Like me some of you may be thinking…why? Isn’t race and class a thing of the past? Don’t we leave in the world that Dr King dreamt of…where the colour of your skin matters less than the content of your character?
The simple answer is…yes AND no. Yes, we have made incredible strides in the past half a century. Yes, the USA has for the first time in history elected a President of colour. Yes, scholarships are available to poor students that allow them to attend the best universities around the world.
But in the face of those truths are equally valid…and discouraging ones. The ever increasing percentage of ethnic minority drop-outs. Prisons around the world that are disproportionately filled with minorities. Drug sales on many of our city streets. The list seems endless.
So how do we as parents communicate the hope in light of the inner city decay that may surround our children?
1) Accept the responsibility. It would be easy to simply focus upon the positives…a message of limitless possibilities. Yet our children are not blind; they recognise the injustices and disparities around them. If we as their parents fail to address the issues straight on, then they will turn to others…drugs to numb the pain, gangs that deepen racial divides and religions that preach hate over love.
2) Walk it…don’t just talk it. If we want our children to see the hope above the sorrow, then they must see it first in us. It is not easy to teach our children about a better tomorrow when we are ourselves sinking into the despair of today. Have we taken advantage of the opportunities available to us? If we want our children to read, how often do they see us with a book? If education is the way up and out, have they seen us cultivate an attitude of life-long learner.
3) Fight for it. It is easier for all of us to simply walk away from perceived injustices, but if we do then things will never improve. My husband tells the story of his friend who was stopped by the MET (London Metropolitan Police) for a random search on his way home. He watched as white commuter after white commuter passed unchecked by the officers. But the line he entered was pre-dominantly black. My husband and his friend riled about the injustice for days…but his friend had said nothing at the time, he filed no complaint with the independent police commission. And nothing came of it. It is not easy, but some of us must stand up and be the Rosa Parks of this generation.
4) Preach it. Talk openly and honestly about something that both my native US and adopted UK would rather not face…that race and class are still real-life issues for millions (hundreds of millions) of people. And it is both…race and class…the two are both inseparable and deeply divisive. In the UK, the highest drop-out rate is among white boys from the working class. Yet, few people can ignore that ethnic minorities disproportionately bear the burden of poverty. We, the adults, must commit to dialogue about these issues…not among upper class academicians but over coffee and tea at community associations, parent-teacher meetings and most importantly perhaps in our churches. Our heads have been in the sand long enough.
5) Keep the faith alive. As Dr King said…we will get there. Barack Obama’s election shows that we are. But in the day-to-day struggles of growing up poor in drug-infested council estates in the UK or government projects in East Los Angeles, it is often hard to recognise the progress we have and are making. But if we do not, then anger and hopelessness will set in. Those are our biggest enemies as parents because they lead back to the drugs, gangs and militancy which have kept us in poverty to begin with. We must instead celebrate each victory…large and small. Whether that is the election of a black President of the US or the formation of a new committee to discuss these issues in our school or church…or even (and especially) a new spelling word or math score. Each accomplishment is equally important for the future.
If you have read any of my other articles, you may wonder why increasingly I write about what some would call off-topic issues of pregnancy, birth and parenting. Why would a white doula and child-birth educator write about such things as race, class and raising genius children on a budget?
The answer is that I grew up poor in the Deep South of the US. While I married first into an educated, upper-class family, we still struggled financially to raise our four children. I have struggled as a single mother to pay the rent and provide medical care. I am the mother of two Mexican-American sons and a mixed race daughter. And I care passionately about our children…all our children.
I am confronted daily with the realisation that the same skills I provide to my middle and upper class clients are desperately needed but unaffordable to most of my own neighbours. I sit on an uncomfortable fence sometimes…and I long to as many of you jump squarely off that fence. But we all face the reality that this is not possible and on some level the recognition that it is not even desirable. The goal is for integration of race and class not further alienation.
So why do I write articles like this…because I must. They are as relevant to parenting for all of us as any about sleepless nights of pregnancy, caesarean births or breastfeeding in public. Because the greatest truth of all is that those issues are the same whether we live in a multi-million pound flat near Hyde Park or a tenement in Chicago.