The Seeds of Racism by Monique Ruffin

I was eleven in 1979 when my grandma took me to Lake Charles, her hometown in Louisiana. It was my first visit from Los Angeles where we lived. 

As young as I was, I could smell the racism. I recall seeing black people move off the sidewalk to let white people walk by and being deeply curious and confused. Yes, there were pleasantries exchanged, but at the level of heart the behavior was rooted in hierarchy and the unspoken need to make white people feel safe and superior. It made me sick to my stomach. The way in which we practice racism in this country continues to be as insidious as it was forty years ago. The fear of those on both sides—the fear of losing power and the fear of being at that fear’s mercy—seems like a never-ending cycle. It impacts our consciousness creating conduct that is deeply out of alignment with our souls. 

And yes, things are shifting and we are seeing marches and efforts toward change. But let me say that if we want change, marching is not going to be the solution. Dr. King has already proven that changing laws is not enough. If marching worked we wouldn’t be here today. I’m not saying don’t march, but I’m also asking, How can we get to root of this matter? We need to change hearts, not just legislation. Where do these ideas of inequality come from? 

To me, the root is in parenting children who see the value of others. Yes, I’m saying raise your sons to not have an idea of themselves as better than others because in fact they are not. I still see this subtle manifestation of racism today. On the street, in offices, at the farmers market, some white families are so unconcerned with those around them that they literally do not share the public space that we all occupy. What would happen if white mothers would raise their boys to share the sidewalk? 

A new understanding needs to begin in the earliest years of life. It needs to start at home, with mothers teaching their kids how to be in the world and how to be with others. Today I have many friends and peers who are white, and I often ask them what their parents told them about race in this country. And every one of them answers, “Nothing.” I have to think that this practice continues. Several years ago my son and I met a white mom whose white son was obsessed with brown skin. He asked my son about it repeatedly in a way that made it evident that his mother wasn’t teaching her son about race in any way. From what I see as a parent, most children, like their parents, aren’t being taught to be empathetic and compassionate around issues of race.

I know that attributing the phenomenon of racism to mothers is a very simple answer to a very complex issue. Yet, I see that mothers are at the root of our ideas about race in so many ways. Yes, our history and cultural practices reinforce it, but at home is where these beliefs are seeded. They say the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world, and in America, white mothers are the nurturing force behind all the bigots who seek power over people with different skin colors. When white mothers—themselves given no education about compassion, oneness, accountability and empathy—provide no such education to their sons, black mothers infuse their fear of being victimized into their children. It’s hard to look at ourselves deeply and see what we’ve created, how we participate, how we benefit, and how we harm ourselves and others. We get so entangled in the stories, blame, and denial that we can’t see ourselves any longer only the other person. 

In the 2017 presidential election fifty three percent of white women, voted for a man who says he grabs pussies, promotes racist behavior and is a misogynist. Why would they vote this way? It’s my opinion they did so to protect the old guard and the status quo for their children’s sakes. They vote against the sisterhood to protect their children’s futures. 

Who was Donald Trump’s mother? Who was Bill Clinton’s mother? Who was Matt Lauer’s mother? Who was Paul Ryan’s mother? Who was Harvey Weinstein’s mother? How were they raised? What were they taught? The evidence is in who they become as adults. 

I’m grateful to see white women coming out and marching, but we need you to march at home with your children before they become cops that kill, bankers that steal, Hollywood moguls that rape, presidents and congressmen that lie and generate fear in the lives of anyone who is not a rich, white, man. They need to teach their children to become conscious adults that understand that they are not entitled to any privilege, and no one needs to make way for them on the sidewalk because they are white. Today we are still breathing racism and it’s in us at the deepest levels. 

I have many white liberal friends, and I’ve seen that generally they are not seeking to oppress but rather to understand. I also see that while they are not willing to give up their own privileges, they will fight to gain privileges for others. But none of us will have to fight for privileges if we acknowledge what we learned or didn’t learn from our parents, and make sure that we give our children a different education and experience. The same is true for black mothers, who are reactive to the cultural impact of white parenting and who raise their boys with fear. I’ve witnessed countless mothers who have so much fear of their sons being killed or harmed in some way that it keeps them from fully loving and embracing their boys. The legacy of slavery lives in our cells and shows up in ways we are unconscious of. When I was pregnant and learned I was having a son, I went to my car and cried from pure fear. I’ve spent the first decade of his life working to heal the wounded mothering the women in my family have provided for generations. Slavery and a history of white terrorism its effects lives in us today, and the fear of loss reigns in our parenting, making us complicit in reaction to racism.

When I consider if i think white women are capable of making the changes needed to help this country heal, I don’t have much faith. It’s been 500 years and we are still at the effect of their apathy. My faith is in the growing numbers of non-white people in this country that will soon vote, run companies and become parents themselves. My faith is also in the thousands of white families who are adopting cross racially and making great efforts to bridge the gap left by the generations who preceded them.

This may be a difficult leap for many to make. Seeing mothers at the root of this might seem far reaching. But if you are a mother who spends time making every choice for your children, you understand your impact. Also if you’re adult, you know the the most influential person in your life, was your mother. No matter how old we get, we still feel our mothers. They live in our DNA and we live in their cells. The connection to them last our entire life. 

If we are to heal and make real lasting changes in our nation, we must be willing to ask the hardest questions of ourselves. We must be willing to take responsibility for what we are experiencing now and ask ourselves, how can I contribute and build a new reality. As mothers we must see that we are mother to all children, not just those that come from our wombs. In the earliest centuries of this country my ancestors cared for white children and nursed them into maturity with their blood sweat and tears. I think white mothers, especially southern ones have a debt to repay. And now is as good a time as any.

 Monique Ruffin has been a contributor at Huffington Post, the Fine Line, Mom.me and Purple Clover. She is a life-coach, with a focus on spiritual evolution and personal development. Ruffin has authored one book, Open Your American Heart.   She currently lives in Los Angeles where she sees clients, studies and practices astrology to accompany her coaching practice and facilitates workshops.

Monique Ruffin has been a contributor at Huffington Post, the Fine Line, Mom.me and Purple Clover. She is a life-coach, with a focus on spiritual evolution and personal development. Ruffin has authored one book, Open Your American Heart. 

She currently lives in Los Angeles where she sees clients, studies and practices astrology to accompany her coaching practice and facilitates workshops.