When I became a parent, I had to come to terms with not being able to go to all the actions I wanted to. While I take my kids to social justice actions, I can't push their bedtimes back every night. It's just a reality of parenting. What I've also come to realize is that parenting can be a form of activism. I'm raising the next generation, the people who will take over the world that we give them. So I have more than a few reasons why parenting is a social justice action.
Imagine, if you will, a world where people who believed in the fundamental human rights of all other humans. This imaginary world is one where you never have to explain why your, or your neighbor's, rights or lives matter. We'd all just know and accept the aforementioned as common sense. I don't know about you, but this is a world I want to live in. This is a world I want my children to live in. This is the world that I show up for when I show up for social justice actions and marches and participate in other activity that will further the basic concept of social justice.
This is a world that we, as parents, are capable of creating via the way we choose to parent our children. Because, while it might not be so obvious on the surface, parenting is social justice action. Here's why:
Because We Are Changing Hearts And Minds
Changing the hearts and minds of adults who refuse to see the complexities of our racist institutions and rape culture can feel like a never ending, up hill, futile battle. With parenting, we are teaching the new generation what is true. My partner and I are constantly checking our own white and passing privileges to make sure we're not allowing the veil of "it's all in the past" to even land on our children's eyes. Some of my less social justice minded family think that this is being "too open-minded." They tell me that I should be protecting my kids from these truths. I'm sorry, but I am not sorry. If I were a Black woman, with Black children I wouldn't have the privilege of protecting my children from these truths. White children need to be taught at the same ages Black children are forced to be taught. The fact that they're not is a result of their unearned privilege. They need to see this as a their problem, too, in order for our country's consciousness to shift.
A clarifying note about my passing privilege: I'm not, nor have I ever been, a straight, cisgender female. However, because of how my relationship looks on the outside, I can "pass" for those things if I choose. Erasure is its own form of oppression, and I fight against it, but the reality is that my ability to pass as a privileged identity (straight, cisgender female) allows me safety in situations where folx with less passing privilege would not have the same guaranteed safety.
Raising human beings with the value that all fellow humans are worthy of life, autonomy, and basic human rights is society changing. That is social justice action.
Because White Kids Won't See Their Privilege
Just like adults, white children will not see their privilege unless we show it to them. Frankly, it's really not an option to not show it to them. It's long past time that white people in the U.S. start teaching an accurate history, and present reality, of our country to our white children.
I am dedicated, as a parent, to never resting on the laurels of, "Well, we didn't enslave anybody. That's all in the past," and, "Racism is when one person hates another person because of the color of their skin."
Because, no. That's not what racism is. Racism is the institutionalized system upon which our country is built and upon which all of our country's power dynamics still rest and thrive.
It is our responsibility as white parents to teach this to our white children. The only way that racism will ever be healed is for white people to face it. Let me be clear, healing does not mean forgetting. Healing does not mean forgiving. Healing means we white people own up to the damage we've done, and continue to do, and dismantle the systems of privilege that make it so easy to perpetuate this violence against Black bodies.
White people are the ones who need to fix racism. We are the ones whose pathology is endangering our fellow humans. It's time to get over the paralyzing hurdle of shame, which doesn't help anybody, and be in action to stop racism.
Because Teaching Consent Should Be Like Teaching Dental Hygiene
Imagine if your parents had taught you to end rape culture and smash the patriarchy the same way they had taught you to brush your teeth. It wasn't something to be debated (well, beyond a certain age anyway). It was just something you did, without thinking, multiple times a day.
That automation would be transformative for ending rape culture and smashing the patriarchy. My 7 year old daughter and 5 year old son have been taught about consent since they entered this world. We respect each other's boundaries, as in "no means no" and "stop means stop." Teaching this as a fundamental truth is teaching that consent is mandatory, just like brushing your teeth is mandatory.
Some people don't brush their teeth every day, but that is the exception and not the rule. The social contract is that we all brush our teeth. Parenting as a social justice action can make it so that ending rape culture and smashing the patriarchy is part of our new social contract.
Because Our Children Aren't Better Or Worse Than Anyone Else's Children
One of the things that I think is natural for all millenial parents, including me, is to praise our children's unique spirits. Let me be clear, there is nothing inherently wrong with this. Children should feel unconditionally by their parents. However, that praise must be tempered by direct teaching of how to treat others in the world.
It is our job to instill in our children that human rights are human rights and not specific to any country of origin. If you're anything like me, it's becoming increasingly distressing in our current political climate to see so many upstanding citizens of the U.S. vocally and viciously question the rights of immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. When I see comments that refugees don't deserve to live in the U.S. after fleeing certain death in their own countries, I'm appalled. How in the world does that teach our children to "treat others the way you want to be treated?"
Do we explain that people have less right to live by accident of the arbitrary border line on a map? Or do we teach that they are worthy of death? My answer as a parent (and a human being) is no. No, we do not teach that. We teach that all humans, regardless of country of origin, deserve dignity and human rights. We teach that when you see someone in trouble, the last thing you do is turn your back on them. You help them, because that's what good people do.
Because Misogyny and Transmisogyny Hurts All Of Us
How many of us are sick of feminism being a "women's issue?" How many times have we had to prove our argument that feminists don't hate men? We fight for a world where everyone is able to be who they truly are, with respect and compassion for all of our fellow humans. I am not talking about white feminism, which is devastating and oxymoronic. I'm talking about true feminism. True feminism is intersectional, or it's not feminism.
My children are raised with intersectional feminism. They know the words misogyny and transmisogyny, just as they know the words bully and mean. My autistic transgender daughter doesn't have a choice of whether or not to learn about hate. She is only 7 years old and we have to teach her how to be safe in public spaces. Therefore she must know about the hate that makes her unsafe.
As a parent, I see the injustice of only teaching the victims of oppression about the systems that oppress them. My partner and I make it a point to teach our cisgender son these things, too. As a white man he'll have so much more power to change these entrenched systems of privilege and oppression. Teaching men that they're responsible for ending misogyny and transmisogyny is not giving them too much information at too young of an age. No one questions when people teach their daughters what to wear, how to act, what to say in order to "avoid being a victim." In order to stop teaching our daughters these things, we need to start teaching our sons.
Because We Are All In This Together
None of us is getting out of here alive. None of us has more right to be here than any others. None of us are free when others are oppressed. The values that we have traditionally taught our children all align with being a human rights defender. See for yourself:
- Do unto others as you would have done to you;
- Be kind;
- Be respectful;
- Be truthful;
- Care about those who have less than you;
- Do not hit or act violently;
- It is not okay to hurt other people, and if you do so accidentally, apologize;
- Don't rape;
- Don't murder;
- Don't cheat, lie or steal.
I could go on. But you get the idea. It's always been important to teach our children these things. When there is somebody in public office who ferociously goes against all of these values openly, it's even more important to make sure our children learn the right messages. Not more messages of hate.
Because Resistance Is Not Futile
There is a fine balance we must walk when we want to teach our children to enjoy life and be happy, while simultaneously fighting for what's right. I'm imperfect at doing this myself, but even in my imperfection it is imperative that I keep teaching my children that this is the way that we live.
Yes, we think positive. Yes, we cultivate joy and peace within ourselves. However, all of that feels hypocritical unless we are also actively cultivating joy and peace within our collective community. This is the most important lesson I can teach my children. This is social justice parenting.