It’s a typical Sunday. We pry our kids from the screens and go for a drive. Along the way, we pass picturesque homes and prim lawns. With “Black Lives Matter,” “Pride Month,” “Thanks for Essential Workers” and “Congrats, Graduate!” signs, there’s certainly enough for a competitive game of “I Spy.”
Every so often, a “Save Our Suburbia” sign passes my peripheral. You may have seen them, too. OK, it’s perhaps slightly less blatant, but between promotion for programs geared toward affluent (often white) families and the fear-mongering posters depicting the “monstrous” public housing complexes threatening the community, I don’t need to know Morse code to decipher the message. With the public’s attention on race and social justice, I think about my fellow suburban moms and ask myself, “What’s a white parent to do?” I don’t have all the answers, as the problem of systemic racism and inequality requires multiple approaches from many institutions, but I do have a few ideas where we can start as individuals.
My children have often asked me why our house is small or why we don’t take trips each school vacation like most of their peers in our affluent community. While there are many wonderful aspects of our town, the metaphorical white picket fences need to be razed. We cannot claim inclusivity while erecting barriers to keep lower- and middle-income (and often minority) families from the neighborhood.
A few years back, a nearby housing project created quite the brouhaha while demolition of smaller homes to create McMansions were at an all-time high. Some residents claimed to fear traffic congestion and environmental affects, but the loudest rallying cry came from young families concerned about the impact to local schools. If affordable housing is in demand, it must be created. If not here, then somewhere. Opposition to affordable housing tends to be a NIMBY issue rather than resulting from genuine traffic or environmental concerns. Heaven forbid the schools don’t make it into Boston Magazine’s top 10.
We need to value socioeconomic balance and racial and ethnic diversity just as much as high MCAs and SAT scores. Diversity transforms the suburban landscape for the better. Next time a developer wants to build affordable housing in your area, go to your town meeting, talk with your neighbors and see what you can do to support making your community a place where all people can afford to live and thrive.
Like many new parents, when I had my first child, I wanted to meet other moms and find little playmates for my daughter. There was a dearth of programs, meetups and mommy-and-me groups to join. Many were pricey, and I was told these were the “best,” as they would help me find other new moms much like myself. The problem was, I didn’t necessarily want to find people like myself. I enjoy rich conversations and sharing of experiences that comes with being around diverse company, and, perhaps more importantly, I wanted my children to form bonds with kids from all different backgrounds.
When my daughter was 3, a few days after she started a YMCA camp, she said to me, “Mommy, I am very white.” After a brief pause while my sardonic id screamed, “No, REALLY?!” we had our first real discussion about race, which turned into a wonderful moment of teaching, learning and discovery that never would have happened if I had enrolled her in the more popular and expensive programs the neighborhood moms raved about.
Children learn from us. If we want our children to be inclusive, we need to stop forming cliques under the guise of support groups or toddler enrichment activities. Instead, there are many fantastic (often free or low-cost) programs offered by libraries, state-funded CFCE programs, YMCAs and park and recreation departments, which would help open our social circles to include people from varied racial, ethnic, religious and socioeconomic groups.
My daughter may be past the tot-time stage, but the questioning and learning continues. The other day, she asked me what I have against Barbie dolls. She knows I won’t buy them, and the only ones she has were given to her by others. I held up the Malibu Barbie in one hand, and one of her Lammily dolls—a doll made to look like a real young woman—in the other. I pointed out the obvious differences in size and proportions, but I also explained that many dolls, like Barbie, are blonde and blue-eyed, while the world contains such a beautiful mosaic of colors, hair textures and facial features more akin to her Black Lammily with the stunning afro.
I ask you to pause a minute: take a look through your toy bin, bookshelf and Netflix account. What do you see? If your child plays with dolls or action figures, do the vast majority look like them? Do the books and TV shows reflect true diversity, or is there a token person of color acting as a sidekick to the white protagonist? If we want to teach our children about the world, we need to show them that people of color are the norm rather than the exception. Ask yourself how you can bring more diversity into your home so your children can get an authentic understanding of our world.
I would be remiss during this global pandemic if I don’t mention that COVID-19 has disproportionately affected people of color, ravaging Black communities with high transmission and fatality rates. Yet despite overwhelming evidence that cloth face masks reduce transmission, every time I go for a walk, I inevitably zigzag through an obstacle course of countless folks without masks, sometimes even hosting neighborhood block parties that spill out onto the street. And yes, these are the same folks who proudly display their Black Lives Matter lawn signs.
Despite the clever hearts, stars and Spider-Man prints, my kids hate wearing masks. But I explain social responsibility—just as we donate to the food pantry and support causes to create a more just world, I think we can deal with a little discomfort in order to lessen the impact this virus has had upon the most vulnerable in our society.
With people coming out of the white-washed woodwork declaring allyship and claiming to be anti-racist, I truly hope we will see changes within our communities. As we profess our desire for racial justice, let’s also look inward at ways in which our everyday lives confer systemic prejudice in a larger society. Let Black Lives Matter be more than a slogan we put on social media in our otherwise white worlds.
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