Alton Sterling’s Death Forever Changed the Way I Will Raise My White Sons

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I am a white mother.

I spend most of my time trying to tame my wild, white sons. Teaching them right from wrong, explaining with embarrassment why it’s not okay to yell whatever it is that they’re yelling (usually: “TESTICLES!”), and reminding them to hold the door open for others.

We live in the Deep South. I want my wild, white sons to be well-behaved.

I explain the difference, repeatedly, between an inside and outside voice. I discipline (a lot more often than I like to admit) for destruction of property. I try — and often fail — to harness their energy and direct it towards good, taking sticks from their hands and asking them to clean windows and baseboards instead.

When I send them to school, I remind them to be kind. “Stick up for the kids who get picked last,” I say. “You could be that kid tomorrow.”

And sometimes, they are.

We count our blessings at the end of each day, heads bowed over hastily-thrown-together meals. I remind them to chew their food.

I tell them not to jump on their Grandma. “She’s fragile,” I whisper.

My wild, white sons are loud. They’re obnoxious. They’re rude and they spit and they scream and wrestle when we’re out in public. Most of the time, I wonder how I ended up with two wild boys and then I wonder how the hell I’m going to shape them into two grown men.

It’s exhausting, being a mother. Mothering my boys, in particular, has aged me considerably.

We live in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where a man was shot to death on Tuesday only a few miles from our home — the home where my wild, white children run half-naked through the front yard with the water hose.

Alton Sterling died for reasons I don’t understand.

I didn’t know Alton Sterling. A very long line of black men have been killed, unjustly, and until now, I’ve never talked to my sons about it — mostly because I’m not even sure what to say. How can I begin to explain it to my children? What do I say?

Sometimes people die because they are black.

I choke on the words because they are so vile.

None of it makes sense. I’m uncomfortable. I want to pretend it’s not happening, and for these reasons, I’ve remained silent. But I won’t remain silent anymore.

While none of us can fix the issue of social injustice on our own, I believe it is our responsibility to think about what we can do within our own sphere of influence. I am a mother; my sons and my daughter are within my sphere of influence. We never talk about race in our house, other than to say that all people, regardless of color, are the same.

But we aren’t the same.

So I’ve stopped saying that.

Today, I told them the truth. I told them that their whiteness brings privilege and with privilege comes responsibility, and all this time I’ve said that people are all the same, I’ve been lying.
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Today, I’ve decided that in addition to teaching my sons right from wrong, it is also my job to direct their loud, spirited wildness towards injustice.

Today, I told them the truth.

I told them that their whiteness brings privilege and with privilege comes responsibility — and that all this time I’ve said that people are all the same, I’ve been lying. I told them that some white people think they are superior and that is when my oldest interrupted me, aghast, and said “WHAT?!”

His response is appropriate. Because thinking you’re better than anyone simply because you are different than they are is ludicrous, and even a child knows better. Your race, color, gender, sexual orientation, or religion does not and should not define who you are or how you are treated by others.

And yet, it seems that people aren’t getting that message. Injustices continue to run rampant.

THAT is something that my wild, white sons can yell about.

THAT is something they can get angry over.

THAT is a cause to use their fire and energy for, to direct their stubbornness toward.

To all the other mothers of wild, white boys, I ask you to do the same. Let’s teach the future white men of America to get angry over things that matter. Injustice is worth fighting for, worth yelling for, worth spending time and energy to correct. And just like most societal issues, the changes begin at home.

So let’s do this.

“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” — Ben Franklin

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