On My Mind // Advice I’ve Saved on Parenting & Racism

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I was hoping to kick the new year off with the types of lighthearted posts I love to share, but with the events that transpired over the past week my mind has been focused elsewhere.

The terrorizing displays of racism and white supremacy in our nation’s capital and other parts of the U.S. this week chilled me to my core. To some it feels like our country took a step backwards 200 years. To others, it sadly does not come as a surprise. I know not everyone who follows on here wants to discuss this topic – that is fine and expected. But in the words of @ohhappydani, inaction and passivity are detrimental to justice. If you stand against racism and hatred, it’s important not to be passive.

I struggle personally with what to do or say in these times, but have realized a) it is a continuous, ever evolving process, and b) it can start as small as making changes within my own home and comfort zones. I want to raise kids who are empathetic and brave enough to identify and stand up for others being mistreated, and who are self-aware and proud enough of their heritage to withstand racism themselves. Last spring I started saving specific advice that I wanted to take as a parent, as it felt like a small way to make a tangible difference. I never shared them as they may seem like common sense for many, but now I think the more we read about and talk about these topics, the more ingrained and commonplace they will hopefully become.

1. Address curious commentary & questions on differences

“It’s not racist to notice someone’s race. It’s not racist to see dark skin or a broad nose and realize that it looks different than yours. The racism comes from the value judgments we place on those differences. When your children notice racial and cultural differences in other people, it’s far better to say something like, “Isn’t it wonderful how different people can look from each other and all be so beautiful?” or, “Isn’t it great to live in an area where we can make friends with people of so many different cultures?” rather than, “Honey, it’s not nice to comment on that person’s hair.”Ijeoma Oluo, in a post with a number of other wisdoms.

“Don’t encourage children not to “see” color or tell children we are all the same. Rather, discuss differences openly and highlight diversity by choosing picture books, toys, games and videos that feature diverse characters in positive, non-stereotypical roles. Be careful not to ignore or discourage your youngster’s questions about differences among people, even if the questions make you uncomfortable. Not being open to such questions sends the message that difference is negative.” – Dana Williams, Beyond the Golden Rule

2. Help them fully understand their heritage

“Talk about the histories and experiences of the racial, ethnic, and cultural groups you and your family identify with. Talk about their contributions and acknowledge the less flattering parts of those histories as well. Tell stories about the challenges your family [relatives and older generation] has faced and overcome.” Breatriz Beckford for Embrace Race

3. Seek out new cultural perspectives

“…visit neighborhoods that have become cultural communities, or various places of worship, restaurants, schools, and museums that feature diverse people and traditions. Visit towns where the homes and buildings look different from your own. Along with your child, highlight the joyful parts of these visits—bakeries or shops, special smells, music, art, noises, and people…by exposing children to people who experience lives different from theirs, and visiting places outside of their norm, you can bring about awareness and appreciation.”Lindsay Roberts, early childhood educator.

4. Be aware of your internal (& sometimes hidden) biases

“Toddlers notice race and are drawing conclusions about everything, including race, all the time. They notice their parent’s cues, such as friendliness or stiffening up when someone approaches. They look to parents to “approve” when someone initiates at the playground. So notice your own reactions that may be influenced by race and what cues you’re giving your child.” says Dr. Laura Markham, psychologist and parenting coach.

5. Get on their level

I love that Nori’s beloved Sesame Street did a special last year called The Power of We (view on HBO or PBS). Elmo & friends dive into the issue of skin / fur color and what it means to have pride in your own culture and race, and how they can use kindness to stand up to racism—in age-appropriate ways of course.

Also don’t underestimate the fact that representation in media matters tremendously — see my post on a few diverse & inclusive kids books.

6. Model by example

“Books and dolls are just the starting point….you need to have a broader lifestyle switch, and be conscious about the friends you have in your own circle, the racial demographics of your school.

Modeling protest and resistance is helpful, because it shows kids that the status quo isn’t fixed and is open to change. This might mean telling your child about a protest you attended, showing them a letter you wrote to a senator, or taking them to the polling booth when you vote.”Ramón Stephens, cofounder of The Conscious Kid.

Other Resources

Bullying Prevention & Intervention Guide by the AAPA (Asian American Psychological Association). I found the example scenarios, parent responses and potential consequences of each response to be helpful and thought provoking.

Anti Bias Education – Early Childhood FAQs by the ADL (Anti Defamation League) covers a number of discussion points on this subject.

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