I’m writing this post as a mother and a Conscious Parenting Coach. I’m no expert in the subject of racism, I’ve never been victim of racism and I’m not intending to preach to anyone. I’m a Mexican mother, living in the US, trying to start an important conversation.
When we came to live to the US my oldest was seven and was starting his 2nd grade. We had just moved from the Czech Republic where he was exposed to a rich cultural diversity in an International School. He used to play with many children of different skin colors, cultural backgrounds and nationalities. One day while in 2nd grade (already in the US), he came home very surprised and said to me: “Mom, did you know that Barack Obama is black?!” and he continued: “Even Michael Jackson and Chuck Berry!” -some of his favorites-. At that moment I understood that my child had been ripped from his natural ability to see beyond skin color.
Society was putting on him the mental construction -created by the same society- that skin color made a difference in the world we live in. While I mourned the loss of that innocence in my kid, I completely understood the importance of this event. My child, sooner or later was going to be “contaminated” by society, it was better that this would happen in a healthy place, within a historical context and while teaching empathy at the same time. It is important that children learn about black history, specially in a country like the US, that has suffered for centuries and centuries of abuse and inequality of African American citizens. Learning from History makes us understand where we come from, let’s learn from past errors so we won’t repeat them again. But, can that be enough? I think is a lot more complex than that. Non-racism has to be learned and to be experienced every single day at home.
Some parents might say: “I’m not racist”, “I don’t teach my children racism” and is probably true in their conscious reality. While we might not teach directly racism to our children, we might be sending hidden messages with our everyday comments about other people; with our attitude towards others and even with our decision to be blind eyed about this kind of situations. Racism starts with separatism and if we are teaching the “us” versus “them” we are setting the foundations for racism. Here are some points I consider important to set the basis in our parenting without racism.
· Exposure to Diversity. I think that one of the factors that helped my son to not realize about difference in skin colors was the great diverse exposure he had at the International School. Diversity and a wide range of skin colors became his normal. I understand this is an extraordinary situation; many communities are not diverse, and this might be difficult. Still, trying to find family friends with different cultural and race background is very enriching. Other great resources come from picture books, movies and toys. Thankfully now days we can find more and more resources, compared to 20 or more years ago, but we still have a long way to go.
· Talking about history. “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it” – Edmun Burke. Is never too early to start exposing our children to history. When my oldest was about 6 years old we took him to Anne Frank’s House in Amsterdam. He was shocked and it was difficult for him to understand how some people were persecuted for their race and beliefs. I gave him explanations for his age level as much as possible. As hard as it was for him, the experience has given us material for lots of conversations regarding human kind equality and civil rights. Museums are a great way to expose our children to history, and again: documentaries, books and movies. Understanding history gives us a guideline to understand our present.
· Go over profoundly on your own racial beliefs. The events happening in the United States have given us the opportunity to dig within our own selves and understand how we see racism and what is really our position within any other race, minority group or anyone. A friend of mine recently posted in social media her reflections about racism in her own country. Even if she lives in a small non-diverse country, far away from the US; she was able to deconstruct her own cultural beliefs and realized how her culture and herself had their own racial issues. What do you think about people with other economical backgrounds? Are you a classist? Do you accept your own skin color? What do you think about subcultures and minorities in your community? Are you a bully? Are you aware of the white privilege? Awakening from our own beliefs is the very first step to not transmit them to our children.
· Embracing a non-separatism life style. One of the patterns that I’ve been seeing getting worse and worse during the past months is separatism. The thought that “If you don’t think like me, then you’re against me”. This statement can be applied to anything: If you don’t have my skin color, then we cannot be friends; I cannot relate with you because we don’t have the same nationality; I won’t seek your friendship because we have different religions; I don’t like you because of your political views, etc. One of the many things that make the human race so interesting is the uniqueness of each individual. While we all come from the same source we’re as well different from each other in this human experience. And that is the magic of this! At the end things are neither white or black, they have wonderful tones of gray. Let your children understand our differences as a gain and not as a division. Live it, embrace it and your children will learn from it.
· Strengthening your child’s sense of self. Toni Morrison once mentioned: “If you can only be tall because someone is on their knees, then you have a serious problem”. If we are able to transmit to our children how wonderful and important they are just because they exist, they won’t need to make others feel bad in order to feel good about themselves. The child that is loved, respected, embraced and accepted just the way she is will not generate insecurity. Dr. Shefali Tsabary stated recently: “If there was no insecurity there would be no hatred. Wherever there’s hatred there’s fear. Fear about what? (fear of) Black prowess and strength.”
As parents, we need to start talking and reframing racism and separatism, I believe children are not born racist, they learn it, and they can learn it from a very early age. We’ve been dealing with this terrible issue for thousands and thousands of years. Maybe finally the time has come to make a change. The change starts within ourselves, in our homes and in our children’s souls.
Delia- Mom of 3- Conscious Parenting Coach - Psychologist.