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Race-Conscious Parenting

by added on 22 January 2019, Comments Off on Race-Conscious Parenting , posted in Blog

How Do We Raise Well-Adjusted, Socially-Aware, Compassionate White Children Who Become Advocates for Social Change in a Racially Unjust America?
by Elisabeth Lepine: Parent in the Pre-K Class

 Spoiler Alert: I don’t have the answer to this enormous pertinent question. But after reading Jennifer Harvey’s parenting book, Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America, I have become obsessed with questions like this and how my family can try to bring about social change.

This blog is a bit of a piggie-back of the November 2018 blog entitled, “Fall Parent Meeting: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” written by Maggie Homer. It is also a response to the fall speaker, Barabara Yasui’s, open discussion of structural racism and personal biases that are played out in our daily lives.

I know that this post is targeted to our WFP white families, but it is an important one, as we need to recognize our white privilege and understand our roles as white parents. White privilege is the unearned and unseen advantages and benefits that white skin grants us in a society characterized by racial inequality and injustice. For example, white people are less likely to be followed when shopping because they look ‘suspicious.’ Collins the senior writer for Teaching Tolerance writes, “white privilege is not just the power to find what you need in a convenience store or to move through the world without your race defining your interactions. It’s not just the subconscious comfort of seeing a world that serves you as normal. It’s also the power to remain silent in the face of racial inequity. It’s the power to weigh the need for protest or confrontation against the discomfort or inconvenience of speaking up. It’s getting to choose when and where you want to take a stand. It’s knowing that you and your humanity are safe. And what a privilege that is.” (www.tolerance.org)

White families don’t have to talk to our children about being a marginalized group. We teach our children to find a police officer if you feel unsafe, instead of giving “the talk” about complicated racial police relations. In the documentary, “A Conversation with My Black Son”, an African American mother asks, “How old is a black boy when he finds out he is going to turn into a large, scary black man. That’s not who he is, but that is how he will be perceived.” Out of necessity, children of color develop and learn the ways race matters daily…their family narrative of racial injustice looks very different than our white children as it is our privilege to choose to even have these hard conversations.

This post is about my journey to understand my own racial identity and then trying to figure out how to give my girls the language, tools and support to navigate the complexity of social life in our country. I have no equity treasure map or magical pearls of wisdom for you, but I can point other willing parents in the right direction of available resources and this is a start. We are all on a journey of self-discovery together—parents alongside children, and children alongside parents—striving to live remarkable lives and empower others to do the same.

Turning My Gaze Inward: Discovering My Own Whiteness and Identifying My Own Journey for Advocacy

Some conversations with your kids make you feel warm and fuzzy, reassuring you of your parenting choices and strategies, while others are downright uncomfortable as you stumble through uncharted territory. Topics of race were out of my comfort zone. For those who don’t know me, I am a white, cisgender, able-bodied, middle-aged woman who is married to a white, cisgender, able-bodied, middle-aged man. Together, we have 2 girls (ages 4 and 7).

I don’t bat an eye talking to my girls about gender politics, or how a family unit can look different from our own, or topics of sexuality, but shied away from discussions of racial injustice. I was overwhelmed by the magnitude and complexities of racial tension and prejudices, which meant I was unable to break it down into teachable moments for my girls. So, when our family watched the movie “The Greatest Showman” and our girls bombarded us with questions, like “Why do those people hate them?”, “Why are they trying to hurt those people?”, “Why are they so angry?”, “Why can’t Anne (Zendaya) and Carlyle (Zac Efron) be together?”, and so forth), I realized I wanted to have better answers to my girls’ questions.

I wanted to do better. I wanted to know more about racial literacy and be able to teach my children how to recognize, respond to and counter forms of everyday racism. First, I needed to educate myself about my own racial identity and understand my own white privilege, so that I could learn how to be a better advocate for social justice and impart this knowledge and social responsibility onto my girls. I asked friends for recommendations and did some research – I landed on these books: Debby Irving’s book, Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race, and then moved onto Robin Diangelo’s White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. Diangelo defines white fragility as the “discomfort and defensiveness on the part of a white person when confronted by information about racial inequality and injustice.” These books helped me turn my gaze inward and ask some hard questions. What social constructs do I uphold by being a white woman? What cultural biases have I inherited? How do my perceptions of race affect inequity? How does my daily life differ from people of color? This line of questioning began a journey of awakening, in which I began recognizing the daily privilege that my white skin grants me.

What kind of a parent am I? What kind of people do I want to raise?

