By Kristina Ashton, City of Fort Worth, TX, Budget Analyst, LinkedIn and Twitter
By day, I am a keen-eyed budget analyst for the City of Fort Worth, TX. By night, I am super-wife-and-mom. I love my double life. I have loved every single thing about it. Until last night.
I have a three-year-old daughter who is sweet, bright, and blissfully unaware – so unaware, that she would approach a dog twice her size to say hello, or reach into an oven for a hot pie, oblivious of the dangerous heat. She sees people as simply people, each a potential friend.
But, being blissfully unaware has its downside. For the first three years of her life, she was blind to race. The color that mattered to her was the color of someone’s clothes. For example, she might be quick to note, “That black boy has a bike.” Translated from toddler into real English, she means, “The boy in the black shirt has a bike.” Since my daughter seems to suffer from an inability to speak softly, I would feel compelled to correct her, “That boy is not black; that is a boy in a black shirt.”
Race was nowhere near her train of thought.
End of Innocence
Recently, something changed with regard to my daughter’s blissful unawareness.
My daughter and I were talking when she mentioned that a black boy was walking outside. I don’t remember the exact words. I don’t remember the context. I do remember looking outside and seeing a teenager walking by, obviously the one she was talking about, and he was black.
My heart broke.
For my toddler, life has changed. She doesn’t know it but her lens of life has changed. Instead of color being a descriptor for clothes, it has become a descriptor for people.
I love my daughter. I want her to befriend and love all types of people. After the recent incident, I was left scrambling for wisdom that I could give to her on how to understand and accept the diverse people that she’ll meet in her lifetime.
I want her to understand the racial transgressions of our country’s history, while developing a strength to articulate why that history and some of today’s status quo is unacceptable. I want her to appreciate the similarities and differences among her classmates and others that she’ll encounter in her lifetime. I want her to remain naïve in imagining a more inclusive country.
Words of Wisdom?
While this is what I want, I am scrambling to learn how this can happen. I cannot teach, nor do I understand, what it is like growing up as black, Asian, Latino, Jewish, or Muslim. My current approach is steeped in expressing the benefits of working or playing with different genders and races. I hope she learns from me how to listen to others about their background, and I hope she veers away from judging people who do not look like her.
When she enters school, she’ll be faced with choices and questions. Will she make friends with those children who look different or act differently? Will she be inclusive by inviting different kids, those that she may not be comfortable around, to play with her? I want her to ask questions to the teacher and to me about the kids who, in her mind, don’t look like her.
At the Playground and Workplace
I struggle with my biases and prejudices. I grew up in a white family and a mostly white neighborhood. My family provided for me and instilled in me a confidence that I could do anything. Until recently, I was naïve enough to think that women did not have any obstacles left. Now, I know some hurdles remain and I can learn from those who helped knock down previous hurdles. How much more I still have to learn about those who still face a longer race with many more hurdles!
I am at a crossroads. I am on a personal growth journey, while at the same time, I am faced with an impressionable child who will soon understand that hate and indifference exist in the world. I am determined to teach her to find love and appreciation beneath the surface, visible to those resilient enough to look for it.
The Real Fear
What scares me the most is not that my daughter is race aware; what scares me the most is that I can no longer pretend that she is a baby. She is transforming from baby to toddler to child to adult. In the early stages (and most important stages) of life, I am responsible for shaping her thoughts and perceptions.
My determination to raise a responsible, understanding adult is powered by my fear of the opposite – raising a daughter who is callous and satisfied with the status quo.
My daughter and your children have a remarkable opportunity: to build off the successes of those who came before them by increasing diversity and inclusion in the workplace and the playground. But, we must model that behavior. It is an imperative that we practice what we preach, for we have the same remarkable opportunity; we cannot leave this work to our children alone. Instead, we have to make great strides here and now. With the same gusto that we preach to our children, we must bring to local government the diversity of local neighborhoods.