As parents, we try to do the best we can to educate our children on important topics. Matters of race are as important as ever these days, and especially as we struggle to explain to our children why unarmed people of color are being killed by police officers at alarming rates, why Neo-Nazis are proudly marching in broad daylight, and why bomb threats are being called into Jewish community centers. But no matter how hard we, as caregivers, try, there are things parents do every day that perpetuate racism. Because in case you didn’t realize it yet, racism has many forms. And while you might not be flying Confederate flags outside your home or anything, chances are you’ve made some racially-charged faux pas as a parent.
When I was younger, in middle school, I had a pretty warped view of my Latino father, thanks to the things I heard around me from family and friends and even the family members of friends. As a result of those messages, I wanted to be white. So much so that I was OK with disparaging darker-skinned folks because, in some twisted way, I thought this would get me closer to being in the “white” club. It's truly fascinating, how we internalize the messages we consciously and subconsciously hear, especially as children.
I don’t feel this way anymore, and I do my best to fight against the notion that being white is somehow superior, because I don’t want my son (who is half-white, half-Latinx) to ever feel ashamed of the Latinx side of his heritage. But I know I’m not perfect. I know I might make a mistake along the way, and it’s important for me to own my mishaps and to openly discuss my follies with my child. We all owe it to our kids to give them the right tools to build a better future. See if you’ve been doing any of the below, try and figure out how you can do better:
Making And/Or Repeating Racist "Jokes"
You’d be surprised by the things kids pick up on. You might think your child is completely focused on another episode of Stinky and Dirty on their tablet, but they are also often listening to what’s going on around them. So if you say something racist, or even if you’re repeating what you heard someone else say, there’s a chance your child will either repeat it later, or assume your "joke" is an actual fact.
According to a study published in Psychology Today, "Hearing disparaging jokes about [groups being discriminated against] 'releases' inhibitions you might have, and you feel it's OK to discriminate against them." The site goes on to add, "Sometimes humor can lead to negative and harmful outcomes against others, and we should be conscious of when and how it can happen." In other words, your racist "jokes" are as detrimental as they are dangerous.
Insulting Other People’s Cultures
Whether it’s refusing to try a certain type of cuisine or calling someone’s cultural festivities “silly” or “strange,” acting as though someone else’s culture is lesser than the one you enjoy is extremely problematic. Yes, sometimes we might not want to try a dish that we’re not accustomed to, and it’s OK to refuse to eat things. However, saying it’s “gross” or “too weird” when you haven’t tried it encourages your children to feel the same way, rather than broadening their horizons.
Dr. Derald W. Sue conducted a series of interviews in San Francisco, as highlighted by Quartz, and at the conclusion of the interviews Dr. Sue stated, "Whites don’t even notice their whiteness — they don’t tend to think of themselves as having race. It’s awkward, because we all have a race and white is one of them. It’s even more awkward when white people say things about envying culture and ethnicity, because they don’t see their own culture and ethnicity as anything other than the baseline." How you look at and react to other people's cultures will impact how your children view people who are different than they are.
Discouraging Your Children From Playing With Or Dating People Of Other Races
There’s a horrible “joke” in Latinx culture about mejorando la raza or “improving the race.” It’s what some parents say to deter their daughters and sons from dating people who are darker-skinned than they are. More to the point, from preventing them or dissuading them from dating black folks, indigenous folks, or those of middle eastern descent. Worse, they will applaud you whenever you bring someone white home.
This kind of thinking even starts with young children who might be discouraged from going over to one of their friend’s house based on skin color and yet encouraged to go to other kid’s houses. According to a study by CNN, "Many students reported discouragement of interracial dating from their parents, or those of their friends, with reactions ranging from wariness to outright forbiddance." Dr. Melanie Killen, a child psychologist hired to consult on the study, concluded that, "the trepidation from parents can have a profound negative effect on their children's friendships and racial attitudes as a whole."
