this constantly some day! You are my new inspiration. Just a suggestion/nuance for the next conversation with your sweet babes. Since there is a group (actually groups) called Native Americans (First Nation) from the Americas and they are still alive, I’d like to suggest that you refer to the “slaves” as enslaved Africans because it gives reference to Africa and acknowledges that this group also survived and their progeny are African Americans. There is a habit in our collective culture to refer to my ancestors as slaves. That is problematic in comparison to the other description because it implies an origin. It also perpetuates the idea of purpose or function or value which does quite a number on the psyche. It’s something I’m changing in my vocabulary for the purpose of self care and also modeling an attention to positive, healthy images and language about Africans, the diaspora and Africa. Hope that makes sense. Great post.

    • Thanks for that suggestion, Deirdre. I appreciate your pointing it out, and I’ll try to change that vocabulary. I do have a question – I had started using “First Nation People,” but then I read that that phrase is only used in Canada. Do you know if it’s preferred in the U.S. as well?

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