When Being White is Safer

Raising boys can be a chaotic, energetic and hilarious endeavor. There isn’t a day where I am not laughing at something my kids have said or done. I treasure the times when my kids sit down with me and just talk about their lives. These talks allow me a glimpse into their world, and I love the way they view the world. It is definitely a sacred time between a mom and her son.

Teenage Boys

Recently, my middle child and I were discussing recent events in the news, specifically the black lives matter movement and race relations. I am a photojournalist and often cover protests, rallies, and gatherings related to the #BlackLivesMatter groups. I asked him what he thought about being a person of color and being stopped by the police. What he said next made my heart break.

“I see myself as White because it is just easier and safer.”

My child is handsome.
He is strong in character.
He is also half Korean and half White.

Do you understand what he said?
Do you see the absolute sadness in that statement?

I do.

I see a young man who already knows the world is safer if you are White. I see a teenager who knows that being a person of color could be dangerous. A beautiful young man who has already learned the game of trying to survive both emotionally and physically in a country that judges you on the color of your skin.

Where in the world did he get that message? Did I fail him? What happened to lead him to think this way?

All those questions were swirling in my head and I was about to jump on him to try to change his mind. Seriously, he needed to be proud of his heritage.

Then I stopped, breathed and responded to his statement.

I understand, my son. I understand that being White is easier. I get it. It is safer. You can definitely “pass” as a White person. But my son, you are half Korean and White. You cannot deny a part of you. You will never be whole if you do that. By denying your Korean heritage, you are denying your beautiful skin tone, almond shaped eyes, thousands of years of ancestors and the very essence of who you are. Sadly, you may see yourself as White but the world will see you as biracial. Your strength is in your Korean and White heritage. You are the perfect mix of both worlds. You are the melting pot that this country was founded on. You, my son, are perfect just the way you are. Don’t let a world filled with racial hate define you.

The idea that children, teens and young adults have to worry about the color of their skin is sadness that cannot be quantified. The constant struggle to be proud of who you are but knowing your race could harm you is something that cannot be explained unless you live it.

When Being White is Safer

Being a mother and a person of color, I have three ideas for those who are struggling with raising children of color to be proud of who they are.

1. Surround your kids with people who look like them. It is so important that kids can see that there are others that have the same color of skin, hair and racial background. Several times a month, my kids and I get together with other Korean Americans for food, fun and fellowship. They love it and have grown into some major Korean foodies.

2. Discover leaders, actors/actresses, sports players, etc that share your child’s ethnicity. When the World Cup is on, my three kids love to cheer for the Asian teams. They follow Korean sport teams on Twitter and Instagram. It is important that our kids see that there are people who look like them who are successful.

3. Talk. Talk. Talk. Talk to your kids about their views and ideas about race issues. Listen to them and try to see where they are coming from. Their perceptions are just as important as yours. Allowing them to talk about their experiences with racism will assist them in responding to a situation better. It will also make it less taboo subject to discuss.

Hopefully these three ideas will help you. I know they did for me. I am constantly trying to expose my kids to all sorts of situations so they can be prepared for whatever comes their way. Being a person of color is something to celebrate not to be ashamed off.

I am hopeful that my middle child will see just how incredible he really is. I also respect his desire to feel safe. Let’s continue to make this world a safer place for people of color.

Sarah Heil-Brenny

Sarah Heil-Brenny is a single divorced mom of three teenage boys who lives in a suburb of the Twin Cities. Pack leader of two dogs with a combined weight of 9 pounds. She is often found knitting in inappropriate places, watching way too much Netflix, posting too many pictures on Instagram, and munching on anything gummy. Sarah pretends she is an extrovert but she is a closeted introvert who adores spending an obscene amount of time by herself and a few awesome friends. She is an adolescent psychotherapist who has a private practice. Photojournalism was a passion that turned into a business but really it’s because she can fly her drone. She does this all the while going to school for her PhD in Social Work. Someday she hopes she can just sit, relax and not stress about her yarn stash. Until then, she lives her chaotic life. Welcome to it.

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