Some people get things and some people don't: how do you explain privilege to your kids? #I've got a parenting question!#big kids#grown ups#lil kids#parenting dilemmas#politics#teens October 19 | Offbeat Editors offbeatbride Offbeat Home & Life runs these advice questions as an opportunity for our readers to share personal experiences and anecdotes. Readers are responsible for doing their own research before following any advice given here... or anywhere else on the web, for that matter. Photo by quinn.anya, used under Creative Commons license. I'm curious: how do various offbeat parents explain privilege to your kids? Not the "you've lost your computer privileges for the day, young lady!" kind of privilege, but the kind of privilege we talk about in social justice work: advantages our society hands to people based on their (perceived or actual) identities and experiences. Privilege, oppression, diversity, empowerment, dis-empowerment — any parents out there have input? — Maisha Have you had this talk with your kids yet? How did you explain privilege in the context of the society you live in? Are there age-appropriate guidelines to abide by? Join our community! Reporter Name * Reporter Email * Original text Enter the original text here. Edited text* Enter your suggested copyedit here. Notes You can add a note for the editor here. * Required information. Fix Typo PREVIOUS The upstairs neighbors walk so loudly I suspect they may wear concrete shoes. Halp. NEXT Five silly-easy Halloween crafts that I’mma do this weekend Show/Hide comments [ 51 ] For some great essays and thoughts on talking to your kids specifically white privilege (though lots of these ideas/conversations can apply to male privilege, wealth privilege, etc) I highly recommend "Love Isn't Enough." Are we allowed to link? It's loveisnt'enough.com, which focuses on raising anti-racist kids. 3 agree Reply I'm not sure if this gets at what you're talking about or not, but it makes me think of one of the ways we're planning on approaching the whole Santa thing when my daughter is old enough for the Santa thing (she's only 1). So's to allow her the whole "magic of Santa" thing, but keep things in perspective, we're going to let her know that Santa tells parents the things that kids ask for, but that sometimes, parents can't always afford to get them everything on their wish list; and, that this is why for each Christmas present she receives from her parents via the list she gave to Santa, she has to pick one of her used toys/clothes/etc. to donate and share with another boy or girl who may have asked Santa for that item, but whose parents couldn't afford to give it to them. 2 agree Reply I'm always trying to think of things to tell my son when it's time to clean down the toy collection, and your line at the end is another perfect one. Thank you. 1 agrees Reply Sure thing! Now that she's 1 and had her first birthday with presents and such (meaning, our house is starting to look like she's taken over) we want to employ a "one in, one out" rule (i.e., for each new thing that comes into the house for her, something gets donated or put away for a (maybe) future sibling). I'm hoping that if we're disciplined about it ourselves, as her parents, it will just be part of the routine as she gets older and starts to realize that she's a very blessed little girl, and that there are other kids who aren't as lucky when it comes to having basic needs and reasonable wants met. 1 agrees Reply Just wanted to make sure you know that there are a lot of charity organizations that will NOT accept used toys. They have to be new in box. Reply Of course. But there are plenty of places to donate that do (like thrift shops, Ronald McDonald House, local women's shelters, etc.). 2 agree Reply such an excellent question but i don't have any answers since my kid is only (almost 4). we'll soon have two girls in our family, and being people of color, i'm certain the concept of privilege will come up, although i'm expecting my girls to be on the other side of it (in other words, i'm sure they'll learn about white privilege or male privilege by experience without any prompting from me). i'm not sure how to be proactive about it though, how to make my kids understand the concept of kyriarchy — i.e., why we're able to live in the neighborhood we live in, why they go to the school they go to, why their grandmother was able to come to America with documentation while some of her friends were not, etc. definitely keeping an eye on this thread. and i cosign the loveisntenough.com recommendation! 2 agree Reply My parents always stressed how effin' lucky we were, and usually when something good was going on. Getting food, enjoying the weather outside, any time there was any kind of little boon: gosh, we're lucky. I think it helped that this fact wasn't ever used against me, as a kid – if I was upset over something small nobody rubbed it in my face that I had it so good. I think that's key. I grew up believing I was lucky, not being told I was lucky when I felt hurt. 7 agree Reply I have always told my daughter(4 1/2) that some people just don't have the things they need. We have many people asking for money around here that she sees, so I try to explain that some people can't work or something is keeping them from being able to have enough money. She is very into charity because of this. She wants to make sure we can give to the people who don't have anything