Recently, in the car on the way to the camping trip pictured above, a discussion came up about the time my son was asked to open his backpack in our local grocery store. My son has a tendency to gallop ahead of us and I caught the tail end of that exchange with the security guard. I mentioned that son and I were regularly going into that same store with lots of bags on because we’re biking to shop and they weren’t asking him to surrender his backpack. My husband mentioned that son had been asked to check-in his backpack on another occasion when they had gone in the store and I wasn’t there. Hmm, I raised my eyebrows, “I guess being with an older white lady lowers his threat level.” This is both a comment on how the world perceives my son, and I think there’s a pretty good lesson here on what it means when he’s seen as “black”. At that point in the conversation, rather than saying, hey I get to convey some of my white privilege to our son when you aren’t around, I could have argued that my husband was imagining what he saw taking place. But I didn’t, which is what you learn after being together almost 30 years and taking the time to listen without prejudging a situation.
A bit of background, my son is a very compliant child. Part of that is his nature, but like many ASD (autism spectrum disorder) kids, his approach is pretty binary and rule dependent/compliant. When I pick him up at the Walgreens near his school because the parking lot at campus is too full, he waits outside for me, since there is a rule about how many students can enter at a time and we go in together.
So at this point, I turned back to my son, and keep in mind he has ASD so you have to explain things in a concrete way. I tell him, “Son, when you go into the store with dad, sometimes they’re going to see you as a threat because you’re black and he’s black. That’ll happen even when the security guard is black. When you’re with Mom, because I’m a white woman, I’m less threatening, so you become less threatening.”
This post covers a lot of identity issues, here is my hope:
- My ASD community readers see that you can talk about race with your kids. It’s important they understand these dynamics in a social-developmentally appropriate way whether they are black or white or have another identity;
- My white readers see, yes profiling happens it’s not just in someone’s head or made up. It’s a reality;
- Everyone needs to understand that in mixed families like mine (racially, neuro-typically) these issues mix and over-lap, but it doesn’t mean racism goes away, it doesn’t mean you don’t have the conversation because it’s socially fraught.
I’ve barely kept up with social media the last two weeks, so I’m not going to pretend to be on top of this, instead I’ll share this link to Larry Ferlazzo, who as usual is.