Teaching Kids About Racism
Somewhere very early in my first pregnancy I began to feel the inklings of the tension. I knew way back then that there would come a day somewhere in the far off future when my child would be approached in a not-so-cool way by another person about her biracial parentage. I knew it would be just a matter of time before someone would come out their face with their stuff to my helpless baby and attack her about the fact that her parents don’t “match”. I decided then that she would not be left defenseless in the face of such ignorance. I decided we would prepare her, educate her, so that she could develop her own understanding about why human beings look different from each other and what (if any) relevance it has to her, how she relates to others, etc. So, my husband and I have always been very open in our discussions with her about racial issues.
We do not bombard her with more information than she can handle at whatever developmental stage she may be. We do discuss frankly how we feel about differences, racial or otherwise, and we educate her about the history of intolerance and bigotry in the world and explain to her that there will be some folks who do not understand how to think outside of their own racial and cultural boxes, and why. We engage her to think about how recognition and, more importantly, appreciation for all of our differences can make the world a kinder and happier place. And we teach her to share her knowledge with others in an open and peaceful way, and to give them the time (and space) to grow and catch up to her level of understanding on the topic, in the event that they’re just not quite there yet.
Then, this month it happened. In the second grade, a little girl who my child has called a friend, challenged her about her parents. She came home and told me that the little girl had begun to treat her mean, and told her that since her mom is black and she is tan, that she looks like she is adopted. My daughter reiterated to this child some facts that she’d already been well aware of. She simply told her that her dad is white, her mom is black, and she is both. Problem solved? Not quite. The little girl then told my child “Isn’t that illegal? They could go to jail”, with a sneer. My daughter who at 7 ( thanks to some awesome children’s authors) is already pretty well versed about many issues of racial history in America, from slavery to Jim Crow to the civil rights movement, summed it up very plainly and said “maybe back in the day, but not anymore” and went on to play some kickball. That’s my child! I couldn’t have been more proud of her at that moment. She held her own based in both the knowledge of what she has learned, as well as the love of her mixed-matched parents, and she was fine. Shaken, but not stirred. And I feel that she has been strengthened by that experience. I know I have. I hugged her and told her that maybe she should share some of her books with her “friend”, and she went on to tell me about the other elements her school day.
I know that a lot of parents don’t think feel comfortable discussing race with their young children, but I feel very strongly that in our case, not to do so would leave my children even more vulnerable in a world that sometimes doesn’t understand them, or just doesn’t want to. And I refuse to raise them to be sitting ducks. Because this is just the first time that she’s been approached about such things, and one thing I know for certain (as much as I wish this wasn’t true), is that it will not be the last. Multiracial children in many ways will be cultural ambassadors to their school yard peers. I refuse to let mine show up for that job unprepared.
This article was previously published in September, 2011.