I will tell him he must approach life with a full mind and a full heart.
I recently experienced the birth of my first child. My son has been born into a world that, I many ways, is vastly different from the world I was born into. The biggest differences come in the form of technology and societal norms on issues like race, gender, sexuality, and the legalization of marijuana. While these differences are expansive, there are many ways in which the society I grew up in is very much the same as the one my son has been born into.
Among those similarities is the fact that racism and sexism are still prevalent and pervasive. When I was a child, racism was present in systemic structures as well as in everyday conversations. When I was a child, sexism was present in the form of systemic structures as well as in everyday conversations. These are things I will teach my son.
But, I will never forget, and I will never allow my son to forget, that when I was a child, and now, there are endless examples of racial and gender solidarity, respect, and even love.
I will also push him to learn that race is a social construct but that most people will simply see color and apply simplistic labels.
My son must know that he will hear varied and ignorant terms for race and stereo-typifying comments about gender . He will eventually hear “nigger”, “wetback”, “White trash”, etc. and he will also hear “don’t throw like a girl”, “stop being a pussy”, “be a real man”, etc. but he will also see the beautiful spectrum of humanity working together in many ways. He will learn that women are denied opportunities and many times paid less than men but he will also know that his grandmother went from being a poor immigrant to a college dean with a PhD because she worked hard. He will learn that Black and Brown women have obstacles that others don’t but he will also see the success of his mother, aunts, and female cousins. He will learn and see a society that can be both fair and just. Cruel and beautiful. I will push him to see both.
I will also push him to learn that race is a social construct but that most people will simply see color and apply simplistic labels. He will be pushed to learn that gender stereotypes are ignorant and mean but that many people prefer easy labels based on limited experiences.
He also will be pushed to learn about the science behind both physical features and gender. He will also learn how religion has played a role in both the creation and dismantling of racism and sexism.
I will try my best to teach my son about the complexities of these two concepts. I will tell him he must approach life with a full mind and a full heart. He has been born into a country that will allow him to freely explore numerous ways of thinking. He must take that opportunity, along with those of his generation, to push society forward towards peace and understanding.
Robert Tinajero – a native of El Paso, TX, is Director of Writing Studies and Director of the Race Relations Institute at Paul Quinn College in Dallas.