Over the past two months, our lives have shifted dramatically. One day, we were reading about the spread of COVID-19 abroad, and the next, most of the world’s population was sheltering in place. For those of us who are parents, we are suddenly everything to our children: teachers, caretakers, playmates, and more. All of this while holding the grief of an altered life with little time to process. Even as some states and cities begin reopening, the lingering effects of the coronavirus, and the accompanying political and economic shifts, will continue to inform us over this year and beyond.
We met at an Emergent Strategy training in Detroit in October 2018. During that weekend, we explored what it means to embrace change, harness creativity, and work collaboratively toward a more liberatory way of working and living. As two White people raising young children—Rachel has a 2-year-old and Jardana has a 4- and an 8-year-old—we have remained in support of each other around the exploration of antiracism, queerness, activism, and parenting.
We cannot pretend this pandemic is a great equalizer and ignore the impact that it is having on Black people and other people of color.
We have been grappling with the questions: How do we enact antiracist parenting practices during the pandemic and beyond? And, how is this time asking more of us as parents committed to social justice? After conversations with our communities, we found many people were experiencing grief, fear, and isolation. While these feelings are a direct reaction to the coronavirus public health and economic crises, they’re also a response to the undeniable racial disparities these crises have exposed. Here, we discuss how to meet these emotions in the service of ending white supremacy, and how we stay connected to each other and to our community in a time of social distancing.
What’s at Stake?
We cannot pretend this pandemic is a great equalizer, as suggested in earlier months, and ignore the impact that it is having on Black people and other people of color. From verbal racist attacks against Asian Americans and immigrants here in the United States to the disparate number of cases and deaths among Black, Brown, and Indigenous people, we are witnessing the continued dehumanization of people of color in service to upholding capitalism and white supremacy.
Overall in the U.S., Black people and other people of color experience higher levels of violence, housing insecurity, and job discrimination than their White counterparts. During COVID, existing health disparities and lack of access to quality medical care has led to disproportionately high mortality rates within communities of color as well: In Louisville, Kentucky, where Jardana lives, 12% of the people who have died of COVID-19 are Black, but they are only 8.3% of the state’s population. In Chicago, where Rachel lives, the numbers are even more staggering: Black people are 30% of the city’s population, but make up 72% of the COVID-19 deaths.
We have both been a part of grassroots organizations that are working to confront the effects of institutionalized racism head on.
Jardana has been working with the Bail Project for decarceration. Jails are hotbeds for the spread of COVID-19, and have the potential to wipe out large groups of people in a short amount of time. Initially, our protests looked like people standing 6 feet apart in front of the jail and calling the governor to release incarcerated folks. Over the past few weeks, under the leadership of the Bail Project and Louisville Showing up for Racial Justice, it has looked like 50 cars, plastered with signs, horns blasting, as we circle ICE and the jail, demanding release.
Rachel works with a crew supplying front-line workers and at-risk community members with masks. We receive requests, source supplies, sew, and deliver to anyone who asks, free of charge. My family finds ways to engage from inside our home. We support the campaigns of striking workers, publicly advocating for their fair treatment, and honoring picket lines.
We increased financial contributions to social justice organizations led by and for people of color, including the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Chicago Desi Youth Rising, and Ujimaa Medics. We answer calls for online activism, in the form of signing petitions, making phone calls, and spreading information on social media.
As parents, our responsibility is to model for our children the change we want to see in the world. We want our children to be active participants in creating a world where there are no jails, where workers are respected, where immigrants are welcome, where Black, Brown, and Indigenous people can live without fear. We believe this can be achieved through antiracism.
Antiracism is an active process of identifying and eliminating racism by changing systems, organizational structures, policies, practices, and attitudes so that power is redistributed and shared equitably. It is also about confronting white supremacy within ourselves, diving below the surface to gain a greater understanding of how we became complicit in racism in the first place.
We examine power, trauma, and pain through ancestral healing. As we reconnect to our lineages through familial repair and in ancestral meditation, we interrupt centuries of harm, and set in motion a different future for generations to come.
