Act #136: Own your privileges and prejudices. Move beyond them.
My son is entering the first grade this fall and this is the first summer we needed to make arrangements (other than daycare), to keep him occupied. I had spent the last week or so scouring options that range from theater camps to Legos camps and was on my way to tour a local non-profit community arts center that has been around for 35 years, with the mission to "make arts accessible to all". I had signed my son up for a week-long art class and was on my way to meet with the summer program director just to tour the facility and ask a few questions about safety policies. This place was only about 2 blocks away from my office, yet I had never really noticed it. It was nestled on a beautiful one acre inner city lot - a breathtaking 7,000 square-foot antebellum Italianate mansion. As I turned the corner on the street it was located, I began noticing my surroundings - a homeless man pushing a shopping cart who was talking to himself, a dilapidated vehicle with loud rap music blaring from it's speakers parked just across the street, rows and rows of run-down houses - some with boarded up windows, and a sprinkling of loitering individuals who just seemed to be standing on street corners for no apparent reason. It was at this moment that I decided that I was not going to leave my son unattended for an entire week in this seemingly "unsafe" environment. I would keep my appointment with the art director and be as nice as can be, then I would call and cancel my son's reservation at a later date, citing some unavoidable, unforeseen change of plans. By the time I pulled my car into the parking lot and put my gear in park, I was completely disgusted with myself on so many levels. First and foremost, since when did I become this privileged 40-year old mom who was too good to expose her kid to walks of life different than the pristine middle class suburban neighborhood that he was accustomed to? Worse yet, how did I come to define in my mind, that neighborhoods like these were somehow less safe, less desirable than the one I lived in. And then I asked myself the question I could barely face, one that physically made me sick to my stomach. Was my hesitancy based on some deep-rooted prejudice towards low-income, transitional, predominantly African-American neighborhoods and loud rap music? Of course it was. And that was a hard, hard thing to admit, while sitting in my locked car alone, in the parking lot of this glorious antebellum mansion.
I went on to meet with the art director and not only did I not cancel my reservation, I signed my son up for a second class. It is because of people like me - who allow creeping thoughts of classism and racism to go unchallenged, unquestioned - that we continue to live in segregated neighborhoods and walks of lives that often do not intersect in any meaningful ways. I shudder to think about what my son would have been missing if he had been denied this experience solely because of his mom's personal unfound biases. Following my meeting, as I walked to my car, I said hello to the homeless man with the shopping cart. I hope it's not too late to raise my son to grow up to be the type of person who would do the same.