Parenting Now!

Marginalized communities finding their voice

“We can refuse to be content with inequality and discrimination.”

Last summer, my beautiful family hit the road, eager to arrive at the wedding of my sister-in-law and her girlfriend.

A month earlier, the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage. We felt so honored to be witness to such a monumental moment for our family. The beauty of the Oregon landscape whirred past our car and my 7-year-old son, an avid reader, was proudly reading out loud all the signs he saw from his window. As we drove, we approached a group of people gathered at the top of an overpass, displaying a large banner. I tried to brace my heart quickly as I heard my beautiful, loving, multiracial child read, “Diversity equals white … ummm … what’s that last word, mama?” Despite my best efforts, I heard my heart fracture when I told him, “That word is genocide. That sign says, ‘Diversity equals white genocide.’ ”

My son is just like most children — he latches onto the beauty and the possibility of ideas. I found my voice wavering as I tried to explain, in a way his young mind could understand, the ignorance behind that banner. As the first sentence left my tongue, I thought about the many future conversations I would need to have with my children.

Families of marginalized communities have no choice but to brace themselves for the painful but inevitable moment when their children realize that in our present-day communities, people are labeled. And these labels are then sorted out by supposed value, given an unfair assignment of worth based on age-old stereotypes and centuries of bigotry.

“Diversity” has become a buzzword in our Western world, but as parents of marginalized communities, we understand that despite some progress toward equality and equity, there still are so many difficult lessons we need to teach. When do you tell your child that the world looks at them differently? How do you explain that it isn’t fair? When do you start educating your child to the possibility that the way they look or dress or pray could mean being stopped on their bike coming home from the market, beaten because of who they love or being labeled a violent criminal simply because of the color of their skin? As a mother with color to my skin, finding space and community dialogue regarding these real-world challenges is difficult.

Fortunately, space for these conversations is beginning to find its way into the lives of parents here in Eugene. Parenting Now! recently held an important panel presentation, appropriately titled “Parenting Against The Odds,” by and for families from marginalized communities and their allies. Panelists were parents from communities of color, LGBTQ, Muslim and Jewish communities. The forum was created to discuss the navigation of the complexities of parenting in our country in this time and moment. Ideas, concerns, and hopes were talked about of how to provide age-appropriate realistic understandings to our children about issues of violence, discrimination, inequality and bigotry on a local and national level, while still instilling pride in our communities.

As a person of color and a transplant to Eugene from a major metropolitan city, my journey through this community has been difficult, but also beautiful. Important and timely discussions like that panel give me the opportunity to find courage and tools needed to help the inevitable anguish my children will have when confronted with the realities of living as a multiracial family in Oregon.

The biggest and most important lesson that my fellow parents help me understand is that, together, we can teach these difficult lessons while also setting examples of resilience through our passion for equality and equity. We can refuse to be content with inequality and discrimination. How we move through the world — the way we navigate safely and with joy — also is defined by the love we feel for our family, our community, our stories and ourselves. We can’t anticipate every experience or provide a solution for every experience our children or we may have. We can, however, acknowledge the importance of providing space for respectful and meaningful discussions such as the Parenting Now! panel to remind us that it is only with each other that we can work toward a future where all of our children will not only survive their life stories, but proudly teach them to their own children.

Ingrid Koch is the development assistant at Parenting Now! and lives in Eugene with her husband and two young sons. Parenting Now! is a nonprofit offering groups and workshops so that all children are raised by nurturing, skilled parents. Contact Parenting Now! at www.parentingnow.org, on social media, and at 541-484-5316.