I wrote my last post to non-black parent's raising their children in the current context. I also wrote about what you can do to fight institutional racism in your sphere of influence. I am finally speaking to my fellow parents raising a black boy or girl in the current age of #BLM.
For us, and allow me to speak generally, there isn't much that is new with regards to the current discussions around racism. If anything we are tired of being heartbroken AGAIN that another unarmed black person was killed by police, or disrespected/threatened by a "fearful" white person. That being said, something feels different this time around though in that some systemic changes have started happening - police departments in Minneapolis, L.A. and Seattle have had their funding reduced. The movement has gone global with protests all over the world. Fellow black parents, I want to start off by saying that you are doing a great job! You are holding forts down, holding your head high at work while deep down worrying about the future of your children. You're putting your best foot forward at work every day even while you battle out issues of systemic racism in what sometimes feels like every facet of your life.
You're doing great mamas and papas. I'm out here rooting for you and for us.
Because of the heightened interest in anti-racism, I wanted to share some thoughts on some areas of advocacy to keep in mind, even as we navigate this new era. I have been living in Canada for over 20 years and I am raising my children in a context I did not grow up in. A lot is new for me and for others simply because we are dealing with things that our parents didn't have to deal with. My children are also relatively young (preschool and elementary) so there may be other resources available for middle-school aged or high school aged children. If there are other considerations/resources for older children - please drop them in the comments or on social media!
How do we navigate anti-racism while raising our children?
1. Be proactive about building your children's confidence
It is complex here in Canada as our children are being raised in a mainstream culture that is white-washed, meaning that there is a lot of invisibility of children of colour. Because we are raising children in a culture that does not prioritize black children organically, it requires us as parents raising black children to be proactive in seeking out resources where they can see themselves not just for their learning but also for their confidence. Remember when there was uproar and backlash last year when Halle Bailey, a black girl was cast as Ariel the mermaid? I felt sad as a mom of a young black girl because representation is so important. I sense this when I see my daughter wants to be Elsa or Anna but is confused as to why she doesn't have long, or white or red hair.
How do we counter the lack of representation?
Be proactive in the shows they watch to seek out shows with strong black leads: 30 black kids movies on Netflix from toddlers to teens
Be proactive in the books they read to make sure they see themselves represented e.g. this list of 21 books every black kid should read.
Be proactive in the toys they play with - have dolls that look like them e.g. Les Poupées D'Or by a Montreal-based artist
Be proactive in sharing the aspects of your culture that you value to your children - let them have a sense of pride in their identity
Be proactive in signing them up for activities such as STEM - Science Technology Engineering and Math which are traditionally under-represented by black children e.g. Black Boys Code
Never miss a moment to remind them that there is greatness in them
2. Attend parent-teacher meetings at your school/daycare
This may sound obvious but it does need to be stated. Make sure that you take any opportunity to meet with your children's daycare and/or teachers. If you're a married couple, try to attend these meetings together; if you're a single parent, try to secure the time off and/or childcare in order to attend these meetings. I remember when my first born was just 2 years old, and was accused of being aggressive at the daycare. This was a behaviour we had never seen in him at home (aside from normal terrible-two's toddler behaviour) so we both met with the director and she then backed down from her comments. Black parents in Ottawa recently asked that statistics on this be collected in order to support what we all know anecdotally and from personal experience that black children were being racially profiled at school. Black children are more likely to be accused than their white counterparts and the consequences for the same behaviour are often punished much more severely - we have seen this in the judicial system, but it starts early.
Meeting the teachers as a united front demonstrates that you have a vested interest in your child's wellbeing. Secondly it is far better to establish a relationship with the school/daycare before issues arise. Third, if and when issues arise, you already have a relationship that you can then build on to work to support your child and/or address systemic issues. Please do not wait until the school summons you for an issue concerning your child. This point may be obvious to you, but I have spoken to many a parent who thought that most of the above was a waste of time and/or not necessary.
