I am going to be honest: My prejudice runs wide and deep. As a solidly middle-class, educated, cisgender white woman living in the Midwest who consumes media and actively participates in modern-day America, I’ve got a lifetime of bias and racism to contend with. I’m raising my children in a predominantly white world within a country facing systematic racism in our criminal justice system, our system of public education, and at large in our society. But here’s the thing: I want to do better.
I’d like to believe that all of us want better. And I’d like to think that as moms we yield a special power to not only improve ourselves as individuals, but to shape an entire generation into a people who are kinder and more fervent in their demand for equality and justice. Though I’m quick to remind myself that eliminating my own bias and racism will take a lifetime of intention and work and that much of the ugliness within is a symptom of the culture that all of us share, I know I am capable of great change and great compassion. But first, I have to do the uncomfortable work to learn and know better...all so that I can do better. I commit to starting here:
1. I will acknowledge my privilege. Sometimes when we hear the words “white privilege,” we hear the words “you’re white and you’re racist.” Let’s be clear: that is not the definition of white privilege. White privilege tends to be unintentional and uncomfortable to recognize, so it’s easy to take for granted. However, without acknowledging that it exists and without confronting it, the playing field in America will never be even. The first step as a white mom is to recognize my own plentiful privilege and the ways in which my children benefit from this privilege. I understand that though I am smart and hard-working, I still have white privilege. This feels uncomfortable, but naming it and owning it is the first step.
2. I will try to understand and examine my implicit bias. Implicit bias refers to “attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.” It has been widely studied and the research is conclusive: We all have implicit bias...men, women, rich, poor, conservative, liberal, young, old, and, yes, even well-intentioned white moms. Know this: Implicit racial bias is not the same thing as conscious racism. People who harbor implicit biases (remember, that’s all of us!) may not think of themselves as prejudiced; in fact, they likely consider prejudice abhorrent and may not understand they have these biases. The trick is to learn about what these look like for you as an individual. What triggers my bias? Where did it come from? How can I retrain my thoughts and the ways in which I experience and interpret the world? Again, to move toward true equality, it’s up to each of us to do the the hard, internal work of uncovering our own bias and how it impacts our response to the world.
3. I will listen and learn. I’ve said it to my sons and daughter a thousand times: Learning is hard. When facing something difficult, something new, or something that might make us think deeply or work hard, our instincts are often to deflect, ignore, or refuse to try. But life will be better when we are open to learning about the world around us. How best to learn about the experiences of others? Listening to the people who own the experience. I can read articles and consume news written by people of color. I can listen to black podcasts. I can read books written by immigrants and devour articles written by women of color. This isn’t drudgery; this is an opportunity to consume amazing new material and insight.
4. I will advocate for diversity in my life. For many of us, our cities and neighborhoods are segregated to the point that you actually have to advocate for diversity in your life. You and I can do this by making it a priority to interact with people of other races, religions, and backgrounds. How? Frequent public places—municipal swimming pools, neighborhood parks, and public schools. When you place value on social diversity, you’ll look for neighborhoods and schools that reflect your priorities and you’ll take your whole life there.
5. I will teach my kids that skin color matters. We are a beautiful and diverse people and we are not blind to color. As a white mom, I will teach my kids that skin color matters—to the point of acknowledging a certain group’s history. Ultimately, through lessons of past and present, my responsibility is to teach my children that skin color should not determine life or death.
6. I will pronounce my kids’ friends' names correctly. Thankfully, there are kids in my life that I have had to ask specifically for the pronunciation of their name. I will do this every time. By constantly mispronouncing a name or by nicknaming a child something more familiar to my tongue, I’m communicating that their identity should conform to the world I know rather than being responsive to them as a person.
7. I will amplify the voices of black and brown people. Here’s a script I will do my best to adopt: Are you in the position to put a minority or person of color in power? Do it. Read an important article written by or about a person of color? Share it. See art that you love that depicts people of color? Absorb it, hang it up in your home, and celebrate it. Notice a magazine that regularly puts people of color on their cover? Subscribe. I will also remind my white mom friends that we are powerful. Once we acknowledge that in our social circles we have a voice that other white moms will listen to, progress occurs. It’s not ideal, but as a group we have the opportunity to use our voices in order for other people to listen to voices of color. For instance, if your brown sister is speaking out and your peers don’t seem to hear her, it may be up to you to amplify her voice and her message by interpreting it for others. Unfortunately, sometimes the message of the oppressed isn’t heard until someone from the culture of power becomes a mouthpiece.
There is no doubt that prejudice impulses will take a lifetime to untangle and that the list here just scratches the surface of the journey towards becoming a woke white mom, but something that is true right now is that my capacity to love in infinite. Regardless of the complexity and nuance of being a white woman in America, I believe we all have enough compassion to share with those who struggle, those who look different, and those who come from a world that we fail to understand. In doing so, we’ll plant a seed of understanding and of solidarity. Such wisdom and guidance doesn’t just benefit people of color, it benefits all of us.
*A version of this article was published on the Quad Cities Moms' Blog. Much of this post was based on Episode 73 of the Mama Bear Dares podcast and stemmed from the conversation and research of co-hosts Leslie and Tesi.
Leslie Klipsch is the co-host of the Mama Bear Dares Podcast and author of Mama Bear's Manifesto: A Moms' Group Guide to Changing the World. She lives with her husband and three children, ages 12, 10, and 7, in the Midwest.