because she is VERY stressed that there are children without toys or candy or beds. Oh the priorities of children 🙂 1 agrees Reply My boy is seven, and we haven't talked about larger social justice yet in any depth, but it comes up fairly regularly on smaller scales in re: privilege by birth. I think that will be a good starting point for further conversations when he's ready for more and larger discussions about wider issues. For instance, just the other night the subject of physical discipline came up in a roundabout way over dinner. Long story short, with the jumping off point of a headline I'd read that day, we talked about how some parents believed that spanking, hitting, or otherwise physically disciplining their children was the best, or even only, way to teach them certain things. And how while this was not illegal up to a certain point, many people believe that it's wrong. We all agreed that he was very lucky to have been born into a family that did not believe that kids could only learn things via violence. Had he been a bit older/more able to encompass the subtleties, and had it not been a traumatic enough revelation for him that some kids get spanked with belts (he was really pretty disturbed by that one) we could have used it as a jumping off point for talking about other forms of birth privilege. We also talk about how lucky he is to have the privilege of homeschooling, in an "Isn't it awesome that we get to do this cool thing (insert nifty offbeat educational experience here?) I'm so glad we're lucky enough to be able to homeschool you!" Or other things, similarly from a space of appreciation and gratitude. We're talky, rambly folks anyway, so a lot of things get hashed out via conversation, and I think segues like this based in concrete examples are how we'll probably approach it in future. 2 agree Reply The story I've seen that best illustrates this can be found here: https://sindeloke.wordpress.com/2010/01/13/37/ It's completely kid appropriate and has animals! It also works well for adults, fyi. 1 agrees Reply The story (which I've seen before) is great! And has animals! As it's written, however, it may not be appropriate for kids in some families. Retell it without swearing, and you can share it on the playground. 🙂 I like the "big feet" metaphor best, myself — quick and simple. 1 agrees Reply I did not talk to my kids to bring up the topic so they'd know about it. This is a complex topic that I don't think should be boiled down and dumbed down to be inserted into young kid's heads. I think it is best that these things come up when they can be directly related in the child's life in context of reality. Another way is sometimes we have watched a movie (Slumdog Millionaire) and wound up discussing caste system in India vs. American life and the freedoms we have vs. people born elsewhere. In our homeschooling we have learned of things in history in past times and other culture's way of life where privilege is more obvious and directly applied. We have also learned some about the Holocaust but later this year we'll dive more deeply into that and afterwards, Civil Rights as we're moving into the 1900s with our chronological history studies. Life is complicated, even in America today. There is still some discrimination such as against certain ethnic ancestery of "white people" which our family has seen in real life, so we will not teach that just being white means a person is priviledged. We have also seen problems related to trying to equal things out in our society so people are ranked and rated differently which has put us at a disadvantage. Example: Colleges have different SAT score desires based on region of USA that the student lives in, is that fair to the kid who happens to live in the area whose scores skew higher? I don't think so. How about the fact that SAT scores are rated differently among different ethnic people, is that fair that Asians are expected to get higher scores than Caucasians? PS I do not use my full last name on the Internet for privacy reasons, so I can't use it in this comment, sorry. 2 agree Reply Emmm…I would disagree that there is no privilege associated with "whiteness". I have black and white children (my oldest is adopted from South Africa) and trust me they can already see racial priviledge at work in the world 1 agrees Reply I think there can be privilege associated with being "white", but there need not be. It kinds of depends on the situation. In the UK, working-class white British boys are one of the lowest-achieving groups at school. Another very low-achieving group, perhaps even the lowest, I think, is Irish Travellers (who are a separate ethnic group, but still "white", I suppose). It's all a very complex situation, and I'm really interested to see the comments on this post. I'm not sure how I would even begin to explain these complexities to small kids, though I can understand with teenagers these things can lead to some great discussions. 1 agrees Reply i don't think the point is that white people are universally privileged. obviously there are white people with disabilities, poverty, etc. which cause problems. the point is that whiteness confers a certain KIND of privilege – eg. if you are white and disabled, you are likely to have better outcomes than people of colour with disabilities. if you are white you don't have to deal with people thinking you are more likely to be uneducated, untrustworthy, superstitious, unemployable etc, just because of your skin colour/eye shape/accent in the way that people of colour do. that's privilege and it's something many white people take for granted. 