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When I Confront My Privilege as a White Mom

I’ve been pondering, lamenting and praying about the children separated from their families at the U.S. border.

I’ve read as many different reports as I can trying desperately to understand the different sides of the issue, how long the practice has been taking place, and what I could possibly do to help better the situation.

There is no doubt that children being separated from their parents, especially their mothers, at a young age is detrimental to their well-being, their sense of safety and their overall growth.

Again and again in these discussions, I have heard people explaining that these mothers were putting their children in harm’s way by trying to come across the border. Again and again, I have heard versions of, “They got what was coming to them.”

And, to be honest, part of me understands the sentiment behind these statements. Why would you, as a mom, risk crossing a border now knowing the consequences for your child?

As I thought about this question, I couldn’t help but think of books that I have read where mothers put their kids in harm’s way.

Sheila Ingle, in her book “Courageous Kate,” tells the story of Kate Moore Barry tying her infant child to a bedpost as she rode away to deliver a message to her husband that the British were coming.

Michel Stone, in her books “The Iguana Tree” and “Border Child,” tells of a mother who trusts a “coyote” (people smuggler) with her child to cross the border in hopes of a better life.

Robert O’Brien, in his book “Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH,” tells the story of a mouse mom who leaves her four children at home while she desperately searches for medicine and a new home for her son, who is so sick he cannot leave the bed.

As I thought about these books, these mothers, I thought about the extreme circumstances they found themselves in: war, abject poverty and loss of life of one of their children.

I thought about how as a white mom in the United States, I have never encountered a situation so dire that I would risk leaving my child or being separated from my child in order to offer a better life for him.

I have never had to make what has to be a gut-wrenching, soul-crushing decision. I have never had to make that decision because of the privilege I have as a white mom in the United States.

Reflecting on that privilege, I realize my gut reactions to these stories are going to be laced with bias and assumptions created and formed by that privilege. I can never know what these families and these mothers are going through.

And so, instead of judging or assuming, I will instead hope. Hope that more and more people in our country will take the time to read extensively and examine their privilege.

It is only in engaging in these things that we will be able to overcome the vast divisions that privilege creates.

Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared on her website. It is used with permission.

Merianna Harrelson

Merianna Harrelson is pastor of New Hope Christian Fellowship in West Columbia, South Carolina, editor-in-chief of Harrelson Press Publishing, and an EthicsDaily.com / Baptist Center for Ethics board member.