Care and Feeding

My Daughter Is Taking Equity Advocacy in a Really Weird—and Bad—Direction

A teenage girl crosses her arms defiantly.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My daughter “Clara” is very confident and focused on academic success. She is 15 and has her sights set on studying STEM at a top liberal arts college, and I think she has it in her to achieve that. I’ve tried to instill in her a deep awareness of equity issues so that when she encounters unfair treatment in male-dominated environments she’ll be equipped to recognize it, name it, and call it out. However, she might now be the one perpetuating injustice in her classes, and I’m worried about how to steer her without undermining the positive traits I’ve tried to instill in her.

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Clara has noticed that when she and certain classmates submit similar work, those classmates will often get more points. If she works with a friend on a graph in her science lab class, she might get 8 out of 10 points with a note on what to improve, but a classmate who made a similar graph will get 9 or 10 points and a positive comment. To her this is unfair discrimination and she wants to report the teacher to the principal. However, the classmates are students of color. I know that all of the teachers at her school went to workshops on equitable pedagogy, and I attended a few of them myself because I volunteer at her school and all volunteers had to go to some of the training. One reason why her father and I chose this school district is their commitment to anti-racist education. I think these teachers are striving to ensure that students of color are well represented in the honor roll and competitive for scholarships on an even footing with the white students.

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I’ve tried to hint at the racial justice angle, but she isn’t having it. To her, this is unequal treatment, and she says that I raised her to speak out against unequal treatment. To me, this is an attempt to make sure students of color are not held back. She keeps threatening to complain to the principal. The only thing holding her back is that I threatened to not let her take the driving test after she turns 16 next month if she keeps behaving like an entitled Karen. What should I do? I want a daughter who will speak out against inequitable treatment, who will always be confident and advocate for herself. I also want her to understand that the world isn’t just about her and we have to work for equity for everyone if we want something for ourselves.

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Most of all, I want to keep the lines of communication about school open, rather than having her shut off. Our mother-daughter bond means so much and I’m afraid that I’ll threaten it if I put my foot down too hard about this. Please help.

—Caught Between Confidence and Equity

Dear Caught Between,

Based on the tone of your email I’m going to assume your family is white, so let me offer a Black person’s perspective on this. I think if you injected everyone in America with truth serum —including the staunchest racists in this country—they would agree that people of color have been (and still are) treated unfairly compared with white people. If I reported every racist slight against me, it would take me all day, for many, many days (weeks, years?), to come to get through my list. Being white in America means that these incidents of racial inequity are few and far between, and quite frankly I’ve noticed a lot of white people struggle when it comes to handling them. I mean, is this the hill she wants to die on?

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As I’ve said before around here, if she’s going to make accusations like this, she’d better be right, because it could have a devastating impact on her teacher—and on her if she’s wrong. How can she possibly say for sure that something improper is going on? Has she witnessed this throughout the school year, or is this an isolated incident? Has she interviewed all of her classmates and compared their submitted work and grades? It seems like a stretch to conclude that unequal treatment is taking place, but let’s pretend that she conducted a thorough investigation on her own (which is doubtful) and came to the conclusion that something isn’t right. Why not address her concerns with the teacher first instead? You said you don’t want her to behave like an entitled Karen, but demanding to speak to the manager, er, principal, over something like this reaches peak Karen levels.

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Also, you mentioned that this could be a case of the teachers ensuring that students of color are well represented on the honor roll, which is kinda insulting. Have you considered that maybe, just maybe, these students of color aren’t being given handouts and are as bright as their white peers?

I’ll say again I don’t think she should approach the principal with this unless she has an iron-clad case and spoke to her teacher first. That doesn’t mean she shouldn’t speak up against inequity; it means she needs to do her homework (figuratively speaking) and not use the nuclear option (going to the principal) before privately speaking with the accused party.

And on a somewhat related note, I have no idea how teachers in America keep their sanity based on all of the nonsense they have to deal with on a daily basis.

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From this week’s letter, “My Daughter Is Copying Her Father’s Most Exasperating Habit”: “What in the world can I do to nip this behavior in the bud?”

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a divorced woman of color. Recently, my ex got our son Freddie a video game called Europa Universalis for his 14th birthday. It seemed good for him, because it takes place in the distant past and he’s always been interested in history, so it seemed like a nice enough game, no graphic violence or anything, at least until I sat down and watched him play at it. I don’t know what sorts of racists made this game, but it’s basically a colonialism justification simulator. If you want to survive, you need to have access to money and soldiers, and the most (only) reliable way to ensure you have enough is to attack and conquer your weaker neighbors. If you don’t, you can be sure someone else will eventually come attack and conquer you.

