I was at a parent council meeting last night; our daughter goes to an extremely diverse school, where white children are by far the minority. One of the parents passed on a comment by her daughter, wanting to know where the programs for white kids from ‘normal, Canadian’ culture were. This was in response to information about some programming for ESL/new immigrant kids that was being developed. Bless our VP, she got it bang-on, first try. She said, essentially, that every day all day was North American (read, white) culture day.
Cross-cultural understanding doesn’t just happen without work. We can’t just plop a bunch of cultures down side-by-side and think ‘multiculturalism accomplished!’ All you have at that point is a bunch of people who don’t understand and are afraid of each other, side by side. No recipe for problems there, right?
I read an interesting essay the other day that said, basically, there’s one step to raising racist (or sexist, or homophobic, or classist) kids: don’t ever talk about the issue. Don’t ever address it, act as though the issue doesn’t exist. That’s it; that’s all you have to do.
In order to raise children with some analysis on issues of oppression, we the adults have to create the context, explain the experience they’re having from a number of different perspectives, and encourage them to think critically about what they see every day, how they take up (or don’t take up) space. Encourage them to think about the messages they receive, seemingly through the air, about who belongs and who doesn’t, and what that implies, and whether it actually makes sense once you bring it to the level of consciousness. And be willing to have the discussions, no matter how uncomfortable or painful they may be. Own up to our own failings. Be willing to learn from their example.
And also, do this:
This is hard to do and goes against all your instincts, but:
Believe people who are subject to your oppression when they identify privilege.
Do not automatically afford the privilege of “benefit of the doubt” to people like YOU, and demand that the Others have to “prove” their case.
This is the first way you can be an “ally” (or, more accurately, a supporter); if you can’t manage this, then you’re not really anti-racist or anti-sexist or anti-homophobic or whatever.
Will there be times in which the people without privilege are wrong? Possibly, but you, as a privileged person, are not able to recognize this effectively. If someone on the other side of the privilege equation needs to be “corrected,” you can’t trust yourself to do it; you can, however, trust other POC (for example) to do it, and do it without throwing around privilege.
Don’t let your fear of “but what if I’m wrong and it’s a false charge against someone like me!” paralyze you — there are far more real incidents of actual racism and white privilege than there are false accusations of such. Presuming that accusations of privilege are likely to be false, and need to “proven,” are a way of denying the widespread existence and effects of privilege — and ignoring the Others who are trying to point out its omnipresent.