Not Promoting More Inclusive Media
I do my best to try and check out library books that depict a broad spectrum of characters, and not just white, cisgender children. But some parents will flat out turn the TV off if a show with “too many black people” comes on the air (this very thing happened to me as a child, when I wanted to watch Family Matters). It causes children to believe that only white media is worthy of their attention. Same goes for saying things like, “rap is for Black people” and “country music is for white people” and “salsa is for Latin people.”
According to a study highlighted by NPR, "White students might actually benefit from a more diverse environment." That environment, especially this day in age, includes the media.
Avoiding Areas With Large Populations Of Color
It can be jarring to suddenly find yourself as the minority when you’ve always been the majority, but that doesn’t mean it's bad, you're unsafe, or you should avoid living in areas where the majority of those around you are different than you are. Just because Black and Brown folks are at a store doesn’t mean a white person should avoid it all together. The same goes for choosing a neighborhood to live in, a restaurant to eat at, a library to work from, a school for your child to go to, or anything else.
According to PBS, the benefits of inclusion, especially when it comes to diverse classrooms, include the following: "Children develop a positive understanding of themselves and others, friendships develop, children learn important academic skills, and all children learn by being together."
Preventing Your Kids From Engaging In Activism
Look, I understand we’re all trying to keep our children safe. And it’s especially hard living in an era where folks protesting racism and hatred are killed by Nazis using their cars to plow into a group of innocent people. Some parents merely want to prevent their kids from experiencing a tragedy, but you can’t protect your children forever. Once they’re old enough to want to participate in social justice activism, go with them. Show them how they can be activists while staying as safe as possible. It’s OK if your child wants to attend a Black Lives Matter protest, and you should encourage and applaud them for their intersectional feminist behaviors.
According to two online surveys, "activists were more likely to be 'flourishing' than were nonactivists." The two studies also found that "several indicators of activism were positively associated with measures of hedonic, eudaimonic, and social well-being."
Taking An Active Role In Gentrification
If you’re applauding that Black and brown folks are being priced out of their neighborhoods, you are perpetuating racism by way of agreeing with the displacement of people. You are advocating discrimination by changing historically black and brown neighborhoods so you can have a Starbucks closer to home. Rather than only shopping at the big stores opening up around you, support the small, struggling businesses of people of color. They deserve to stay in their neighborhoods, too.
A cornerstone of gentrification is the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) in 1934. The federation lasted until 1968 and, according to The Atlantic, was, "otherwise celebrated for making homeownership acceptable to white people by guaranteeing their loans, the FHA explicitly refused to back loans to black people or even to other people who lived near black people." The FHA essentially created a system that insured white and black people, while living in the same city, didn't necessarily live in the same city. The Atlantic explains further, saying:
Black people with upper-middle-class incomes do not generally live in upper-middle-class neighborhoods. Sharkey’s research shows that black families making $100,000 typically live in the kinds of neighborhoods inhabited by white families making $30,000. “Blacks and whites inhabit such different neighborhoods that it is not possible to compare the economic outcomes of black and white children.”
Not Speaking Up & Speaking Out Against Racism
Whenever you witness something racist (whether it be a sketch on a comedy show or your grandfather saying something disparaging about a group of people based on their race), you have an obligation and an opportunity to speak out against it. These things tend to happen more often than you might realize. But if you’re not saying something about it right away, you’re teaching your child that maybe this is OK, or that staying silent is alright when it clearly isn’t.
As Pax Christi USA, a national Catholic organization, stated in the aftermath of Charlottesville: "Silence is the softer voice of racism."
Some parents (who are, more often than not, white) tend to act as though they are beyond racism. To prove that they could never be racist, they say they are colorblind. They don’t “see color," they see people! But this is completely shortsighted and, frankly, ignorant. While yes, in a perfect world no one would care about race and ethnicity, this is not a perfect world. Acting as though you are beyond all that, and therefore have nothing to contribute to the fight against racism, teaches your children that they need not care about the lives of others, only their own.
According to Psychology Today, "colorblindness alone is not sufficient to heal racial wounds on a national or even personal level. It is only a half-measure that in the end operates as a form of racism."
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