3. Get involved in your children's school/daycare
Beyond attending meetings directly related to your children, join the parent committee that oversees the working of the daycare and/or the parent-teacher committee. These commitments require additional time; however, what better way to influence policy than to be at the table where decisions concerning our children are being made. Either one of us as parents has always been a part of our children's parent committee - whether daycare or school. My husband currently sits on the school committee and represents the school at the regional committee. They recently discussed the lack of representation particularly of visible minorities and the lack of involvement of parents of colour. Parents, make this a priority because representation matters and your involvement and perspective may sensitize others to matters that they otherwise wouldn't have thought of.
4. Identify issues where they exist and face them head-on
A lot of us black parents are people of faith. We understand that the police are not our personal hitmen/women and we know the odds that are against us and our children and so we are a prayerful people because without God on our side, the system will probably NOT help us. That being said, we do tend to avoid facing issues head on. Sometimes there is an underlying issue that needs to be resolved with a professional - for example a speech therapist or child psychologist. We need to do better by our children by seeking help early on. Often by the time we have watched and prayed and then eventually sought help, the situation has evolved and when coupled with the systemic biases against our children, it becomes a much bigger mountain to overcome. I understand that these resources are not always affordable to access. What I do know is that when the problem is left unattended, it ends up being far more costly to resolve. Yes, let us pray and keep praying. But faith without works is dead. Let us exercise wisdom and gain from the knowledge that professionals who are trained to deal with these situations can provide to our children.
5. Join and be vocal your local mommy Facebook group
Thanks to Facebook, there are several local mommy groups. There are lots of great discussions that take place in these groups. Recently in one of our groups, members discussed anti-racism with a mutuality of respect and a willingness to learn and grow that has been very inspirational. Through these groups you may also learn of events taking place locally that can bring up awareness. For example, a local #BlackLivesMatter protest was organized for parents who could not make it to downtown Ottawa with their little children. Get in these groups and take one step further beyond just lurking and reading passively to engaging with members. You may be the only black mother that they meet and you have an opportunity to share your perspective and even dispel myths.
6. Vote in elections at all the levels
I come from a family that takes civic duty very seriously. To this day my parents will text me to let me know they voted in the local elections in Kenya. We do the same here and from when I had the right to vote in Canada I did, and not just in the Federal elections but also in the provincial and municipal elections. Make sure that you vote and inform yourself about the issues being discussed at the municipal level as these probably have the greatest impact on your life directly. What is discussed at these meetings are allocation of resources, budget increases including police budgets, property taxes. The more you know the more you can influence candidates to ensure that they are adequately representing you and your children.
7. Talk to your children about racism
I left this towards the end because it is probably a conversation that we have to have with our children at some point whether we like it or not. For those of us who are immigrant parents, this is completely unchartered territory. We grew up in a country where we were the majority and the conversations that our parents had with us were quite different from what we have to have with our children. That does not absolve us from having to have the conversations. CNN's special town hall on anti-racism with Sesame Street which was held early June 2020 was a great conversation starter and helped me approach the subject with my children. I have been on mama bear mode trying to protect my little ones. However, I did not want them to be confronted with these conversations at school or daycare and be unprepared, particularly when a lot of non-black parents are starting to have these conversations with their children. I have been balancing this out with letting them live in the bubble of oblivion for as long as they can because having the racism talk for us is unfortunately NOT an option. We have already had incidents at school and at daycare that we have had to deal with covert racism.
8. Pray over your children
Last but certainly not least, pray over your children. I am a woman of faith and I am all about being proactive and handling things practically. I also know that the system that is meant to protect me and my children is currently broken and built to break us. So I pray over my children - everyday. I cover them with prayers and the blood of Jesus. I declare that no weapon formed against them shall prosper. One of the most powerful things you can do as a mother is to pray over your children not just for their current lives but their future, their spouse, their education. Because we have a tendency to start with prayer, I chose to finish with prayer. Let us do our due diligence and then cover and surrender all in prayer to God.
Remember - you're doing a great job raising the next generation of leaders. Let us hope that they will not have to have the same conversations with their children because the world will have so changed.
Until, we keep advocating and fighting for them and praying over them.