2 agree Reply I think 'White Privilege' is more of a thing in the US than it is in some other countries. In countries where white skin is not the 'norm', for instance, or where traditionally it's been the only colour and those who must will find another difference to discriminate against. Irish Travellers being an excellent example of the latter. Even in the US it helps if you're the 'right kind' of white. If you live in a place, even inside the US, where white skin is the minority, and your five-year-old comes home from school telling you stories about the girls who "don't like me because I'm blonde, and when the teacher's not looking they kick me", trust me when I say that a discussion about how fortunate she was to be born white in this country will not help the situation. 3 agree I am from New Zealand and white privilege definitely exists in New Zealand. I was always told that I was lucky that I was more Pākeha than my darker cousins, I've been told countless times "surely you can't be Māori! You're far too well spoken (well travelled, polite, etc) to be Māori!" and my darker cousins consistently get targeted by police, even when they've done nothing to prompt it. Of course many of my other family members of all skin colours haven't been as lucky to have the many opportunities that I have had (which I mostly credit to my parents who worked hard to give us opportunities they didn't have), and I also know that some of those opportunities have only come my way because I 'pass' as Pākeha. Thanks for this, essie, I see what you mean. I think this has just been on my mind a lot lately, because of a recent big news story in the UK (Wikipedia: Dale Farm). Travellers are incredibly persecuted in our society, and it's still kind of seen as ok by a lot of people, including people who I otherwise like and respect. It feels like this is the last widely-accepted form of racism, and it sucks. It gets me down. 🙁 1 agrees Reply Just wanting to also agree with what Barbara has said above! (I can't seem to reply to her comment directly…) Countries where "white" is not the norm is interesting too. How would you explain to a kid the kind of hassle they might get if you took them on holiday to another country? How could you explain to a little blonde girl why she was getting so much attention in, say, Turkey or India? Another example – white women travellers can experience sexual harrassment in some countries, because the received wisdom is that white women are promiscuous. I experienced this myself in India – not in a big way, but it makes you a bit uncomfortable. How would you explain this kind of extra attention if you were travelling with kids? 1 agrees I'm curious about this as well. While my son is only 6 months old, we know we'll have to talk to him about privilege at some point…mostly because of my fiance's history. I came from an upper-middle-class family and was spoiled rotten by my father (baby of the family & only girl). My fiance on the other hand came from a very poor and dysfunctional childhood (at one point he was sleeping in a car). We want our son to understand that he's very lucky to have what he's had, because his father has been on the other side and worked his butt off to make something better out of where he started. It's not something we plan to bring up ourselves, but rather start slowly with age-appropriate explanations of life, appreciation, and charity as he starts to get older and is able to understand (without judging his grandpa for the choices and mistakes he made with Papa). 1 agrees Reply Interesting juxtaposition between this & the last post! 3 agree Reply On the flip side (I commented a bit earlier from the perspective of my family being privileged from an economic standpoint), I'm not quite sure how to approach the topic with my daughter (when it's time, of course) of how our family (a two-mom family) does not have the same rights and protections as other families do; at least, not without a lot of hoop jumping. I don't know how I will explain to her that her mommy had to adopt her just to make sure she would always have two mommies no matter what, even though her mommies were in a civil union when she was born… …or, how to explain what the heck a civil union is, and why can't we just be married like her friends' parents are, for that matter. I guess I'm holding out hope that when the time comes to explain, it'll all be moot. 🙂 A girl can dream! 1 agrees Reply I teach middle schoolers at a private school, and trust me, more parents need to talk to their kids about privilege. I've had some interesting conversations, especially after reading authors like Sandra Cisneros. I had a child assure me that Cisneros' piece "Salvador Late or Early" had to take place elsewhere because, "We don't have poverty like that in America." I felt like I was ruining their belief in Santa Claus. My three year old likes to clean her room and take toys to the Goodwill because she wants other kids to have things like she does. We recently had a conversation about how helping was a privilege that not everyone else had. 8 agree Reply Helping is not a privilege that everyone else has is a wonderful statement and a fantastic reminder. Thank you! 1 agrees Reply I disagree with your statement that not everyone can help others. Everyone can do SOMETHING to give back to the community, even if they are not in a position to help out financially. In my church, we talk about giving of "time, treasure, and talent". Wealthier families may have more treasure than time to give and poorer families the reverse. But everybody has a moral obligation to pitch in somehow. 