To End Racism, Start With Your Baby
I never intended to publicize the fact that my child and I are people of color. I never started New Bees with any avowal to bring focus to my ethnicity or my political views, nor to anyone else's. My plan was to play a neutral hand in the community and build the best gosh darn care center that I can. But then I thought of all my family members who have much in common with George Floyd, may he rest in peace. I thought of the very real possibility of them sharing the same fate. So for his sake and for the sake of my family and of all members of color in this community, I've decided my plans must change (just like everybody else's, right?).
Luckily, I have a background in child development and Educaring. In Educaring, the method of care for babies is founded in practicing respectful acts with infants and toddlers. The primary commandment of Educaring is we absolutely must tell a child what we will do before taking any action and then we wait for a child's response. Yes, even from newborns. We let the children have a voice, we let them say 'no', we let them tell us their feelings before taking any action at all. Because that is how everyone should be treated, right?
If I'd never discovered Educaring, I don't think I'd really know how to take another person into account. I was raised in Los Angeles where it is very easy to put blinders on. I had my blinders on to people for a very long time until I had my daughter and then suddenly I had to consider how to nurture another person's point of view. I wanted her to see people, to be polite and kind and respectful. I honestly had to no clue how to do that. So when I took a RIE Foundations course (in L.A., ironically), I was, as Magda Gerber put it, "given new eyes". The course, for the most part, focused on one thing: showing respect to a child. At first, the thought was mind boggling and prejudices immediately took hold. Prejudice, you might say? Against babies? Well, think about it.
Babies are judged on their size and limited speaking ability. So people often touch or fondle them without asking first. Adults pinch cheeks, ruffle hair, blow in their face (pre-COVID, at least). If a baby cries, our first thought is to quiet them down rather than figure out their needs. We don't talk to them like we would other adults, instead we dumb our language down "to their level". A toilet becomes a "potty", food becomes "num-nums" or "baba". Sadness, anger and frustration is a "fit", "attitude" or a "tantrum". (As a woman, I put that on par with being asked if I'm on my cycle for every time I become emotional.)
Now try to see these things happening to an adult. Imagine a waiter at Fort George asking if you're ready for "num-nums". If you get angry for being overcharged, imagine being told that "you're fine" and to get over your "attitude". Imagine being picked up or touched by another adult without your permission (women often are), even an adult that you have known for a long time. It may seem a poor comparison but what I've just exemplified is what it's like to not be seen as equal. A person treating you like this is disconnected to the point where they can disregard your personal boundaries and assume things about you that are not true. Babies understand the words "food" and "toilet" and "bowel movement"very well. In fact, they are capable of learning up to six languages at once. The emotions that babies have are real and justified despite how often or intensely they feel them. If not for their size and speaking ability, people would not show such a disconnect for their rights as equal human beings.
It is this kind of disconnect from babies that allows someone to pick up and shake an infant to stop them from crying, that allows someone to assume a black man is a burglar instead of a jogger or a birdwatcher, that allows employers to offer lower pay to women, that allows detention centers to keep infants in the care of children inside bare rooms with one toilet while their families are held in another, separate facility. That type of disconnect forms at infancy when we attach all the labels to babies like "fussy", "poopy", "babbling" and we forget to consider that the infant is a human being who is capable of appreciating respectful, equal treatment. This same human being has the potential to grow up and become an adult who sees and treats others equally or to become the kind of person who hears a man calling out that he can't breathe and yet continues to apply pressure to his windpipe for nearly nine minutes. Maybe even worse, the infant could become like the three other men who watch and do nothing to stop it.
As a mother, father, grandfather, grandmother, aunt, uncle, daycare center owner, child caregiver, you can stop racism. It's very, very easy and very, very simple. Look at your child and (no matter the age!) tell him or her what you will do before you do it. Then respectfully wait for a response. If you continue to do this one practice, I promise you that one act of waiting and listening will carry for the rest of that child's life. Do that every time you change a diaper, feed them, or pick up and carry them. Tell them where they are going, tell them what the room or park will be like. Tell them that no matter what they look like, color or size or age, that you always wait and listen. Tell them that their voice is just as important as your own.