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Lisalyn R. Jacobs's picture

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My 5 year-old son and I have had two conversations about the police -- or “la policia,” as we call them – already this week.  In the first, he declared to me that “all police are not bad.”  That’s part of a larger and ongoing post-Trayvon talk we’ve been having this summer (more on that here).  Then yesterday morning, he pointed out that the “police man or police woman,” did not have the siren on.   The combination of that, and the fact that my father --an Episcopal minister and civil rights activist – attended the March on Washington fifty years ago – has set me to thinking about whether, what and how we have (not) overcome during the ensuing five decades since that march, and the work that remains. 

Pew Research is out with some timely data, apropos of the anniversary of the March.  The data is as striking for what it says as it is for what it does not say.   The comparisons are largely along the lines of black/white, or black/white/Hispanic progress and opinions, even as a huge battle over immigration is, with the August recess of the Congress, on hiatus in Washington, DC.  Despite a discussion of both marriage, and family formation and how different things are 50 years on, there’s no exploration of what it means in terms of education, or poverty that nearly 1/3 of white women, 1/2 of Latinas, and ¾ of black women are giving birth while unmarried.  The small section on gender does not look at the issue of pay equity.  There’s also no wrestling with data on, or opinions of single parent households, despite the fact that “half or more of today’s children will likely spend at least part of their childhood in a single parent family.”  And then there’s this: “[Asians,] Native Americans and mixed-race groups not shown.”  That sentence, sometimes including Asians, sometimes not, appears 8 times in the 31-page report. I readily concede that no survey can be all things to all people, and in some instances, the data is unavailable, but it seems to me that even as one wants to compare apples to apples 50 years later, taking serious account of the fact that there are a variety of oranges, mangoes and other fruit in the mix means spending more time assessing the impact that they have had, and the complexity that they bring to any discussion of progress.

I am a single black woman, born two years after the ’63 March.  My son is bi-racial.  The relative to total absence of people who share our background and experience in the Pew study informs not only my approach to the remainder of this post, but also my approach to raising my son, Alex.  I have to put the Pew data aside, and turn to other sources to make this report relevant to/inclusive of me.  Similarly, in order for Alex to understand that the police may not always be on his side (an issue on which those polled by Pew and I largely agree), I have to make that issue part of the narrative and not just expect that he’ll somehow get it without my being explicit.    If you’re not intentional, and inclusive about your facts, or about your child-rearing, the result is often a reader or a child insufficiently prepared to grapple with the nuances and complexities of modern life. We are far from having achieved Martin Luther King’s aspiration that we be judged by the content of our character as against the color of our skin, but to get there, we must be inclusive in every respect, from our data sets to how we raise our kids.

A few stats and articles to highlight the need for inclusivity:

  • The Equal Pay Act is also celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.  Thus, it’s important as we heed Dr. King’s call for equality, to make sure that discussions about pay parity for women and minorities are brought to the fore.

    • According to the U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics, women who work full time earn about 77 cents for every dollar men earn. Because of the wage gap, since 1960, the real median earnings of women have fallen short by more than half a million dollars compared to men. Minority women face a larger wage gap. Compared to white men, African American women make 70 cents on the dollar (African American men make 74 cents); Hispanic or Latina women make about 60 cents (Hispanic men make almost 66 cents).
  • Tied to pay equity is the issue of childcare.  According to a recent New York Times op ed,  pay inequity between the sexes is exacerbated by the cost of child care, i.e. women with children lag behind their childless women peers in the quest for pay equity with men.  Moreover, “child care is the single greatest expense among low-income families in [New York] [C]ity, surpassing both food and housing.”

Without an explicit focus on how the above-mentioned issues perpetuate poverty, particularly among women and minorities, we are no closer to realizing the dream.   Similarly, only if we are explicit with children about how issues of race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, culture, immigration status, socio-economic status, and a host of other variables may influence how they, or their friends perceive or proceed in various situations, will we be raising children who are fully equipped to participate in a society that grows ever more diverse.

In closing, I offer two articles that I’ve come across recently as models of how to parent more inclusively: 1) an MSNBC article authored by an African American man who writes about the parenting of his white mother, and 2) a HuffPo article  by a parent who is white, and talks about how she engages with her children on issues of race.  Both highlight the same thing: instead of unhelpful discussions of color-blindness, which do not encourage children to grapple with the realities of race in this country, the parents in both stories engaged with their kids when issues implicating race arose in school, or chose a diverse neighborhood, or in other ways ensured that they thought, talked, and read about issues of race instead of overlooking them.

Similarly, I’ve tried to make Alex aware of issues of race and gender, among others.  He demonstrated that awareness yesterday morning when he spoke about the policeman or woman in the car in front of us.  Then last night, he got to put what he’d learned from our Trayvon talks into action.  It was twilight, and he’d run halfway down the block ahead of me as I paused to talk to a neighbor.  A police car slowed; the officer was unsure that Alex was being accompanied by an adult.  Having absorbed the lesson that all police are not bad, yet you don’t know the disposition of the one that’s stopped you, Alex not only ran to me rather than engaging with the officer, but was able to articulate why he’d done so.  While it was great to see that he’d learned the lesson so well, it was tragic that 50 years later, even as we prepare to commemorate the March on Washington, I had to teach it to him.  A bittersweet moment on the road to the place where we are all “free at last.”


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