1 agrees Reply I think there is a huge and important difference between telling kids they're lucky and explaining racial/ economic/ gender/ cis/ hetero/ religious/ able-bodied privilege. "Luck" implies a degree of randomness, of chance. Examining privilege, on the other hand, means looking at the institutional structures that create and enable an inequitable society. 1 agrees Reply YES, this is exactly what makes the concept so complex and what i think has been missing from the discussion. not just, "we're lucky to be born able-bodied and have what we have," but also, "why do the store workers follow my friend around and not me?" or "how come i don't see other girls who look like me on TV?" or "how come whenever i feel uncomfortable about a situation, people tell me i'm being too sensitive, but when my friend talks about feeling uncomfortable, people listen to him?" there are, of course, more serious examples that i can't think of right now, but these kind of seem like questions that could easily come up — or at least things i'm hoping my daughters pay attention to. 1 agrees Reply I think those questions only come up if the nature of your lifestyle enables your children to see them and feel comfortable questioning. For example, Every time a parent says "do it because I said so," or a child is told "because that's the way it is," our society reinforces the idea that simply questioning is unacceptable. I've always said that "Because that's how we do things (have always done it)" is the stupidest reason to do anything, and worse than no reason at all. Every time my child asks me "Why?" it is a reminder to question EVERYTHING. But I would be afraid that simply waiting for my child to ask these types of tough questions before explaining is just asking for ignorance. How will your daughter know to look for gender difference in why people don't listen to her but they listen to her friend, unless you've already pointed out that sometimes there is a gender difference that we should be noticing and fighting? How will my daughter know to ask someone what pronouns they use if no one ever explains the difference between gender presentation, gender identity, and societal expectations? 1 agrees Reply Hmmmm that sounded like I was accusing you personally of waiting until they ask before explaining. I just meant that some people DO have that mentality. The general "you" 🙂 1 agrees Reply i definitely agree with that sentiment, and thanks for adding that — a great reminder to be proactive and foster the kind of environment where questions are always welcomed and encouraged! i sometimes forget how important that is! Wow, so this is how the conversation goes with very analytical people. We were always told "life's not fair." My dad grew up poor so there was also a sprinkling of "Eat your soup. When I was a kid, our tomato soup was ketchup and hot water." Privilege was less explained than it was giving as fact. 1 agrees Reply Even though my family was relatively privileged (fiscally, that is), my mother never let me FEEL [fiscally] privileged. I'm grateful for that because it taught me to be fiscally responsible. I think my mother explained it well: if I asked for things I didn't need, "We can't afford that," even though my family technically did have the money for it. Now, I feel like I "can't afford" to be spending my money on expensive wants, since when I might need that money later for basic "needs" or emergencies. Sometimes my impulses win me over, but at least I have that little cheapskate inside of me to tame the impulse spending. I think everybody could learn from my mother's statement that you "can't afford that." Shit is bound to happen, so you'll probably end up needing that money later. 1 agrees Reply Privilege doesn't always have to come in the guise of race or economic status either. Something that it took a long time for me to figure out was my privilege of being 'smart'. I never had to work hard in school and I couldn't understand why everyone else couldn't just get the stuff that I could by instinct. Eventually (when I accidentally called my 7 year older sister stupid) my mom sat me down and explained that while I was 'gifted' with a quick mind, not everyone else was, and others had to work much harder at it – like I had to work much harder at riding a bike. 1 agrees Reply I've been talking about this topic a lot with friends of mine – but not with respect to teaching small children. We both teach first-year college humanities courses, and have been trying to figure out how to talk to these people about privilege. It's incredibly difficult to speak to a group of 20 18 year olds and ask, "how are you privileged?" and have them all say, "I'm really not privileged – things are all equal, people aren't really poor unless they are lazy, and our society is post-racism and post-gender discrimination." I'm encouraged to hear about people here intending to teach their kids about privilege, because there are lots and lots of kids who view their situations as "neutral" and "normal" and can't think outside of that. They can neither see "privilege" that they have, nor, often, discrimination that they have internalized. 