Monday, March 26, 2012

A Letter to My White Son

Dear Son,

By sheer luck of circumstance, you were born a white male, in a prosperous country, to a loving family, in a comfortable home. Fate had you land in a well feathered nest. You are a lucky boy.

Don't ever forget it.

No one will judge you based solely on the color of your skin.
No one will feel they have the right to harrass you because of how much skin you're showing.
No one will look at you and see a threat, or cross the street or lock their doors, or as an opportunity to assert themselves against you.

You, my son, are safe to wear hoodies.

Your father will never have to sit you down and explain an unwritten Code of Behavior. He will never have to tell you to act with deference, to be aware that there are people who are scared of you, to not take it personally when you are singled out, stereotyped and treated as if you are less than.

But what he will sit you down to explain, and what we will try to teach you every day, is that while prejudice and injustice exist in even the best places, we each have a moral responsibility to open our hearts to everyone. That a position of priviledge should be used as a lever to pull others up with us, not push them down. That words ring hollow when they're not supported by our actions.

It is too difficult to even imagine what the parents of Trayvon Martin are feeling. It is incomprehensible, the number of conversations being held by the parents of brown skinned boys across kitchen tables. I can't explain to you why, because I don't know. I don't know why hate is perpetuated from generation to generation, why ignorance survives.

I pray every day that you and your sisters live with open hearts and open minds. There are experiences you will never understand, because you do not live that reality. Learn to love, and learn to listen. There is so much we don't know.


  1. I am a white male and I feel I have had several insensitive stupid things happen to me, especially after three decades in the workplace. I just try to ignore it and go on with my life, trying to love and appreciate everyone equally. But so many of my favorite people are black or Hispanic, and my closest meaningful deep friendships have always been female.

  2. " with open hearts and open minds...Learn to love. Learn to listen." Beautiful.


  3. That your heart aches for this adds one more entry to the long "reasons why I like you" list.

    1. Thanks, Word Nerd. You know what kills me more than anything? The knowledge that the kitchen table conversation has been going on for generations. It's crazy that it's still necessary. I don't think I'm sheltered until I hear something like that and then I wonder what else I don't know.

  4. What a heartfelt and sensible response to something so horrible and incomprehensible. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    1. Thank you, MM. I've been sitting on it for awhile because, really, what can you say? There is no sense in it.

  5. You are absolutely right.

    There's nothing I can add to that.


    p.s. Re: your blog name, I have to tell you that there was a Kentucky Fried Chicken up here that went out of business and the building reincarnated as a daycare. I've referred to it for year as Kentucky Fried Children.

  6. I have been way behind on my Google Reader, so I am responding embarrassingly late, but you are in my "Don't Delete No Matter How Far Behind I Get" category and this is why. This is a beautiful piece.

    I have two white sons and one with brown skin. At six, with his melting brown eyes and cheeks still full of babyhood, my youngest is no threat to anyone. However, if he looks like my husband and the world does not change, as an adult he will be able to scare grown men just by appearing as himself. He is the kind of person that rescues drowning lady bugs and cries upon meeting injured cats.

    Mikalh has taught me a great deal about race that I didn't know and one thing is that we still see it because he knew that he was "brown" the way that he knew he was a boy, by the time he was three. We are lucky to live where a Native American child does not look unusual and where I think he will be able to where a hoodie–a place where many of us don't lock our doors.

    We, too, are lucky.

  7. Today I read a Scientific America blog about bullying. I've been thinking about bullying a great deal recently and became interested as to it's origin. Bullying behavior is integral to the human psyche, in fact it is common among all mammals. Humans however, with our ability to think abstractly and to maintain ideas over long periods of time, have taken bullying to a new level, where, in extreme cases, the results are teen suicides or tragedies like that of Columbine.

    I believe that racism is bullying; it is bullying like gay bashing; it bullying like the war on women; it is bullying like that which preceded Eden Wormer's suicide in Ashland.

    Bullying is nothing more than people acting on bigotry and justifying their cruelty with the bigotry.

    My suspicion is that if Tayvon Martin's tragic death is going to make a difference, we will have to stop drawing distinctions between the kind of bullying/bigotry that killed Matthew Shepard, Trayvon Martin and Eden Wormer.

    We'll need to throw it all together in that bug ugly morass of bubbling, seething hate and try to find a way to deal with ourselves. We'll have to acknowledge that each of us is capable of perpetrating that hate, so that we know what to look out for in ourselves and so that we can extend compassion to someone who is trapped in their own bigotry and possibly help them find a way to freedom.

    The change that Trayvon's parents deserve to see is hard work and sometimes I worry that we humans aren't up the the challenge. But in the end, if we keep searching in earnest for a way to make a better world, I suspect we can't help but to meet that challenge.

    Thanks Kelly for your post!

    1. Thank you, Mike - for such an insightful and beautiful comment. I think I would very much like to sit down with you and Tara and have a long, long talk.

    2. That would be fun! We love long talks and actually don't know how to have short ones...kind of socially - um, well dorky. Though she generally has better social graces than I. If ever you find yourself in New Mexico, let us know and I'm sure we can get together and do something cool like, drink coffee. In fact, lets make it Pete's Coffee, we'll pretend we're in the Bay Area again! :-)