Yesterday, my six year old daughter started talking to me about Rosa Parks. I'm not sure if this was something that had come up at school or if she had been reading the picture book we have about Rosa Parks, but she embarked on this conversation about how unfair it was to black people to be treated like that and how she would be like Rosa Parks and not give up her seat. And I went along with it, making agreeing noises and throwing in comments about being aware of injustices and standing up for those who need help... all very standard and a little trite.
And then my daughter said: "I'm glad I'm not black."
Obviously, in the context, I get what she meant. But it was such an awful thing to hear on so many levels, that I had no suitable reaction. It's a depressing acknowledgment that her life is easier because she's not black. It's horrible because it completely negates everything worth celebrating about black heritage and culture. And it's uncomfortable, embarrassing, because that's the kind of thing we're not supposed to say out loud. It's the kind of thing we're not supposed to feel.
As always when the children go off my parenting script, I rambled helplessly for a few minutes trying to tag off the key politically correct points. I talked about white privilege and how it was good to recognise that we had advantages because we're white but that doesn't make it bad to be black. I talked in very vague terms about how black people have a lot to be proud of, but of course I couldn't give any examples because I am a well-intentioned but ultimately insular white person who doesn't think well on her feet.
I remember what I talked about, but—crucially—I dont remember what I said, and I'm not convinced that my daughter understood any of it. I need to prepare, find a time to bring this topic up again and talk through it a bit with both children. In the meantime, it's another reminder of just how ineffectual we actually are when it comes to supporting equal rights.
PS In another fantastically uncomfortable parenting moment, my daughter started reading this blog over my shoulder as I typed, so we got to revisit this topic sooner than I expected. For the record, she's OK with me publishing the blog. I'm still not sure she understands what I mean about white privilege, but I'm a little happier about how I said it this time.