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I suggested Freddie try playing one of the countries in the region our ancestors were from, and it contained horrible lies about how Africans enslaved each other even before white men came and started the slave trade. I don’t like the game, and I want to stop Freddie from playing it. But I know I can’t, at least not when he’s off with his father (we have shared custody). And I don’t want to undermine his parenting. I did speak to my ex briefly about it, but he just accused me of being “too emotional” and “letting what I wanted to believe blind me to the truth.” He’s certainly not going to stop Freddie without something forcing him to, and I don’t have that kind of leverage. At this point, I’m frustrated and frightened and I don’t know how to help my son.

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—Wanting My Son to Learn the Right Lessons

Dear Wanting,

I’m not familiar with this particular game, but based on what you’re telling me, it can be added to a very long list of video games with questionable themes. I’ll put your mind at ease a little by saying I dabbled in my share of mature-themed video games as a young man, Grand Theft Auto being the main one. For the uninitiated, that game is filled with cop-killing, prostitution, and other felonious activities. I mean, the game is named after a felony, for crying out loud. However, my parents did an amazing job of teaching me right from wrong and fantasy from reality—I never committed a crime, and I have no plans to in the future. Granted, some will argue that my parents shouldn’t have let me play a game that was ultraviolent to begin with, but I’m glad they did. Many teenagers are curious about these things, and the more we restrict them from the outside world, the more they’ll find potentially dangerous outlets to learn about the ills of society. I know plenty of people disagree with me on this, but video games are harmless as long as the proper parenting is involved.

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Thankfully in Freddie’s case, this game apparently isn’t over the top with violence and sexual content—it’s just filled with misinformation. That’s where you come in to ensure he understands that this is a fantasy game and it has very little correlation to the world we live in. Additionally, you should maintain an open dialogue with him about what he’s seeing in the game and offer up what the truth is in return.

Rest assured, whether it’s Fortnite, Call of Duty, or any other popular title, these games are mostly viewed by kids as a way to unwind and let loose. There are millions of kids who play these games, and those same kids aren’t slapping cops or using semi-automatic weapons to spray bullets throughout their neighborhoods. Readers of this column know that I am the first to recommend readers stand up to racism whenever it’s encountered in life. But quite frankly, I don’t believe that this game is going to make Freddie believe the nonsense that comes out of it. If he’s like most kids, I doubt he’s thinking about anything other than completing whatever tasks he needs to in order to be successful in the game.

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Also, you have no control over what happens at your ex’s house, so he’ll probably continue to play it there whether you like it or not. What you can control is making sure he knows right from wrong and continue to stay involved in his life. I have a strong feeling that he’ll be OK.

• If you missed Monday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I are expecting our second child in June, and we have a 12-month-old. When I was pregnant with our first child, we often discussed how lucky we were to have his family 20 minutes away. While the idea of having children without my family nearby (they live two hours away) was daunting, I felt comforted because his parents are so close. Fast forward to today—differences in COVID approaches have led to an irreparable rift between our family and my husband’s parents. They have never taken COVID as seriously as us, which led to tension during the pregnancy and early on in our daughter’s life. We didn’t allow any family (his or mine) to see her in late 2020 and early 2021. Luckily, once the vaccines were available, my family members all received theirs, and they drive over around once a month or so to see our daughter. My parents have been so helpful and want to help as much as they can, but because they live so far, it’s not very often (understandably!).

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My husband’s family, however, refuses to get the vaccine, so they’re still not allowed to see her. We had hoped that this second pregnancy might push them to get it, but it has only widened the rift. They’re now just angrier at us for not allowing them to be in contact with their grandchild. At this point, we understand that they’re not going to change their minds on the vaccine. Honestly, even if they did, I wouldn’t want them alone with my children because I don’t trust them anymore. I wouldn’t trust them to put my children’s safety before their own.

That said, we’re both terrified to have this second baby with no family support. We talk about it constantly. How do people do this alone? We have friends, but they’re all struggling with babies and toddlers of their own. We have sitters, but they’re expensive, so we can’t rely on that too often. My parents are unwilling to move. We’ve contemplated moving to them, but my parents live in a much more conservative state. I don’t think we’d be happy there, and I don’t want to have to quit my job, which I love. How can we move forward? I didn’t think the second pregnancy would lead to so much more fear than the first, but we both feel overwhelmed and alone.