After this belly flop into my own racial identity, I started thinking about my role as a white parent. I want to raise girls who are comfortable in their own skin, while living authentically in diverse and multicultural spaces. I want my children to contribute productively against racism and work toward social justice in their communities.

Sure—that’s easily said, but how do I raise girls who are brave, informed and thoughtful about race and social justice? I began searching for more resources that targeted parents, especially parents of white children. And that is when I found Jennifer Harvey’s book, Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America. Harvey endorses the concept of race- conscious parenting, which “teaches advocacy and anti-racism combined with the values of equity and justice to our children.” I got excited about race-conscious parenting and wanted to learn more.

As a child of the 80’s, I was taught color blindness which has failed our country and people of color since not seeing race risks ignoring discrimination. When I was a teacher 15 years ago, we had faculty workshops that embraced diversity celebration and education, but this methodology is also flawed and doesn’t explicitly discuss racial injustice. Race-conscious parenting seems like a better approach. Harvey’s book offers age-appropriate examples for teaching kids about racism and tackles tough questions that must be explained to our white children to be empathetic toward race relations and understand their role in racial justice.

This is my takeaway from this parenting book: We cannot help the next generation to dismantle racism, challenge racial inequality and imagine an America of inclusion, if we (as parents) do not openly discuss the oppression and injustices that are inherent in the very design of our country which was established by white men who believed that they were the superior race.

Harvey eloquently writes, “It’s deeply necessary we let our children’s hearts get broken a bit if they are going to remain able to recognize the humanity of their fellow humans whose lives are at stake in the system we live in. It’s necessary if they are going to grow any rooted sense of themselves as part of a larger, multiracial community of people to whom they are committed, and with and for whom they must speak out and act.

Jeff and I witnessed Juliet’s heart break a little, when we explained that the hatred and injustices that Martin Luther King, Jr was fighting against 56 years ago is still very real today. Each time we chip away at our children’s innocence, we are shaping them into the humans we hope they will become. With each discussion and new knowledge uncovered, we can empower our children to take action they are personally capable of, such as being compassionate to a friend at school who feels left out, or listening to someone’s story, or accepting and appreciating someone who is different than themselves. These tools of empathy can inspire feelings of hope, acts of kindness and a desire for activism.

Our Family’s Road Map for Change

My husband, Jeff, is an advocate for writing intentions down. The power of the words on the written page are stronger than verbalized intentions. So, I decided to create steps we are attempting to implement into our family fabric of conversation:

  1. Continue learning. Get comfortable talking and learning about race, racism and racial It is our responsibility to do the work for our own growth mindset. Listen.
  2. Cultivate a diverse library. Be intentional and authentic. The library is my favorite resource.We own some, but borrow most. Characters of color are woefully underrepresented or misrepresented in children’s literature, so look for stories of multidimensional characters living complex lives. Find books that help our girls understand racism and injustice in both modern and historical settings. Just as important, read books that show children of color having everyday experiences that are not about injustice.
  3. Take Opportunities. When racism or intolerance comes up, keep the lines of communication open, even if our girls say something embarrassing, insensitive, or outright racist. Ask questions to find out why they’re thinking what they’re thinking, and how these ideas developed. There is a conversation about race that is non-verbal that our kids are absorbing at school, through the media, and in daily life. Our kids are already noticing these patterns in the world around them and this is our opportunity to help them think critically about what they’re seeing, rather than internalizing those things as “rules.” To raise race conscious kids, we need to have dialogues rather than give lectures. Ask questions, gently correct their misinformation, and make sure our girls know that we are glad they brought up their question.
  4. Explicitly Talk About Racial Injustice. If we are authentically speaking about race in the U.S., we are almost always also speaking about oppression and injustice. We cannot teach concepts of diversity, equity and inclusion without conversations of racial oppression and injustice. We need to expose the underbelly of systemic racism. Talk about the past and its affect upon our current mindset and cultural injustices. Keep these conversations age- appropriate and draw parallels to their own feelings or experiences of injustice. Ask questions to understand where they are on this journey—if this happened to you, how would you feel in this situation? What could you do in this situation to show kindness or friendship? Why does this seem unfair or unjust? What can we do to create change?
  5. Encourage Empathy. Juliet is a very empathetic girl. She experiences emotions deep and carries a lot of her world’s injustices and heartache on her shoulders. We often use her keen sense of justice to inspire conversations with Lucy, encouraging her to practice empathy and learn to be an advocate for others. Create situations where the girls can interact with people of diverse backgrounds, religions, and traditions. Meeting many new people will lead to questions and “teachable moments” and foster a better understanding of diversity, thus nurturing brave, inclusive, empathetic children.
  6. Model Behavior. Speak your truth. Model open, thoughtful, and respectful conversations of difficult issues. Create an open dialogue of learning about racism with your extended family and friends. Attend cultural diversity workshops, such as the Culture Night Series that Juliet’s school (Kenmore Elementary) sponsors. Speak up against racism or bigotry that you encounter. Build authentic relationships personally and professionally with a people of color. Listen to POC’s stories. Actively support organizations and anti-racist role models in our community and show up for social justice.
  7. Accept Your Mistakes. I’m no expert. I am a white woman. I have put my foot in my mouth (sometimes not even realizing my mistake) and have overstepped my boundaries into race talk. I have limitations and blindspots that are unknown to me because of the very societal construct we are trying to dismantle. I do not know the answers or the ‘right’ way to approach sensitive race relations. So I will make mistakes. When I make a mistake, listen, try to not explain your mistake away and ask for forgiveness. Learn from this mistake and move forward.
  8. Repeat. Scaffold knowledge. Continue to build upon a foundation based on education, acceptance, empathy and action in relation to racial injustices. Expand our family racial literacy and advocacy with every new learned experience and shared conversation.