2 agree Reply Here's a privilege test for your college students: Make them first graders. Give them coloring books and crayons, but make them unequal–in the same ways that our society makes people unequal, so base it on race and perceived socioeconomic status. To them it just looks like they got handed some coloring books and crayons, but halfway through their page you start asking questions like, "Is this the kind of coloring book and crayons you had growing up?" "Why did I give you the crayolas and you the dollar store crayons?" "Why did you get the brand new book and she got the one someone else has ripped up and scribbled in?" Now ask them how their quality of crayons and coloring book relates to the car they drive, the house they live in, and the clothes they wear. Ask them how they would feel if they walked onto a store (car lot) and the salesperson immediately started pushing the scribbled-in generic coloring book with the dollar-store 8-box of crayons, when they can afford a 200-pack of Crayolas and the Disney princesses coloring book? Ask how they would feel if you had only handed the girls pink crayons and the boys blue ones? Now ask how they would feel if they were the only girl in the room who got handed a blue crayon?–heck, maybe that's how you divide the room. Ask how they'd feel if they were the only person in the room who wanted the disney princesses book with the blue crayon, but when you ask the teacher for that you get told no? Just some examples. I just found that in teaching college students, anything you can do to make it fun and relate to childhood will teach much bigger concepts easily, for two reasons: one, they have a basis for comparison; and two, it gives them a chance to lighten up from the seriousness of some of their classes. The change of pace gets their attention. 2 agree Reply I posted this link further down, but it is PERFECT for college students and examines white privilege: http://nymbp.org/reference/WhitePrivilege.pdf Reply I've been super impressed with the "Take a Step Forward" exercise for helping illuminate social class issues. http://wbarratt.indstate.edu/socialclass/step_into_social_class_2.htm Reply Hi! I realize I'm really late to the game here, but Resource Generation (www.resourcegeneration.org – are we allowed to link?) has a lot of great stuff for young people sifting through what it means to have wealth and economic privilege, especially if they also care about social justice issues. Their book Classified is something I use with my students all the time. Reply I grew up in this oblivious bubble about how privileged my family is. I'm not talking trust-fund-don't-have-to-work-privilige, but my family is full of highly educated professionals. I was raised to believe that I can be anything I put my mind to, and I still believe that. However, I was nearly crushed in my early 20s when I came to the realization (after working as an intern at a manufacturing facility) that not everyone is college material. It really went against the egalitarian way I was raised. My son is 4, and I have no idea how we'll approach this with him. He picked out a book about the Tuskeegee Airmen at the library, and when it talked about segregation, I almost started crying. My husband thought I was nuts. 1 agrees Reply I guess you could call my upbringing 'privileged' but my parents never, ever let us take that for granted. They're millionaires on paper, but we never owned a new car, always shopped at the thrift store for just about everything, spent Sundays cutting coupons, and like the commenter above, I frequently heard "We can't afford that." At the time, I hugely resented that, especially going to private school where I was surrounded by some of the most obscene displays of privilege you could imagine. (Students getting brand new BMW's delivered to the school, middle schoolers with seriously expensive designer clothes and purses, etc.) The 'rents wouldn't stand for petty jealousies though, and I was told that that's great that they can choose to do that, but that's not what we value here in our house. Now that I have a toddler, we are just starting the discussion of privilege. I'm trying to introduce some concepts early, hoping that they'll guide him over time. For instance, we don't keep a lot of toys in the house. Birthdays and holidays are more focused on spending time with people, we don't really do gifts. We don't have many clothes, just enough for day-to-day needs, most of which is thrifted. We keep a box by the front door for regular donations and everyone in the house is involved with various volunteer efforts. That may seem austere, but I am hoping that this exposes him to all different types of living situations and develops a sense of empathy in him. Inevitably, it's going to lead to a discussion of privilege at some point, so I'm hoping to bring openness and honesty to the table. Yes, some people have and some have not; there will probably always be someone above and below you. Not everyone gets a fair shake because there's a helluva lot of injustice in the world. The important thing is to always be respectful and help out when and where you can. Reply I very rarely tell my kids 'we can't afford it'. I say, 'no, I'm not buying that for you'. I've explained that just because I have some money doesn't mean that I need to spend it. This fall, we've had to reduce to one income (long story), so we told the boys that all 'extras' will not be bought until around February. We they ask for something in the store, I remind them that we're not buying extras right now and they remember. I've pointed out things that I would have normally bought and said that they aren't the only ones not getting extras. I try to give them a sense of money by telling them how much things cost, like eating out, the price of rent, etc. Some things of privilege children will only learn by talking to their less fortunate peers and if they aren't around any, it takes longer to learn. I remember learning that not everyone's parents would openly talk about sex with them. Since mine did, it was surprising. 