Our country is going through a radical change, and our children are watching and observing. How we respond, discuss, and engage about this change is evident to our children, whether we like it or not.
The June 8th webpage of www.afineparent.com shared an article entitled “How to Talk to Your Kids About Race.” It pointed out that a child as young as 6 months will distinguish colors of skin. As babies start to categorize they separate things into shapes, color, gender and even race. By three years old they are already forming biases, often picking children with the same color of skin as their own as playmates. These discriminations are not taught; they are innate. The idea, that it’s best to avoid talking about race so children won’t learn about racism can actually have the opposite affect.
This happens because of assumptions we all make. When African Americans (American Indians, Hispanics, etc.) are viewed living primarily in poverty it’s easy to assume there’s some intrinsic reason and dismiss it as normal.
The article shares many well-researched suggestions as how adults can help stem racism in children.
1. Educate Yourself First Before Trying to Educate Your Child: Seek out information about people different from yourself. Currently, we see this in our news media. Pay attention and think about how you are responding; your children are watching. Books like Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria, by Beverly Daniel provide insight. We all have biases, many of which we are unaware. Think about yours and where they come from.
2. Teach Your Kids by Example: Conversations are CRUCIAL (at an early age), however, our kids learn more by what they observe than from what they hear. Never forget, we are teaching something ALL of the time, good and bad, by what we do and say.
a. Read books together about people different than you. Ask questions about what they think of the story.
b. Travel to other neighborhoods, cities or countries. Over the years we had many exchange students. Consequently, our children learned about the world and eventually traveled throughout it.
c. Visit museums and explore.
d. Join celebrations of other cultures such as those in Warm Springs.
e. Explore art, food, clothing and traditions important to other cultures. Our exchange visitors taught us much about their culture and families by preparing a meal.
f. Teach what is appropriate (i.e. no black faces or American Indian costumes for Halloween)
g. Monitor movies and TV for accuracy in dress, behaviors and accents. Encourage learning other languages and information about the countries of origin.
h. Discuss injustices shown on the news and ask your kids what they think.
Expect and honor the many questions you will get and don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know. Find out the answers together.
3. Demonstrate Mindfulness and Kindness: Mindfulness allows for curiosity and inquisitiveness. When a young child asks an embarrassing question and we “shush” them it shuts down conversation and indicates something is wrong. Aim to raise children who are curious about differences and work on informative ways of responding. The article How to Talk with Kids about Race and Racism by Rosalind Wiseman points out that it’s important to speak-up when your child says something offensive. Point out why it’s offensive and provide language that helps them take responsibility for the mistake. Our kids had a list of a few important rules. One of them was, “No put downs.” An easy reminder was to say, “Tell me what rule 4 is, what that means and what just happened.” Teach that mistakes provide opportunities to learn. Be a role model by not tolerating offensive language from other adults, showing it’s not only right but also okay to speak-up.
4. Practice Self-Love: In the Ted Talk by Brene Brown on the Power of Vulnerability she stresses the importance for children to grow-up believing they are worthy of love and belonging. Encourage your children to love themselves while respecting and valuing differences in others. Teach that diversity is what makes being human exciting and beautiful. A friend from Warm Springs shared how amazed she was when her son stated, “I’m not an Indian.” Even the stereotypes he had been subjected to about his own race didn’t ring true. She realized she had much work to do to help him realize the beauty of his identity.
5. Pay Attention to Your Child’s Environment: Here in Sisters we are sheltered. Our children’s environment is seemly tranquil and lacking discrimination. Or is it? Pay attention to how characters are portrayed in TV and stories. Do parents still read Little Black Sambo? Ask teachers about the curriculums they are using.
6. Advocate and Teach Safety and Caution: For most of us, this means learning how to cross the street, don’t talk to strangers, and never get into a strange car. We teach little about race and racism. Black families must. Their children need to be taught to be careful. A friend recently shared the story of an African American man lawfully traveling after dark in his car, who was pulled over by the police. Consciously, he recalled what he had learned from his parents as a young boy, keep your hands out in front of you, answer “Yes” and “No, Sir” and do what he was told. Another story reminded me that most all of us in Sisters could go anyplace we want without fear of the police. That isn’t true for many Black people in our country. Racism is systemic, complex and subliminal, taking many forms, visible and invisible.
Another article, “Race, Kids – and the Peril of Silence” by Brian Gresko, implores us to be more mindful of the importance of talking to our kids about racism. He talks about how our white culture has given us the privilege of silence and that, “silence equals complicity.” He states that that silence is a problem. We need to help our children move forward by no longer being silent, especially when it comes to racism. Racism is systemic, complex and subliminal, taking many forms, visible and invisible, making it imperative to teach our children about it.