Developing Allies

WFP revised their mission statement to reflect a more welcoming learning environment that actively embraces diversity, equity and inclusion. So, we decided to revise our own Lepine family mission statement as well. We came up with this:

We value family, honesty, inclusion, open discussion, exploring emotions, accepting personal responsibility, empathy and adding value and positive change to the world.

We all need to be a part of the change that we are trying to create. Our children must uncover learning through hands on experiences and act as co-learners on the journey toward change.

This blog was no easy task. It is heavy with information that I am still learning and I’m sure leaves you asking many of your own questions. Most of us were not taught how to talk about race, racism, and race relations, but we can do better for our children. We need to begin having these courageous conversations with our families and each other. It is my hope that you spend some time searching your own racial identity and begin asking yourself what role can you and your family have in bringing about social justice. We are all human and deserve to love, be loved, respected, heard and accepted.

I am human.
I am always learning.
I’m finding my way. And choosing my path on this incredible journey…
Being human means I am not perfect. I make mistakes.
I can hurt others with my words and actions and even my silence…
I can act with compassion and lend a helping hand.
I can treat others with equality and be fair…
I can choose not to fight but instead listen and find common ground….
And I will keep trying to be the best version of ME.
I am full of hope. I am human.
-from Susan Verde’s children’s book, I Am Human

Books and sites that I have referenced in the blog:

Diangelo, Robin. White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, Beacon Press, June 2018.

Gandbhir, Geeta and Blair Foster’s documentary entitled “A Conversation with My Black Son,” March 2015. www.nytimes.com/2015/03/17/opinion/a-conversation-with-my-black-son.html

Harvey, Jennifer. Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America, Abingdon Press, January 2018.

Irving, Debby. Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race, Elephant Room Press; January 9, 2014.

Verde, Susan. I Am Human: A Book of Empathy, Abrams Books for Young Readers, Oct 2018.

www.tolerance.org/topics/race-ethnicity – designed for teachers but a great resource.

Some of My Favorite Children Books: Some directly address racism, while others can act as a springboard to teachable moments

Bates, Amy June. The Big Umbrella, Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books; February 2018.

Katz, Karen. The Color of Us, New York : Henry Holt and Co., 1999.

Lester, Julius. Let’s Talk About Race, HarperCollins; 2005.

Mantchev, Lisa. Strictly No Elephants, Simon & Schuster; Oct. 2015.

Penfold, Alexandra and Suzanne Kaufman. All Are Welcome, Knopf Books for Young Readers, July 2018.

Richardson, Jael Ealey. The Stone Thrower, Toronto, Groundwood Books, 2016.

Spilsbury, Louise. Racism and Intolerance, Hauppauge, NY: Barron’s, 2018.

Woodson, Jacqueline. The Other Side, New York : Putnam’s, 2001.

Helpful Sites:

www.implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html Take Harvard University’s “Implicit Bias” test.
 www.raceconscious.org is a great resource for parents to help talk about race with young children.
www.embracerace.org Supporting caregivers to raise children who are brave, informed and thoughtful about race.
http://www.understandingrace.org/ Check out A Family Guide to Talking About Race.
www.courageousconversation.com Great source to information; blogs, articles; testimonials, etc.
www.teachingforchange.org/teaching-about-race -Love this site—great concrete examples of how to address topics of racism with children.
www.adl.org: fighting hate for good.
www.coloursofus.com is a great resource for multicultural children’s books.

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