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—Where’s Our Village

Dear Where’s Our Village,

First off, I completely agree with your stance on not allowing your in-laws to visit your vulnerable babies. It’s absolutely bonkers to me that we’ve been dealing with this deadly virus for almost two years now and billions of people have been vaccinated against it, and we’re still having discussions about the safety of the vaccine. I’m glad that you made a personal vaccine mandate for your household.

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However, I gotta push back on you a little bit. Do you understand how incredibly privileged it is of you to want extended family present to help you raise your kids? That simply isn’t a reality for many people—including me, and I live a relatively privileged life myself. The good news is you’ll learn to adapt and make it work, because that’s what grown-ups and parents do. My parents didn’t know they were having twins until 48 hours before my brother and I were born. In a matter of hours they had to adjust from planning to have two kids to having three kids (including our older brother). They had zero family nearby to help them out and they weren’t rich by any means, but they made it work. I’m confident you will, too.

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You said a few times in your letter that you’re “alone,” but I bet there are single parents with multiple kids reading this who are rolling their eyes so hard that they can see out of their own backsides. Sometimes you have to take a step back to realize how truly blessed you are to have a partner to lean on. Sure, sitters can be pricey—but they can be used in a pinch if you want to have a date night to get away from the kids. Also, you each can take some “time off” for a mental health break by having the other parent watch the children. Take a deep breath. The bottom line is you’re not alone, and you’ll be fine.

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No matter how desperate you get, I think you should stand firm against having your unvaccinated family members visit. The fact that they don’t have it in them to keep themselves and their communities safe from COVID should tell you everything you need to know about them.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I work for a rental home company and love my job. Residents in our HOA are required to pressure-wash their homes, and I have a resident that recently received a violation for not doing so. I tried contacting her for a month about it with no response. Residents only have a certain period of time to cure their violations before we send someone out to cure it for them. This is very costly to the resident. I didn’t want this happen to her so I continued to reach out right up until the last minute. I finally received an answer. She berated me for bothering her. I explained that she could be fined by the HOA, and that we would have to send someone out to do the job if she didn’t. I asked her if she had a date of service that the wash would be done, and I would ask for an extension from the HOA so she had time to do it. Getting an extension is very difficult, and I worked very hard to make it happen for her.

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When I told her the extension was granted, she responded to my email as such: “Good afternoon thanks for your email. Noted, extension has been granted. Photo must be uploaded and closed by the date you listed. Got it, master! Enjoy the rest of your day.” Then to add to it, she posted a picture of a group of slaves being driven by a white woman. I was appalled and disturbed. She is Black and I am white, which she knows because I have worked with her face to face. I have always had a good experience with her, so I don’t know why she did this. I feel like the best way to handle it is to not respond at all. However, I have to deal with this resident on a regular basis. Do you have any advice on the best way to handle this? I am truly sick about it.

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—Disturbed in NC

Dear Disturbed,

I know this isn’t a parenting question, but as a Black man, I felt compelled to reply. Let me be clear when I say that the way this woman responded to you was uncalled-for—especially comparing your request to slavery. However, I think it’s important for you to know why something like this most likely happened in the first place.

Being Black in America can be a traumatic experience. We’re constantly viewed as threatening, uneducated, a burden, and unwelcomed. I’ve dealt with it for decades and the way it affects me is through clinical depression and by using my knowledge and expertise as an anti-racism facilitator to ensure the pain ends for future generations. For other Black people, it could mean that they’re constantly on edge and untrusting of the motives of white people. That seems like that’s the case here.

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I think you can approach her by mentioning how the email made you feel instead of pointing fingers at her for the inappropriate letter. Something to the effect of “Hi there, my only goal was to ensure that you save money as a resident, not to be a pest. It made me feel horrible to be compared to a slave owner, but I also feel bad if my tone came off as pushy. I’m truly sorry.”

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If she’s of sound mind, she’ll probably apologize for her behavior eventually, but be prepared for it to not happen right away. Continue to be kind and let the chips fall where they may. Part of allyship is understanding that the marginalized group you’re advocating for may be angry due to the trauma they’ve experienced, and it’s rarely ever personal.

—Doyin

More Advice From Slate

My 13-year-old son is, for lack of a better term, “extremely online.” He has a few social media accounts that I have the password to, but have never really looked into his behavior on those because we never had a reason to. Well, the reason has arrived. It appears he’s been bullying another boy at school via one of the social media apps, calling him “retarded” and making jokes about the other boy’s mother. I am, of course, horrified. What should I do?

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