Are You Raising Racist Kids?

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This is what I call bad parenting.

Do you want your kids to grow up to be colorblind, or do you want them to be anti-racist? There is a difference. A lot of well-meaning white parents are unwittingly raising their kids to be colorblind racists rather than anti-racists. Here are some do’s and don’ts for parents of white kids.

Do teach them that race is a silly idea people made up. Don’t teach them race doesn’t matter.

Do put them in environments that will show them they are white. Don’t discourage their questions and explorations when they begin to realize this.

Do expose them to race through the rhythms and structures of their daily lives. Don’t expose them to race through contexts of charity and pity.

Do teach them race as a product of history. Don’t teach them race as a product of biology.

Do teach them to value other cultures. Don’t let their own culture be normal or invisible.

Do teach them that racism is about power and resources. Don’t teach them that an absence of racial prejudice in their hearts makes them anti-racist.

Do teach them that they have advantages because of their race. Don’t teach them that everyone has equal opportunities.

Do teach them that race profoundly affects them. Don’t teach them that race is something only people of color have or deal with.

Do teach them the history of white supremacy. Don’t sacrifice historical accuracy to protect feelings of patriotism or white innocence.

Do teach them to take responsibility. Don’t teach them to feel guilty.

Each of these can be unpacked and reflected on. Many well-meaning white parents have their own issues to work through before they can instill these things in their kids. What do you do when your kids take note of race? Do you subtly send the message that you’re uncomfortable and don’t want to talk about it? Or are you equipping them to understand that what they see is a result of history and power and that they have the responsibility to fight against racism?

Many good parents struggle with these things and are accidentally training their children to misunderstand their world. But we can learn and do better. On any other issue, we can readily admit we’re not perfect parents. But for some reason we want to pretend we have never ever instilled negative racial messages in our children. I’m sure I have. There’s no need to feel defensive or guilty.

Now, if you’re a parent who thinks white people don’t have advantages and this is all liberal gibberish, that’s a different story.  You’re actively harming your children and you need to reckon with why and how you came to depend upon lies to make yourself feel ok in the world. It is much more liberating to face the truth.

2 thoughts on “Are You Raising Racist Kids?

  1. I did one very simple thing starting when my child was born. I never, ever, identified another person by their skin color or ethnicity. We had African-American neighbors — not close ones. If I needed to speak of them, it was: “Mr. X (I forget the surname now), who walks his dogs.” Child very early picked up on the fact that skin color was not an identifier. “The man who looks like LaVar [Burton],” whom he knew from Reading Rainbow, or “The lady who looks like Mrs. Isaacs” at the bank.

    Over 20 years later, when he was in college and grad school, I could see that it paid off. He still never, ever, identified his classmates and colleagues by their skin color or ethnicity. When his quartet marched onto the stage, I was immensely proud that, in a profession where diversity of ethnicity or gender is scarce, there were two women and two men and one person of African background, one of Asian, one of Southern European, and one of Northern European — and though we had heard of this quartet for months, we didn’t know these totally irrelevant details.

    And, no, he was not colorblind. When he saw a campus security guard disrespect a father of clearly Middle Eastern background (his daughter was wearing a hijab), he wrote to the head of security to protest — even though he himself was a guest in that country.

    All this to say that there are some very simple things one can do even when one doesn’t quite know how to begin “teaching.”

    Like

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