As parents, our antiracism values are a map. We approach child-rearing in ways that facilitate connection despite distance, care instead of fear. Our children are learning who and how to be in the world as 2-, 4-, and 8-year-olds. These are formative ages, and we know that the lingering change of this pandemic will far outlast stay-at-home orders. We raise our children to not only imagine, but also to help create a world that ends white supremacy and centers love.
Social Distancing With Children
White culture and capitalism value isolation and separateness, which, on the surface, mirrors social distancing. As White caregivers, how do we resist individualism and isolation during the pandemic? How do we integrate the values of collectivity in our parenting when we aren’t in community the same ways as before?
Rachel and her child’s daily walks up and down the street have become a morning ritual. We navigate the quiet hallways of our building, my 2-year-old repeating “no touch” on our ride down the elevator. At least a few times each morning, we cross paths with a neighbor, and the social-distancing dance commences. There are no codified rules for this, so we make it up as we go along. I am aware of the optics of a White woman crossing the street to avoid a perceived threat, embodying the legacy of White society’s imagination of who is dangerous, and who needs protection.
I tell my daughter, “This is how we take care of our neighbors right now. We want to keep everyone safe.” I also try to connect with people when we pass. This ranges from a wave, to a check-in, to encouragement, to inquiries about needs and strategizing how we can meet them. Like many neighborhoods across the city, ours has recently formed a mutual aid network. The mission statement includes continuing to show up for each other once the crisis has passed. Using this time to create deeper connections, in service to long-term social change and accountability, is a place we can focus our energies when everything feels so out of our control.
On a recent hike, Jardana’s 4-year-old hid when he saw a person ahead on the trail. “Quick, get away from the people!” he shouted, attaching himself to her legs. I tell my children: Love does not end. In fact, we need to show our community, neighborhood, and family that we love them all the more.
“Where am I when we are apart?” I ask my youngest.
“In my heart,” he states.
“Our community and family is also in our hearts.”
This pandemic is a time to be with our children in the slow mess of grief and pain, allowing ourselves and our children to feel it all, and checking in with them to give them space to express themselves, to ask questions, to release what may be troubling them, to reset. Starting and ending the day with a check-in: How are you feeling today? What do you need? What was good? What was challenging? This allows ourselves and our children to build resiliency and move away from shame and blame. Living into emotional complexity creates more space for us to heal the divisions of white supremacy, and shift ideologies that seed colonization and capitalism.
The Time to Reshape Our World is Now
The cultural work we do in our homes, the care work we do in our communities, and the activism we do to end systems of oppression may look different in the time of COVID-19, but it matters all the more. As stay-at-home orders begin to lift, let us remember: This pandemic will have long-term effects on our current and future social, economic, and environmental realities. The income, housing, and educational gap will be deepened, with Black, Brown, and Indigenous people bearing the brunt of that blow.
We can disrupt that from happening. It will not happen overnight, but when we continue showing up, reaching out, listening deeply, reimagining, and moving from a place that values Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, trans, and queer lives, we will create a better world.
Our responsibility is to raise White children who are grounded in a commitment to racial justice, and, as Anne Braden coined, will be a part of the “Other America.” To truly eradicate racism, we need to understand the deep ways that white supremacy culture divides us, and the ways that Whiteness sets us up to dehumanize others. From here, we are more equipped to dismantle oppression and build a culture that is based in allyship and radical love.
Together, let’s interrupt cycles of violence and hate, and harness the courage and imagination necessary to enact change. The time for small and large scale shifts is now.
Rachel Parsons is a Chicago-based writer, editor, teacher, activist, and mama. Rachel writes about gender, sexuality, race, work, family, teaching, and culture. She views writing as an important tool for social change.
Jardana Peacock is a writer and an activist. Jardana is the author of Practice Showing Up: A Guidebook for White People Working for Racial Justice. They serve as the Director of Development and Communications at PeoplesHub.