This Mother’s Day, I want change

Mother’s Day is one of those holidays where we formulaically “celebrate” the women in our lives; Moms get breakfast in bed and flowers, and Dads get to be celebrated for half-assedly doing the things that Moms are handling every damn day anyway. Times are changing, but the holiday is basically the same.

This Mother’s Day, I don’t want the same mindless gifts. I want change. As a mom, I live with the weight of responsibility of raising two boys who walk through the world with the privileges of white men, but as a WOC, I feel that weight on a very deep, visceral level. On the one hand, I’m thankful my boys are white-passing. It sounds terrible, but it’s a relief to know that they will never know the pain of being discriminated against or tokenized, for the colour of their skin. On the other hand, I live with the guilt of knowing that at some point, they may likely contribute to the maintenance of white supremacy if they choose not to actively dismantle it. It’s a choice that they will have to recommit to every single day, and while I realize it’s a lot to ask to be the ones to push against tide and challenge social norms, it’s their responsibility to do it. I hope they never forget that.

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Debbie Baptiste, the mother of Colton Boushie, has had to convince Canadians that her son’s life mattered and that it had value. Indigenous mothers are still trying to convince Canadians that their children are people, too. It still breaks my heart. [Debbie Baptiste holds a picture of her murdered son, Colten Boushie, while her family and Senators join her during a press conference in Ottawa on Wednesday, February 14, 2018. iPolitics/Matthew Usherwood]
This Mother’s Day, with the emblazoned attitudes of white supremacists in our own city, and with the rise of fascism in our country, I feel the weight of responsibility to call my sons in close and remind them that despite the colour of their skin, we come from a long line of proud brown activists. I remind them that while we are proudly Latinx, that our identity is as much Indigenous as it is European. I remind them that while we have suffered injustices and discrimination, we are also privileged as settlers; that in my unique “cultural ambiguity” and conventional good-looks, and that by accidentally being “the right kind of ethnic” I have bought them some safety in a world that commodifies black and brown bodies.

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White people who actually think they’re under attack. Any challenge to the status quo is deemed a threat, and they’re SO afraid that if POC are allowed to stay, we might do to them what they’ve done to us. Except we aren’t like them. Our conscience forbids us from exacting revenge. It’s a conscience that still evades white consciousness. [White nationalists at the Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12, 2017. Robert Dunning/flickrCC BY-NC-SA]
My mother taught me at a young age that brown people can’t afford to be anything less than exceptional, and while it was a hard and bitter lesson to learn, it has largely kept me safe. The personal cost to me has been very high, and I’m quite certain that I haven’t finished paying for it yet. I say that because as much as I have had to hide parts of myself to fit in, no amount of “acting white” or proximity to whiteness has ever kept me safe, and by constantly playing along to the narrative that only certain kinds of brown people are worthy of existing in this country, I have largely managed to avoid obstacles that some of my darker-skinned counterparts have had to contend with. This self-censorship has been the price I have paid in order to navigate a society in which my right to be Canadian is dependent not on my birthplace (which is IN THIS COUNTRY, by the way) but on the colour of my skin. This is a harsh reality that stings even more for my Indigenous brothers and sisters.

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We can’t afford to turn a blind eye. Our collective apathy speaks to a disregard of black and brown bodies. We NEED to demand justice, and the pursuit of justice has never been a spectator sport. [Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s March in Seattle. Photo by Matthew S. Browning]
This Mother’s Day, I am filled with the weight of responsibility of dismantling ideas about masculinity and whiteness that my boys have never consciously thought about, but have internalized as truths. I recently heard my son say that “girls are calmer than boys” and I almost fell out of my chair. I’m constantly having conversations about why language matters, why we need to be mindful when we generalize, and in more simple terms, about social equity; But I’m fighting prejudices that exist in such nuanced ways that they’re difficult to spot even when you’re doing your best. I’m trying. I try so hard to raise boys who, at the very least, do no harm. I want to raise boys who are brave and just and have a strong sense of moral responsibility, and I’ll settle for “doing no harm.”

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Young men. I’m sure their mothers would argue that they are all “good boys.” Be explicit in naming your values, and then LIVE them. “All men are created equal” should be a core value, but when was the last time you explained to your kids what that means? [Peter Cvjetanovic (right) chants while holding torches at a march organized by neo-Nazi, white supremacist and white nationalist organizations in Charlottesville, Va. Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images]
This Mother’s Day, I have to accept that even though I’m exhausted, I can’t stop trying and that while they are their own persons who will eventually make their own decisions about justice and morality and equity, I have to keep trying. People ask me if I’m talking to my kids about subjects that are beyond their emotional understanding, but at 10 and 6, how many black boys are being taught how to be safe when they get stopped by police? My boys are old enough to know that they have the power to use their voices to keep people safe, but they have to catch themselves when they are part of the problem. How many other parents of white or white-passing children are doing the same?

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The lessons we teach have real-life consequences. If we teach that all lives are equal, we need to live that. We need to speak purposefully and explicitly teach the values we say we hold. Say it. Mean it. Live it.

As mothers, we are constantly comparing ourselves to other parents and wondering if we are “good moms”, and we definitely need to worry less about the bake sales and hockey stats. As a friend of mine told me, sometimes parenting has to be “good enough”. It has to be good enough or we’ll drive ourselves crazy. But how do you settle for “good enough” when good enough got us into this mess in the first place? Wasn’t it “good enough” that caused the kind of apathy white liberals are so famous for?

This Mother’s Day, I don’t want “Happy Mother’s Day” texts from my mom friends. I want commitments that we are all going to keep trying, that we are going to have tough conversations with our husbands and brothers and friends about harmful gender-stereotypes and that we are going to call in our white friends when they say something dumb, racist, or offensive. I want that commitment with the understanding that when we fall short, our kids are watching and our screw-ups become their normal.

 

 

To all of the mothers out there who won’t get to hear “Happy Mother’s Day” because their babies were taken too soon for existing while black or brown in the wrong place at the wrong time, my Mother’s Day gift to you is a promise, from one mother to another, that I am going to do my damn best to make sure you don’t have to worry about my boys being part of the problem.

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It’s never a convenient time for difficult conversations, but we HAVE to have them. Our lives depend on them. [Protest in Toronto, Ella/Flickr, December 2014, via Rabble.ca]
To all of my fellow moms out there, and particularly to the mothers of white or white-passing children: have conversations with kids about implicit bias, about holding space, about speaking up among their peers, and about committing (and re-committing) to fighting injustice every single day. Empower them to speak up even when it’s hard. It’s our collective responsibility to choose to be better. No amount of “we all bleed red” has ever solved the racism problem, but pretending we live in a post-racial society in the safety of our white communities have made us complacent in the racism we chose not to see. The adults who cause harm now started learning early on that not all lives are valued the same way, so re-education needs to start now. If you aren’t already doing the work and listening to the POC in your life, start. Change begins with you.

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He’s white enough to shoot a black guy, but you can bet your ass the people who supported him wouldn’t think twice about getting rid of another “dirty mexican” and sending his mom across the border

To my POC moms, your proximity to whiteness won’t save you. Quit perpetuating stereotypes in our own communities and demand better. This Mother’s Day, let’s commit to change. The lessons we teach can shape the people our children grow up to be, but those lessons need to start now. It’s the only thing that will keep our babies safe.

 

Happy Mother’s Day.

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