Hard Work For My Kid, Not for Yours
Here in my wealthy liberal Brooklyn neighborhood, BlackLivesMatter signs adorn many windows, and those that recite a litany of progressive bromides like “Love is Love” are posted in more than a few yards. Businesses, churches, and schools frequently display symbols of progressive politics. The inhabitants here tend to be educated, financially comfortable, and almost exclusively vote Democrat. They have largely accepted recent trends in progressive thinking, specifically in regards to the supremacy of systemic forces and the irrelevance of individual effort in the face of those forces. The continued marginalization of women and Black and trans and disabled people, they are certain, not only cannot be cured through any individual choices on the part of those people, but cannot even be ameliorated in that way. The marginalized are merely the products of their environment, powerless to pull themselves out of oppression. This is what terms like “white supremacy,” “patriarchy,” and “heterosexism” are meant to convey.
And yet to watch these same predominately white, largely affluent progressives parent is to witness a very strong belief in the preeminence of individual agency. They may argue that poor Black children cannot escape the influence of their environment, but they teach their own kids that they are the guarantors of their own fate. They reflexively talk to their children about choices and personal responsibility, attempting to inculcate in them a sense of the preeminent importance of their own decisions.
Recently I met a father I know and his toddler for lunch. His son wanted a yogurt parfait that was probably, as the father said, “just loaded with sugar.” So he asked his son gravely, “are you sure you’re making a healthy choice?” His son took the hint and ate carrot sticks instead. You can certainly argue (I would probably argue) that the son really didn’t have much of a choice at all, in any meaningful sense; it’s hard to think he would have gotten that parfait if he had stuck to his guns. But it was clearly important to the father that his son confront life as a series of choices. That emphasis on choice, on the agency of the child and the potential consequence of choosing, is on constant display in liberal parenting in the twenty-first century. Indeed, in my six or so years in Brooklyn I’ve probably seen that “making a healthy choice at a restaurant” scene play out a half-dozen times. You get used to the tropes of progressive parenting.