I’m a worrier. I’m white. I’m a woman, and I’m a mom to a newborn white baby boy. He is 2 months old. I don’t know much about bringing up boys. I was raised with a sister and mostly girl cousins. When I found out I was pregnant with a boy, I never worried about the inequalities he would face because of his gender — like I did his sister. I never considered how his race would impact his life because the privilege that comes with being white is that you don’t have to worry about it — at least I didn’t until he was born.
In the days after he arrived, my newsfeed filled with a story of the rape of a woman by a privileged white Stanford man, Brock Turner, who got away with violating a woman — only having to serve a six-month sentence for his crime because the judge ruled a prison sentence would severely impact him. What about the victim? I’m worried my boy will become that man.
Just weeks later, two black men were killed. Alton Sterling, was shot in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, by two white male police officers. Then not even a day later in Minnesota, in the city I live in, another black man, Philando Castile, was killed at the hands of the police — not by a white man, but by a man who works within the system of power that benefits those with lighter skin tones, giving them more privileges and more lenient expectations and consequences. I’m worried my boy will become one of those men.
You might think it’s selfish for me to worry about my white boy. I will not have to fear for his life due to the color of his skin, worrying whether he will be murdered at traffic stops or for selling CDs or cigarettes outside a convenience store. He will be able to wear a hooded sweatshirt and play with a toy gun without cops reaching for theirs. I will not have to teach him to watch his drink at all times during college parties for fear of ruffies or to make sure he walks home from a party with a friend for fear of being raped like I will my daughter. He will not be the violated; more likely, he could become the violator, the rapist, the murderer — the oppressor — someday.
This is why I worry.
I’m worried about our white boys because I’m terrified for our black boys. I’m worried about our white sons because I’m scared for our daughters. I’m worried about our white boys because it is with them that we need to teach equality and what white privilege is and how to acknowledge it and combat it along with teaching consent and power and responsibly. It is with them we need to breed empathy, compassion, and humility. I’m worried about our white boys because they will grow into white men and inherit all the privileges and power that come with that. And even with guidance and lessons about equality, kindness, and injustices, I struggle to comprehend how to combat the ingrained messages about whiteness, masculinity, and power that society will give my son even if I preach a different narrative in my home.
What I can do is teach my white son to be kind, but kindness isn’t enough. I will need to teach him to respect a person’s right to their own body, which means they have the right to give consent. I will need to teach my white son that contrary to what society tries to tell you, black men are not to be feared. What I can do is teach my white son that with his maleness and whiteness comes responsibility, not special treatment.
I’m worried about our white boys because. I, as a white mother, don’t know how to do this. I feel overwhelmed and lost swimming in a sea of sadness and grief over the state of our country. But if mothers of black boys have to teach their sons how to engage with police officers so they don’t get killed and mothers of daughters have to teach their girls how to protect themselves against sexual assault, I think the least I can do is try to figure out how to teach my white son how to not be the oppressor but the supporter of the oppressed.
I don’t have answers for moving forward in teaching these weighty lessons to my son. I’m new at this — being a mom to a white boy — and I’m new to speaking up about a topic I don’t fully understand and feel comfortable discussing, but what I do understand is that what we have been doing isn’t helping. I understand that the killings of black boys, the raping of women, and the apathy of the white and the privileged is wrong.
So what I am doing is starting. I’m starting to listen. I’m starting to read. I’m starting to speak. I’m starting to teach within the walls of my own home, because if we don’t start by worrying about how we raise our white boys, we will forever fail our girls, our black boys, and each other. We should no longer put the burden of fixing this mess on the oppressed, for it is we, the oppressors, who need to change, and it starts with changing how we raise our white boys.