Opening Words from Sun. October 8 by Sue Williams

Good morning. When Andie Jackson asked me to do Opening words today about Raising Anti-Racist children, I hesitated, not because I didn’t want to do it, but because I wasn’t sure how successful we had been at that. Both Ron and I grew up initially in all-White cultures, but I was fortunate to attend an integrated city high school, and also a music school where I studied and played music with both Black and White students. Ron served in the military and had jobs where he met people of many backgrounds and cultures.

We lived through the turbulent 60s era of civil rights actions and marches, and assassinations of both Black and White leaders. Although we sympathized with the fight for civil rights, we didn’t march or protest publicly. Like many of our generation, we hoped progress was being made due to integrated schools, and the passage of new civil rights laws regarding housing and public places. When we married and started having our kids in the 70s, we wanted to be sure they had earlier exposure to diversity than we did. We bought a house in Florissant just at the time of the court-ordered merger of the Ferguson- Florissant, Berkeley and Kinloch schools. I was 5 months pregnant and recall an older White neighbor warning me that my children were going to have to go to school with Black children. I told her that was why I wanted to live in that neighborhood.

As the kids grew, we tried to expose them to books, TV shows and activities that promoted positive values of gender equality, racial equality, and cultural understanding. We joined a group called Parenting for Peace and Justice, a national organization of like-minded parents who wanted to take on a whole basketful of the negative “isms” we had grown up with: racism, sexism, militarism. We were ambitious and naïve. We got to know other families, some with Black or biracial children, and got involved with projects and programs to counteract those negative ideas. We raised money for children who were victims of poverty and political unrest in Mexico and Nicaragua; and we hosted several children from Mexico and Guatemala in our home for several months each. We attended camps with families from various economic, religious and ethnic groups, even Russians in the former Soviet Union.

At school and in Scouts, the kids interacted with Black children, and socialized with them as they grew older. We actively discouraged racial slurs or stereotypes expressed by relatives or friends.

Like many of the parents in Jennifer Harvey’s book, we tried to be race- conscious and raise our children in a more diverse society than we had known. However, as I read her excellent book, I realized that we were not very explicit in addressing racial injustice with the children. And, although we took them to rallies on other issues like the ERA, nuclear disarmament and injustice in Latin America, we don’t recall participating in actions for racial justice in the U.S.

So, were we successful in raising anti-racist White children? I think the verdict is mixed. I have asked each of our two adult children about this and how their upbringing has affected their own parenting. Both felt they learned liberal ideas, acceptance and inclusivity at home, but more specifically about racial issues at school and from friends.

As they are raising their own children, they are addressing racism as it arises at school, on TV or in movies. Our daughter recently read a book with her 9-year-old about what causes differences in hair and skin color, and talked about how some kids are treated differently because of those differences. Our granddaughter thinks that is “dumb.”

Although they live in mostly White suburbs in Missouri and California, I’m glad our grandchildren have more friends from different cultures than we did, as well as transgender friends.

Race and gender inequality are even more in the forefront of our social consciousness today than they were when we were younger. I thought Jennifer Harvey’s book had some great ideas about helping young White children understand and confront injustice and build a healthy identity of their own. I wish that I had read something like it when I was a young mother and will certainly share it with my kids and other young parents I know. Thank you, Jennifer.

NOTE: The ideas and opinions in this post do not necessarily express the thoughts or opinions of the Ethical Society of St. Louis or its leadership.