The past couple of weeks have been charged globally as an uprising against racism has began. I feel compelled to write this post as there are a lot of non-black mothers who are for the first time having conversations about racism with their non-black children.
As a mother of African descent, raising children in Canada I am in mama bear mode as I try to protect my little ones from the evil effects of racism particularly heightened by the murder of #GeorgeFloyd and the global uprising that has ensued.
I would like to imagine that a world where my children will be judged by the content of their character and not the colour of their skin is possible in their lifetime. There are folks who are ok with the status quo. This blog post is NOT for you. I'm speaking to those who are committed to change. If you've had or are thinking about having these conversations with your children, here are some things that I need you to consider:
1. Don't make racism about the one black kid/family that you know
That's not fair to that kid, who is probably my kid/my family. While I get that you are probably looking for a way to make the subject tangible for your child, making the one black child you know the subject of the conversation will mean that your child will always assume that when we are talking about all black people we are referring to the one black person you know. This is problematic because there is diversity in the black experience - it is not a one size fits all.
Instead: Make this about mutuality of respect. Make this about learning so as not to be ignorant. Use Barack Obama as an example. Please don't place the burden of being black entirely on my child or have them respond on behalf of the entire race. You wouldn't do that for yourself would you?
2. Normalize colour
Now that you're talking to your child about racism, there is a tendency to go from "I see no colour" to "all I see is colour". We want you to see colour and acknowledge that colour comes with a lot of varied lived experience. What my child needs is for you to see colour and NOT be afraid of it. Normalize colour and diversity. How?
Diversify the books that you read with your child at home
Be comfortable with other children of diverse backgrounds being the protagonist/taking the lead
Focus on difference as something to be celebrated - different colours represent different cultures which are to be celebrated for their richness and uniqueness.
Here's a list of 30 chldrens's books about diversity that celebrate our differences
3. Beware of the white saviour complex (google it)
The end goal is NOT for you to save my child, but for us to live and work in mutual respect. My child should not become your pet-project to save - that is not only condescending it is dehumanizing. Your awareness is to make you a better person and to reshape your perspective. It is not to turn you into a crusader that will end racism once and for all. Trust me if we could have come up with the miracle drug, we would have a long time ago.
Instead: Focus on listening to people of colour and honouring their lived experiences rather than speaking for/on behalf of and teach your children this as well. Be willing to listen and learn rather than swoop in and save.
4. Understand that the black people in your life are currently emotionally drained
I get that you now want to talk about racism. However, please understand that the black people in your life have been dealing with racism and how it affects us for decades. We are tired of seeing little change, the police brutality and racial profiling remain the same, the racism remains the same so we are currently fatigued. Everytime someone retorts "all lives matter" or when someone denies the reality of racism or even when we face racism, we retreat to each other because we get it.
Now that you're woke, please don't place the emotional burden of dealing with your white guilt on your black friends - Career Slay Mama
Why? They are already emotionally exhausted from having to keep up professionally during a global pandemic and simultaneously internalizing the global uprising against racism. They cannot now be responsible for managing your and their emotions.
Instead: Talk about race with your white friends. Look for blindspots that you may have. There are tons of resources on actions to take like this article on 75 things white people can do for racial justice.
Do check on your black friends and see how they are doing. Just be a friend. It doesn't make you guilty, it makes you empathetic.
5. Understand that talking about racism will NOT end it
Many black people are in the acceptance stage of this while you might have moved from denial to bargaining. Racism and white supremacy are systems that have been entrenched for decades and it will take decades of work to dismantle them. You're playing a key role in shaping the minds of the next generation and I value and appreciate you for that. That being said, children model behaviour that they see around them. Real lasting change requires that it come from deep within. If you're really into this, I suggest some deep soul searching on how or what you can do to really foster true change both within and beyond your home.
6. Anti-racism is not a fad for us
While the world has its full attention on this current issue, the news cycle will move on and anti-racism will no longer be the hot topic of the day. For us, this changes little. Dealing with racism is not something we will put away when it is longer convenient or when we are done playing with it. It is unfortunately something we have to encounter more often than not. Please don't let your openness end with the news cycle. Commit to a lifestyle of anti-racism so we continue to do the work of dismantling it together once and for all.
7. We need you as allies
There are circles that you are able to influence that we will never be able to. Whether it is that relative who keeps making inappropriate jokes, or hiring practices in your work place that are overtly or covertly racist. Beyond talking to your children at home, we need you to work with us to actively be anti-racist. For us all to be committed to a better world for your and my children, we need to work at multiple levels together. If you're all in then lets roll up some sleeves as there's a lot to be done.
You may be reading this and thinking uh-oh, I haven't yet had the courage to have the conversation with my children because I don't even know where to start. I watched the Sesame Street CNN Town hall on fighting against racism (see full video below) and it was a great conversation starter in our household. I commend you for taking this big first step in thinking and talking about this previously-taboo and hidden topic. Truth is, if we do nothing, the situation will only get worse. Let's work to build a better world for our littles.
Can we do that together?