Reading a “facts of life” book last night with my almost-7 year old daughter, she stopped me after I read about what makes boys boys and what makes girls girls. She said, “That’s in the brain. It’s not there [pointing to the genital areas].” She was talking about the fact that there are people whose bodies are biologically one sex, but their identities are another gender. I’ll admit I felt a little proud of myself that I’ve been mothering my daughters to understand that gender is much more complex than biology alone.
A couple years ago, my older daughter called out, distressed, when she realized — admittedly after years of playing with them — her playmobil figures had only one person of color among nearly fifty people. We searched the website and found one brown skinned figure with what looked like a Native American set among hundreds and hundreds of characters. Looking at the site this morning, I see they have new figures that look like people of color in the top banner. Scrolling through the characters, I don’t see that much else has changed. The point I’m making here is that I felt glad when my daughters noticed the playmobil set was made with a foundation of racism. We talked about not playing with the set, what is our responsibility? How can we help? We talked about different things we could do (color with markers?) to make the set have a wider range of people figures. We ended up writing a letter to the company complaining about the issue. That’s not nothing.
There will be people who think these kinds of smaller exchanges are not as important or valid as participating in a drastic overhaul of our entire system. And, indeed, we need to change our whole system. We need to do more than have conversations in our own families. Personally, I am doing more. But there are times when “all I’m doing is parenting.” During those times I’m not missing my opportunity to help my children know more than I did about injustice. I want them to notice problems and think critically about solutions. I want them to practice responding to injustice with action. I believe these smaller steps count. They matter. They are more than “better than nothing.” My children and many like them are people who know that just thinking about and talking about changing the world is not enough; they want to walk the walk and, as my daughter said (she’s sitting on my lap and I asked her how I should finish this), “make the world a better place than we found it.”