The Double Duty of Writing and Parenting

Art shouldn’t only be about self expression. Yes, that’s an important component, but I believe it is our duty as artists to also reflect on society at large, to spark conversations about important issues, and to challenge peoples’ way of thinking. As the famous Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei (pictured below) said, “I don’t think art is elite or mysterious. I don’t think anybody can separate art from politics. The intention to separate art from politics is itself a very political intention.” Most American artists I know don’t view their art as inherently political, but I agree with Ai Wei Wei that the act of separating art from politics is still a political act whether we are aware of it or not. Excluding politics from your creative work (or your Facebook page or Twitter feed) is a choice, and the act of making this choice sends a message. And, in my opinion, it’s a message that needs to be examined. I feel that we artists need to embrace our role as agents of change, as leaders, as cultural affecters, that we need to send a thought-provoking message to our audiences instead of one of apathy or avoidance. Artists have a special kind of power, and I think it’s our job to use it.


As writers, it’s even more important that we embrace this role because our art is based upon language, something that all people use every day to communicate. We’ve studied, practiced, and honed this language, and no matter our genre, we are better at communicating than a typical person is. We must use our expertise and skill to begin conversations, encourage deep thinking, and urge others to talk about important issues. I’m not saying that every single piece we write needs to connect to a news article or shooting or Congressional bill, just that we need to be aware of the gift we have and use it to lead and guide others through important conversations. Or, at a minimum, we need to include people of color in our fiction, reference current affairs in our poems, and speak honestly about our own thoughts and feelings in our essays. Communication is an important element in fixing and healing our country. We writers have above average communication skills. Therefore we have an obligation.

Writers might have the obligation to inspire deep thought and motivate change, but one can always turn his computer off or shut her notebook. Parents have the obligation of raising a healthy, decent human, and they never get a freaking break from it. When you try to fulfill both obligations, you’ll question your sanity. But seriously, how do you talk to kids about race in a way that makes sense to them while also ensuring that they’re eating well and finishing their homework and going to bed on time? And then, after all of this, how the hell are you supposed to find energy to write? There are so many intricate layers and confusing double standards when it comes to race relations in our country. The day-to-day of parenting is already so grueling. It’s tempting to “preserve their innocence” and preserve our own sanity. But we must talk. Kids understand more than we realize. We need to have these conversations so that we can help them understand even more and encourage them to build a better future, but also so that we adults can hear what they have to say. Part of me thinks that adults are the reason this all got so shitty in the first place; sometimes I think we need to vote some kids into Congress.


Hooray for peace and equality!

When it comes to conversing, my job as a parent isn’t that difficult yet. My son is only 15-months-old, so we’re obviously not having real discussions about anything, much less the layers of race relations. But I do talk to him in the inane way one talks to a toddler about respect, equality, the importance of peace and nonviolence and being kind and compassionate. I’m not sure how I’ll handle these conversations when he’s older and able to see that our police force and government don’t tend to espouse these same ideas, but I hope that growing more aware will not completely shrink his beautifully wide open heart.

I think a lot about white privilege when I think about these future conversations with my son. I won’t be answering his questions about why strangers hate him because of his skin tone. I won’t have to teach him how to behave around a cop so that he *maybe* won’t get shot. The fear black mothers live with every day is unfathomable to me. No one should have to hold that much fear in her heart. How do I make my son understand this?

In her essay, “The Conversation We Must Have with Our White Children,” Courtney E. Martin goes into more detail about this topic, citing specific examples of the advice parents give to their children of color and explaining why it’s important that our white children understand their black peers’ reality. But is this enough? Is it enough to teach our white kids to be aware of white privilege, or are we as writerparents supposed to instill a sense of activism in our children? Perhaps having these difficult conversations is a form of activism in itself. But is that enough? What will ever be enough?

Maybe being a writerparent actually makes it easier. Maybe embracing this double duty gives us a deeper understanding or insight. Maybe our honed communication skills will make these conversations smoother. Or maybe we can just email our kids our blog posts and then read their comments. Whatever method we choose, we really do have a double duty. Some days will feel like a success, other days a failure, but the true success is in trying.

I’m Listening. Are You?

Comments on the essay I posted yesterday, “White People: It’s Time to Change,” have been pouring in on Facebook, and let me tell you, the stories are heartbreaking and enraging. We need to read these stories, truly hear these stories, and not dismiss them as one person’s experience but understand that this happens to ALL people of color, that in the United States of America, aka “the land of the free,” this is what it’s like to be black, and that race-based police brutality often extends to Latinos, Middle Easterners, and anyone who is simply darker than “white.”

Do you, white friends, worry that whenever your family members leave the house, chances are great that they won’t come back because a police officer killed them?


This mother’s comments sparked a string of replies about how black parents and teachers “coach” their children in how to behave around cops yet still worry for their lives:


Do you, white mom and dad, tell your young son that on his way to school, he needs to fear for his life? Do you, white people, consider that the way you interact with cops would end in gunfire if you were black?


“Death defying.” This man is not being dramatic. These people are not lying. This is their daily reality because of the color of their skin.

Still not convinced? Here’s a firsthand account from a Latino man about his encounter with violent cops and how deeply it hurt him:


People of color have “been conditioned” to believe that when a cop kills their children or turns their safety into a joke, it is NORMAL. This is unacceptable. Our police officers are supposed to protect us, to make our neighborhoods safer, and instead they are killing our people, our fellow American citizens, and we white folk are sitting comfortably in our safe homes pretending like white privilege doesn’t exist. It’s time to get real. It will and it should feel uncomfortable to confront this, but we HAVE to. Recognize your own prejudices. Become aware of your racist thoughts and behaviors and change them. Smile at people of color. Ask for their names. Listen to their stories. Tell them you are sorry on behalf of this country and give them your love and support. Call your mayor’s office and demand police reform. Do whatever you can because it is not okay to idly sit by and let this happen. It is time to act now.

White People: It’s Time to Change

A few years ago on my way home from work, I encountered a routine traffic stop in Williamsburg. I rolled down my window and the officer kindly said, “Good evening, license and registration please.”

My music was too loud to comfortably talk, so I reached forward and turned it down, mumbling a “Sorry.”


Alton Sterling, father of five children, was shot and killed by police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

“No problem. Just give me your license and registration, please.”

My license was three months expired and I had no idea what the penalty for this was. I’m an anxious person and started shaking. I did not want to go to jail. Sure, my husband would come get me, but still, it sounded awful. Cops didn’t really take people to jail over expired licenses, though, right? This would most likely end in an annoying citation, nothing worse.

I decided to get the registration first, as if the date on my license would magically change during the minute this would take. I opened my glove compartment and grabbed the thick black book filled with all of our important car-related papers, but fumbled and dropped it onto the passenger seat. Shaking worse, I brought it to my lap and flipped through it, pulling out my insurance card. (more…)