We are the white parents of black children. Every day, but especially in the wake of senseless deaths like that of George Floyd, we find ourselves living squarely between our white privilege and our deep and growing understanding of racial injustice. We live in a space where we must acknowledge that we do not fully understand the experience of communities of color but where we are more deeply and personally affected than most of our white friends.
Living in this space sometimes makes it hard to share our perspective. We understand the experience of not knowing the “right” words to say, of not knowing how best to engage. At the same time, we are personally invested in the fight for justice and we know that there is a high price to be paid for silence.
Nine years ago, my wife and I became parents to an African American son. Ten months later, we welcomed a biological son, and five years after that an adopted African American daughter. We have three amazing children. Two of them will grow into adults with different expectations of what and who they should be in the world.
Unlike their parents, my son and daughter live in a world that will sometimes assume they are guilty until proven innocent. They live in a world that will sometimes assume they do not belong. When they are with me, my wife or other members of our family, our privilege may be extended to them. When they are alone, they may be judged and treated differently than when we are present. One of my greatest fears as a parent is that we will not adequately teach them that our privilege can create a false safety net.
As our children grow, so grows the perceived threat often associated with people of color in our society. Our oldest son is now 10-years-old and he is becoming increasingly independent. He is precocious, smart and energetic.
With each passing year, he has more frequently encountered racism. Some of the most hurtful and racist comments I have heard are comments that have been made to my son in environments we believed to be safe. Increasingly, we talk to our son about how it might not be safe to play outside with a toy gun, or how someone might assume mal-intent if he is playing hide-and-seek in their yard or has a hood pulled over his head.
When our children encounter racism, our family talks about how the words of other children, adults and public figures are racist and how words matter. We listen, and we grieve.
As we navigate the space between our privilege and our children’s lived experience, we act as both teachers and sounding boards for our children. We listen to their anger and hurt, and we vulnerably share our own. We work to better understand the communities to which our children were born, and to better understand how those communities instruct their own children about staying safe.
We often find that we are navigating through unfamiliar feelings and situations while trying to help our children do the same. Racism has and continues to plague our society. As people of privilege, we have the added responsibility of lending our voices to the pervasive problem of racial injustice for the sake of our community, our friends and our children.
Photos by Sara Sanders
Ryan McGee and his wife Rebecca are parents to Micah, Ezra and Lyla. Ryan has worked in various positions throughout Oklahoma’s non-profit, education and energy sectors. Ryan has lived most of his life within five miles of his childhood home in Oklahoma City. He appreciates nothing more than a good book, an international flight or an opportunity to learn something new and interesting.