2 agree Reply There's an episode of Louie where he tries to explain privilege to his five year old when she freaks out because her sister gets a "mango pop" (mango pit with a fork stuck in it) and she doesn't. It's pretty brilliant, both for his explanation and the child's very realistic lack of understanding. I tried to find the clip on YouTube and just found a bunch of Latin videos with "mango pop" as a hilarious euphemism. 🙂 Reply Oh how I LOVE that episode. Kudos to you for the reference! I'm not a parent yet, but I often feel like I might end up on Louie's parenting wavelength. We'll see! Until then, i'll just keep enjoying the laughs. Reply Jezebel has the clip: http://jezebel.com/5815172/a-little-girls-lesson-in-fairness-courtesy-of-louis-ck Reply We talk about this a lot with my older son. He's 5, and he always surprises me with just how much he understands. I've been to countries with a lot of "slums" and have books about them, and we've gone through the pages and talked about the basic things some people don't have, like a warm place to sleep, clean water, etc. We talk about the things we can do to try to help make things more fair, which I think is really important, because I don't think it is fair for me to show him the suffering of the world without also letting him feel like there's something he can do, too, even if he's just a little guy. I hear him incorporate the ideas into his play quite a bit; he has an imaginary twin sister who lives under whatever circumstances he's imagining, like, "My sister doesn't get to go to school, but I can help her learn things!" It's really uplifting to hear him do that, because I realize he is getting the factual and emotional aspects of how unfair the world can be, and how we should do what we can to help out. Also, we don't hide things from him in day to day stuff. We tell him why the guy is holding a sign on the side of the road. We bring baby clothes to a shelter and tell him why these people don't have their own things. He also sees that we don't have as much as other families; we visit friends who have much larger and elaborate homes, and he will ask me, Why do they have stairs? Why is their house so big? And I try my best to explain the spectrum of 'haves' and how lucky we are to be where we are. While he's getting a better handle on understanding things, I don't think I'm ready to throw in post colonialism or any kind of broader ranking of how these privileges have evolved… but there will be plenty of that when it is appropriate. I remember very vividly a day in elementary school when we talked about how skin color didn't make people less/more whathaveyou… and looking around at my classmates like, Holy shit, people actually think that way? That's a thing? I guess it is another privilege to grow up with that kind of ignorance, but I have always kept that day in my mind when I think about introducing ideas at appropriate times. Reply I can only speak to the American experience, but I think that it is of the utmost importance to teach children about privilege. While some might argue that not all whites are "privileged" per se (some are born into abject poverty, are disabled, etc) there are absolutely a great deal of privileges that white people have just because of the color of their skin that people of color do not. Many of these privileges would never even occur to a white person- especially young children. Black men watch as people cross the street to avoid them every day of their life, see women clutch their purses tighter as they walk by. Accomplished minority men and women are referred to as "a credit to their race" (as though their race needed some extra credit) or are asked to speak as representatives of their race. Black children open books or turn on the TV and generally see all white faces. Minority men and women receive jobs and are accused of being the result of affirmative action. White people do not experience these things on a daily basis, and young people need to be informed that these things are happening or else they may not know. An amazing article on this sbject is here: http://nymbp.org/reference/WhitePrivilege.pdf The principle used in this article, to make a list of privileges accorded to you by being white, can be applied to being male, or being straight, to inform young people about male privilege, straight privilege. The article is pretty advanced, I would say 9th grade level. But you can talk to your kids about it if in an age appropriate way, discussing the things on the list that apply to kids their age. 3 agree Reply this is awesome… thank you for linking the invisible knapsack article. 