A note from the Editor: The thing that I love about The Mommicles is that we do not shy away from talking about difficult topics. Parenthood is not all Instagram-worthy photoshoots of smiling, continuously happy children. It’s difficult. And messy. Throughout the month of November, I have asked various Mommicles contributors to talk about how they tackle and discuss issues of race, diversity, equity and inclusion with their children. Each perspective is different and valuable. Hopie’s post is the first in that series. We hope that the series will open up the dialogue among parents and, especially, between parents and children. As always, we appreciate you reading our blog. – Erika, The Bonus Mom
By Hopie, The Mom of Three
In summer of 2017 when Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were both killed by police in two different states, within 36 hours of each other, I found myself wondering what to say to my 6-year-old daughter. While driving her to camp that morning, I shut off the radio, tears running down my cheeks, knowing that I could either say something, or say nothing. I had wondered for a while—how would I, a white mom of white kids, talk to my children about race, equity, and oppression.
I have the privilege of choosing when and how to talk with my kids about race. This is a choice parents of children of color are not necessarily afforded.
In our short car ride, I chose to say something. I chose to risk saying something that might or might not have been developmentally appropriate, or 100% perfect. But the risk of saying something not quite right was weighed against the risk of doing nothing and maybe making it a little easier for my children to become bystanders, or worse, perpetrators of aggression against people of color.
So asked her to think about her friends who have dark skin and once we named a few, I told her this: “There are kids with dark skin who get treated badly just because their skin is darker. They are not as safe as kids with light skin, just because their skin is darker. You have an important job. If you see someone being treated badly and they have dark skin, you stand up for them. You help protect them and make them feel safe. You get help. You tell them that you think they matter.”
Since that conversation, we have had many more, and have involved our younger children as well. We’re not perfect at it, and I listen carefully to my friends of color, and let their voices guide me. I look to articles like this one to help remind us of how essential and urgent these conversations are.
And while my husband and I are committed to continuing the conversation, however difficult, here are a few things you will never hear us say about race to our children:
ALL LIVES MATTER: You won’t hear us say this to our kids–given that they are offspring of two clergy, they already know that all human beings are of utmost worth to God. However, being of ultimate value to God is not the same as being valued equally by other human beings. To say that all lives matter is to dismiss the idea that black and brown people are equal to white folks in their access to human rights, safety, and being treated with dignity.
WE ARE COLORBLIND: We won’t teach our kids that we shouldn’t be able to see color, or any difference for that matter. Our experience of the world has everything to do with our race, class, religion, ethnicity, skin color, ability, gender, and sexual orientation. To say that we don’t see these things is to say that we don’t see things that make us who we are. Even more problematic—if we teach our kids that we are all the same, they will falsely assume that their experience of the world as white, wealthy children is how everyone experiences it. And this dangerous assumption would make them much less likely to see and then stand up against injustice.
IT DOESN’T MATTER IF YOU’RE BLACK, WHITE, OR PURPLE: This one…this one bugs me a lot. I hear it said as a way of bringing levity to a tough discussion. And I get that it’s tough. But there are not, to my knowledge, any purple people in existence. And to talk about race as if it is in the same category as make-believe purple skinned people is to devalue and delegitimize the entire conversation. We can do better than this.
I am not an expert on talking to kids about race. I am constantly learning. But I do feel fairly certain that if you have the privilege of choosing whether or not to engage your children in discussing issues of race and equality, you need to choose to have the conversation, and have it often.