Had a great talk with the folks at the dentist office the other day, really nice people. We usually talk about a lot. Wait, I should say they talk a lot as I usually have fingers, drills and cleaning tools stuck in my mouth. I usually nod, grunt, and use my hands to agree, shrug, or finger wag disapproval at whatever they’re discussing with me. But that day was different, I had cracked a crown and they had to take a good look at it, deem it still usable, smooth the jagged edges, and then talked about eventually replacing it.
But if I was in the chair dealing with the tooth for ten minutes the rest of the hour was about The College Kid’s first visit there…finally after all this time at the pediatric dentist. They wondered how he fit in the chair there and marveled at how nice, polite, and mature he is. Many kudos were tossed my way and I told them that yes, they were right to offer praise, but most of it was due to his mother and his own efforts…then, of course, I proceeded to take the lion’s share of the credit. I kid. I’m proud as fuck about that kid. At 18 he is fast becoming the man I’d always hoped to be.
But then we talked about is how parenting changes us over the life of our children. And how parenting, and the relationships we have with our children can change us. At first, parenting mellowed me. Now, being the parent of two children of dual racial identity, it has me as riled me up like I was as a younger man in the sixties and seventies and as a professional, working as a diversity training facilitator and as a corporate leadership coach from the early 80’s onward.
Both of my children have a white mom (Yes Virginia, I married a white girl!) and they have been raised being exposed to both their Irish/Scotch Irish heritage as well as my family’s African/Creole bloodlines. Our College Freshman identifies himself as “Black” even though to all outward appearances he looks white. Our daughter looks the same and occasionally drops the “You know my dad’s a Black man!” on children and/or adults in her presence who stray over the line of racial propriety in her opinion.
We’ve always been open with our kids about the important subjects; religion, race, economics, politics, fairness, acceptance of differences, etc. While there are many that may call us very liberal (we let our son pierce his ear when he was nine, for example) we have been very demanding that they finish what they start, get the best grades they can in school, do their chores, and always be respectful of other people. Our son, on hearing what he considered some erroneous commentary from a social studies teacher on the Civil Rights movement corrected what was said and pointed out that not only did he have a seminar on race and this country’s efforts towards social justice just about every night at the dinner table but that it was headed by a father that marched in the sixties and was a student leader of the movement on his college campus.
My daughter has twice had me in to give an oral history of the Civil Rights Movement in her elementary and middle school social science classes. I still run into children from both of those classes, and their parents, who thank me for giving them a ground level perspective on the history of the movement.
My kids have always been shown the dream, they always heard me talk about what a just place I have worked for this country to be, always looking forward to arriving closer to “there”.
“There” was always a decolonized place, some might say a utopia, a dream land where race, gender identity, religion (or no religion), sexual orientation, age, and ability weren’t markers. “There” was the country I wanted my children and grandchildren to grow and thrive in, for them to become the fruitful and contributing citizens of the ever widening world. “There” is a place where my fourteen year old daughter wouldn’t come home wondering why her religious peers seem so bigoted against those other kids who had a different religion, or why they had so many rules that didn’t seem to include treating ‘others’ fairly.
“There” was where everyone wasn’t mean to people just because they were different. It wasn’t where people claimed colorblindness as a virtue. It wasn’t a place where people recognizing their white privilege was enough to level the playing field. It wasn’t a place where ‘having a conversation about racial justice’ was a good place to start.
No, that conversation has been happening on these shores for fucking centuries.
“There” was where actual progress was made and people regardless of political leaning, regardless of race or national origin recognized how differently they perceived the world but made a concerted effort to actually talk, and LISTEN, to the ‘other’. It was where dialogue occurred between left and right, or Black and white and problems were looked upon as something to be solved as opposed to something to come up with sound bites and bumper sticker slogans to ‘win’ people over to your side of the argument.
I’m floored that while people get jacked up about symbolic change (see the removal of the Confederate battle flag from license plates and state capital grounds); yet so many more of them ask me and mine to be less militant about red lining, rapacious mortgage practices, queer baiting politicians, extra judicial killing of Black folks, religious intolerance, dog whistle racist comments, and lip serving political correctness when it comes time to make the world a more accessible place for other abled citizens.
Nope, I’m done. Having my kids face essentially the same bullshit I did just isn’t sitting well with me and while I realize this post is more rant than I’d care for it to be I don’t feel any better for having ranted. No, it hasn’t accomplished anything except to tell you dear readers what I’m asking for by this blog’s title.
It’s a journey, not a destination. It’s a life’s work which I clearly see will not be accomplished in my life time. Regardless I’m on it, I’m doing the work and will infuse as much of my creative endeavors with my wish to get, no, create, that “There” with or without you. But it would be so much better with you. We all remember the quotes and the misuse of Martin King’s phrase “I have a dream”. It wrapped his fiery radicalism in a neat, acceptable to white people package that a lot of folks refuse to unwrap to get to the core of it, to understand the hard work of dismantling privilege and the vast inequalities in our society.
That’s alright. Imagination has power and in spite of what confronts us I can still imagine a just country in a fair and equal world.
What’s that? You may say I’m a dreamer…
I know I’m not the only one!