1 agrees Reply My daughter is 9 and I can't remember a time we didn't talk about privilege. From my perspective, living in the world means living within hierarchical structures in which it's obvious (especially to children, who don't have the "benefits" of socialization that adults do) that some people have access to more privileges than others. Around age 3, my daughter wondered why the bank was closed. I said it was Martin Luther King Day. She asked who MLK was, and why the bank was closed on his day. I explained about holidays (special days in which society says the banks should be closed) and said MLK worked to create more equality between black people and white people. She asked, "what's a white person?" My daughter is a white person, and we come from a mixed race family. So I took some family photos off the wall and explained which of us were white, which were brown, and which were black. And I explained that when I go out in the world, I'm treated differently than Uncle is, because of the perceived colors of our skins, and that MLK worked to create more fairness for me and Uncle. The whole conversation made me cry. At the outset, my daughter genuinely did not see any of us as "white" (paper is white, she said) or "black" (her favorite shirt was black, she said). Describing to her the way our society marks the differences between us made me really depressed. But I believed it was fundamentally important to her and to our family. Another example: kids can see homeless people in ways adults don't. My daughter has long had questions about homeless people. I've told her that some people have illnesses or problems that makes it very hard for them to keep jobs that will help them pay for their homes. Putting it this way gives me an opportunity to talk with her about her own privileges (economic and health, among others). As she's gotten older I've expanded on that discussion. Another example: I grew up poor, and my daughter is growing up not-poor. When she asks about my childhood, I have yet another opportunity to talk with her about her privileges. And as the first person in my family to graduate from college, I can also talk with her about the privileges conferred by a college education. Another example: One of my besties (Ms. X) is gay. Again, at a very young age my kid noticed that Ms. X didn't have a boyfriend, she had a girlfriend. She asked when Ms. X and Ms. Y would get married. This gave me an opportunity to talk about how Ms. X and Ms. Y can't get married in our state, and how much that sucks. As my daughter has gotten older, we've been able to expand on the discussion of heterosexual privilege. I guess what I'm trying to say is, from my perspective there are 8 bazillion opportunities to talk with children about privilege in the courses of their lifetimes. My tactic has just been to take those opportunities and be as straightforward as I can as they arise. My kid doesn't feel "guilty" – but she does have awareness that she has privileges in our society that she didn't earn, and which aren't fair, and which she has a responsibility to both acknowledge and work to mitigate. 6 agree Reply My son is only 7 months, so naturally we're not having this conversation yet, but I really love the idea of donating a Christmas toy and letting a child choose which one. I think a lot of kids would really think about which toy another kid might have asked for instead of just giving up the "least desirable" toy. This year I'm not doing Christmas. We don't have enough money right now to get people gifts and honestly we don't NEED anything. I'm asking both of our families to donate to Heifer Project instead of buying us gifts. When Emmett is older I would like to do this with him and have him pick and animal to purchase for a family in need. Reply Many department stores will have some sort of "tree of giving" program before Christmas. On each ornament is a wishlist from a child (or sometimes adults) in need. What my mother would do is find a child like us in likes and age, and fulfill that child's list– one year, mine was "Age nine. Girl. Likes dragons and fairies. Loves Barbie. Size 7 clothes, warm please." My mother would then give us a gift that tied in with that kid's present. That year I got some kind of off-brand fairy Barbie. It taught me that, while I didn't really need anything, I could make giving fun. When I was older, when my brother and I were in our teens, we would gather cheap hats, gloves, and socks throughout the year. On the coldest day of the year, we would make a huge batch of soup and a huge batch of cider and take them around in our minivan, handing out food and clothes to homeless people near shelters, under the freeway, etc. It taught us to not be afraid of people less fortunate than us. My big brother wound up being intermittently homeless, and these days, my family is a paycheck away from eviction. In doing what we could then, I think that bought us a little good karma so that maybe, if things go badly, we'll be treated kindly out there. Reply Join the conversation Cancel Reply Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *Comment Participate in this conversation via emailGet only replies to your comment, the best of the rest, as well as a daily recap of all comments on this post. No more than a few emails daily, which you can reply to/unsubscribe from directly from your inbox. No-drama comment policy Part of what makes the Offbeat Empire different is our commitment to civil, constructive commenting. Make sure you're familiar with our no-drama comment policy.