I don’t know if I’ve extolled the virtues of this book enough via the internet, although I’ve certainly done so for my in-person folks. I mentioned, and my husband bought, NurtureShock solely for the chapter on race, because news articles had convinced me that these people thought like I did, and better yet, had great data to back it up. For example, something I’ve believed for a long time, is that you cannot teach anti-racism or even have successful integration if you can’t talk about race. Same for our children. Here’s this writer’s take on what NutureShock says we should not do, if we want to raise anti-racist children:
Step One: Don’t talk about race. Don’t point out skin color. Be “color blind.”
Step Two: Actually, that’s it. There is no Step Two.
Congratulations! Your children are well on their way to believing that <insert your ethnicity here> is better than everybody else.
Despite the evidence, it continues to amaze me that parents think that not talking about race and racism will somehow protect their children or make them colorblind. For white parents, NurtureShock’s authors do a great job of striking down that idea. Not talking to white children about race makes them especially susceptible to belief that being white is better than being any other color. Without active push-back from parents (and I would argue educators), white children do not learn to be colorblind, but rather learn what is reflected all around them – that white people are superior.
While the chapter does not go into much about what racial and ethnic minority parents should do to ensure that their children are not racist, I think much of the same advice goes for <put your race and ethnicity> parents too. In fact, I think not talking to your kids about race and racism is even more dangerous for kids of color than for whites.
Why? Well, if white children are coming to understand their superiority, and perhaps other latent messages about other folks, why would we not assume that kids of color are not as well? In other words, as white children learn to internalize the racial and ethnic hierarchy, so do kids of color. Whether you like it or not. Given this, as parents of color I think its even more important for us to talk to our children about race and racism, if just simply to counteract the negative messages about themselves that they receive on a daily basis. Children as young as 3 understand race.
Many parents of color that I talk to just feel that talking about race before their kids bring it up encourages them to “see race,” and this belief is something parents are heavily invested in, no matter how much research I tout. True, people of color come to learn the racial hierarchy at some point in their lives. Unlike whites, they most likely do not have the privilege to ignore it or act like its not there. But I would suggest that instilling positive, anti-racist messages from a young age help tremendously in being able to put the social hierarchy in perspective as they get older, and to better understand the world around them. Consider this:
But Harris-Britt explained that if you’re reading a picture book to a child, if you are pointing out the red of a balloon, or the yellow of a lion’s fur, you can also point out the brown of a person’s skin.
Ignoring the color of skin, yet dutifully pointing out the color of every inanimate object and animal, only sends a message to children that talking skin color is taboo.
I grew up in a house filled with books about race and racism; my mother read black literature; my father worked someplace where he was the only black person. I was never taught to hate anyone, but I also wasn’t necessarily taught to love my black self. I don’t remember explicitly talking about race, but do remember hearing adult conversations about racism, and watching Eyes on the Prize. I remember being in elementary school, a school that was in my neighborhood and therefore 99% black. There was one white boy, maybe when I was in 3rd or 4th grade. And the most I can remember about him is thinking, “Wow, his family must be really bad off if he has to go to school with us.” Some way, some how, I understood that whites were up here, and we were somehow down here. I don’t think its simply because of segregation in schools; I remember feeling the same way when I saw white families in the neighborhood, or the one old white lady on the block who couldn’t afford to move when all the black families came into that part of town. Consider this, about school desegregation:
Stephan found that in only 16 percent of the desegregated schools examined, the attitudes of whites toward African-Americans became more favorable. In 48 percent of the schools, white students’ attitudes toward blacks became worse. African-American attitudes were also mixed, but overall were significantly less dismal. African-Americans attitudes toward whites improved38 percent of the time, and turned in the negative direction 24 percent of the time.
I realized how race was tied to class because my parents didn’t have a car, and we had to get a hack back from the supermarket, like many of the black people I knew. Intuitively, I knew this:
When its students were polled if they’d like to live in a diverse neighborhood when they grow up, about 70 percent of the nonwhite high-school juniors said they wanted to. But only 37 percent of whites wanted to. Asked if they’d like to work in a racially diverse setting when they were an adult, only 40 percent of the whites said yes.
But maybe if I’d been specifically taught about slavery, its evils, Jim Crow and redlining, along with messages that of positive associations, I could have made better sense of what race really meant. Perhaps in being told the reality, maybe I would have been more indignant, more outraged rather than passive and acquiescent. Maybe with some active anti-racist parenting, for both white children and children of color, we can avoid this type of thinking for our children.