Around the globe, more white people are coming to recognize what black people and other people of color have long understood: that systemic racism has deadly consequences. Where does all this leave parents — particularly parents of boys?
The multiple messages are complicated. How do we make clear to our boys that the world sees them differently based on their bodies and the skin that they're in?
How do we properly explain that some of the power and privileges they possess, through no effort of their own, come at the cost of disempowerment, damage and even death for others who live in different bodies, different skins?
Some parents feel no choice but to have "the talk" with their children about the very real dangers of racism and sexism. It's a matter of safety. Other parents wait in an effort to protect their kids' childhoods, wanting to preserve their innocence. However difficult, these conversations can't wait. Change begins at home. But how?
Interrupting racism, sexism and toxic masculinity scripts means engaging in tough conversations with our kids from a young age, Aaron Gouveia has said. In his new book, "Raising Boys to Be Good Men: A Parent's Guide to Bringing Up Happy Sons in a World Filled with Toxic Masculinity
," Gouveia offers parents a handbook to guide parents along the rocky journey to bringing up boys, better.
This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
CNN: Your book is coming out at such a fraught moment in our country. How do you see the dynamics of toxic masculinity playing out right now?
Right now, we're seeing how toxic masculinity is not only dangerous in the abstract, but also dangerous in a physical sense. A recent study
(which has not yet been peer reviewed) suggests that a higher number of men than women aren't wearing masks specifically because they feel it makes them look not cool, or weak.
Wearing masks is not a cure-all. But we know it helps to cut down on the spread of Covid-19
and flatten the curve. Men who choose not to wear masks are potentially risking their lives as well as those of the people they come in contact with all because they are afraid to look uncool or weak.
That is terrifying. To risk your life and the lives of others over that fear is absolutely insane and very, very damaging.
CNN: What does some men making this choice in the midst of a pandemic tell us about the prevalence and significance of toxic masculinity in society?
Gouveia: It tells us exactly how ingrained toxic masculinity is in our society. People often wonder, how far will people go to protect this idea of masculinity? The answer, with Covid-19, is that they are willing to literally risk their lives and the lives of others for it. That reality is demoralizing. It has stopped me in my tracks.
CNN: The contradiction here is so interesting. One of the primary tenets of masculinity is protecting your family, protecting the people around you. Yet, choosing not to wear a mask over fears of seeming less masculine means putting your family and other people in harm's way.
Gouveia: We're being told by medical experts that we should wear a mask and stay 6 feet apart and avoid large gatherings. Yet, we're seeing massive pushback from a significant portion of the population, mostly men. This flies in the face of wanting to protect your family.
Wanting to protect your family is a valiant, noble, perfectly understandable goal. And yet when presented with the opportunity to do just that, you're seeing the same people who say they'll protect their families at all costs, refusing to wear a mask, refusing to social distance and even calling the whole thing a hoax. And that's completely contradictory to wanting to protect the people in your life who you love most.
We're also in the midst of reckoning with another public health crisis: systemic racism. You talk in your book about how you strive to help your sons recognize their white privilege and learn to stand up for what's right. What can you tell parents of white sons about how best to raise their boys that will help make the changes called for in the protests that, at least in the United States, so many people support
Gouveia: I'm hoping this is the beginning of real change. It's going to be up to parents, especially the parents of young white kids, to keep this momentum going long after the cameras have left and no one's marching in the street anymore. It's up to us to keep this up, because it's so hard to change the mind of a fully formed, fully grown adult, whereas kids are still open to new ideas and they're open to hearing what you have to say.
It's about helping white kids understand the privileges that they have, and then actively using those privileges to make change. You're a white boy, and you're going to be a white man in a system that really caters to white men. It's not enough to not make racist comments. When you see those things going on, you need to be an active ally and take action.
Taking action is hard, and it's uncomfortable. Those are the conversations that I'm having with my kids. You just need to keep having them and keep letting them know that silence equals complicity. It's a hard thing to get across to kids, because everyone has a natural tendency to want to fit in. But if you're not speaking out and if you're not actively helping, then you're part of the problem. We need to keep advocating that they use their privilege to be good allies. That's how we achieve long-term change.