This photo has been used for illustrative purpose only. TNS
It’d be great if racism didn’t exist. As psychologist Beverly Tatum puts it, anti-blackness is a smog, one we’re breathing in everywhere, knowingly or not.
“Cultural racism — the cultural images and messages that affirm the assumed superiority of Whites and the assumed inferiority of people of colour — is like a smog in the air,” writes Tatum in her book “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria: And Other Conversations About Race.” “Sometimes, it is so thick it is visible, other times it is less apparent, but always, day in and day out, we are breathing it in.”
How do you raise a child to become anti-racist in a country entrenched in systemic racism?
For starters, begin now. Don’t let uncomfortableness or fear of not having all the answers stop you from diving into the education process, even if it means learning alongside your child, say experts.
For many, that starting point requires reflecting on your own values, actions, and beliefs.
Become your own role model
“It always starts with the parents. If you want children to be anti-racist, then you need to first work on yourself to become anti-racist,” says Tonya Ladipo, CEO of The Ladipo Group, a therapy and counselling practice working with black communities.
You are your child’s first teacher. You’re who your child looks to for reassurance. If you have underlying biases, they will absorb those.
Check out a book that helps you gain a deeper understanding of the history of racism, racial inequality, and your own underlying biases. Then, serve as a role model. If you witness someone doing something racist, don’t remain silent. And be aware of your own actions. Recognise up-front that you will make mistakes. That’s OK. Find a way to learn from them.
While black families have no choice but to start addressing race early on, it’s not a topic any parent should wait to introduce.
Studies show that by 3 months old, babies start to prefer faces from their own ethnic group. As they reach toddler age, children begin to absorb parents’ positive attitudes and negative biases attached to race and ethnicity. And as they near kindergarten, they start to understand name-calling and seek out labels for racial identity.
“This is the age where you’ll hear some children say things like ‘Is that person made from chocolate?’” says Dr. Nia Heard-Garris, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics section on minority health, equity, and inclusion. “They’re trying to make sense of the world and are highly influenced by how adults answer those questions.”
No matter their age, encourage children to share their observations and be respectfully curious about race.
“If they’re asking about skin colour, rather than saying ‘We don’t talk about things like that,’ making the topic taboo, say something like, ‘Yes, look at their skin, it’s so beautiful, and it’s different from ours, and that’s what makes us all so special,’” says Heard-Garris.
By age 5 or 6, children start to see themselves as a member of a certain racial group, and by age 9 or 10, racist attitudes start to solidify.
If your children are older and you haven’t started anti-racism discussions, it’s never too late. Age shouldn’t be an excuse to let things remain as is or to avoid challenging conversations, says Dr. Angela T. Anderson, psychiatrist with the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
“If you’re not having these conversations, it makes it more difficult to find out if your 9-year-old has implicit biases, and they’re going to lean on their peers to have those conversations, when really you want them to be turning to you,” says Anderson.
Acknowledge and celebrate differences
Experts say don’t take a “colour-blind” approach.
“When someone says they’re colour-blind, they’re saying they don’t see me, they don’t see race, and that can lend a hand to ignoring systematic issues such as oppression and racism that this country was built upon,” says Anderson. “It teaches the child that race shouldn’t be talked about, and this will make it harder for them to talk about these issues as adults.”
Encourage curiosity and celebration of our differences, while acknowledging that both race and racism is real.
Have those uncomfortable conversations, often
At the heart of raising an anti-racist child is developing an ongoing dialogue about racism. If you stay silent, the world will shape your child for you.
Create a space where children feel comfortable asking questions, and answer honestly, even if that means saying, ‘I’m not sure, let’s look that answer up together.’ How you talk to your children will depend on their age, but experts say you can let them guide the way. Their questions are clues about what they’re ready for.
“Talking about racism isn’t a one-time conversation, and you’ll never become completely comfortable,” says Heard-Garris. “But it’s like riding a bike. As you do it more, the better you become.”
Expose your children to diversity
Pay attention to who you and your children spend time with.
If you lack a racially diverse social circle, now’s not the time to run out in search of tonnes of new friends. That would be disingenuous, Ladipo points out. Be intentional, and in the meantime, seek out environments where your children can experience diversity. This could mean choosing a diverse place to visit once a month that’s different from your usual spot.
Educate through media
Take note of what your children are ingesting. Invest in books (and toys and dolls) with characters of all backgrounds. Seek out movies and TV shows, too, that don’t feature solely white actors.
“We like to watch a lot of movies, and when I notice a racist moment, I’ll pause the movie and we’ll have a discussion,” says Heard-Garris, mom to a 7-year-old son. “You can’t protect them from ever experiencing something bad or racist, but you can certainly explain it and use it as a teaching moment.”
Tribune News Service
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