If you’re white, you’ve done it.
Hesitated before using the word “black.”
Or had that uncomfortable hiccup in a conversation when your brain was trying to decide between using Black or African American.
You’re so worried about saying the wrong thing or offending someone that you don’t say anything at all.
We tell kids that we’re all the same on the inside. That the outside doesn’t matter.
Science says we’re wrong. That the outside does matter, but the inside matters more.
Teaching diversity is teaching kids about how to talk about race.
Why don’t we want to hear the truth about race?
The truth is, kids aren’t colorblind. Neither are adults. Evidence points to the importance of truly talking about race with your kids. Don’t believe me? Go check out a group of two-year-old kids playing with no adult interference. You’ll quickly notice similar-looking kids are naturally drawn to each other.
It’s not racist. It’s instinct. And it’s science. Maybe not every time, but most of the time.
Pick up the book NurtureShock:New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, which tries to explain how race really works in children. It’s an eye-opener.
To sum it up: Humans are hardwired to discriminate — yes, even you. It’s a survival instinct. Your body is wired to think you’re safer around people who look like you — genetically, culturally and communally.
That includes you, me and your three-month-old baby. It’s not intentional, just genetic. Before you jump up and yell, “I am not. I have [insert color here] friends,” stop.
Your Friends Are Probably Just Like You, Aren’t They?
It’s not about color, income or class. It’s about culture. I get along better with people who walk, talk, act and think like me. Don’t you?
That doesn’t mean all my friends are just like me.
It’s not racist to acknowledge the color of someone’s skin if you and your child are trying to understand a person’s culture, background, and history.
It is racist to acknowledge color with the intention to discriminate.
For me, acknowledging our differences is the best leap we can take towards truly embracing diversity.
You have to be racially conscious in your thoughts so that you can be racially neutral in your actions.” — Tanner Colby, TheGuardian.com
Understanding different cultures is an important, rewarding and time-consuming task. It should be a goal of every parent who wants to raise kids who are culturally sensitive and aware.
Start by teaching your kids not to be colorblind.
The way we explain race to our kids is not working. Black History Month is a great opportunity to question our own reactions when it comes to teaching diversity and discussing race.
This February, in honor of Black History Month, why don’t we just try telling them the truth: Color is a part of our lives. The color of our skin does matter. Teaching diversity is teaching kids about history, cultures, and everyday lives.
Here are three ways you can help your child embrace race.
- Stir the Pot Early. Studies show that the developmental window for teaching children to look beyond color starts by age three (and likely much earlier). Observe your child’s daycare, playdates and school to ensure racial integration. Kids seek out like-minded (and similar-looking) friends due to a trait called essentialism. You don’t have to do anything, but know that trait exists in all of us.
- Be a Loudmouth. Talk to your baby, your toddler, or your preschooler about the differences in how people look. If your child is looking towards someone that doesn’t look like them, say something. You are not a racist for mentioning that the color of someone’s skin is different than yours. Talk, talk, talk. As your child enters the pre-school years, have conversations with them about the color of people’s skin. Teaching diversity starts with exploring cultures different than yours.
- Stop Pretending You’re Colorblind. It’s okay to notice skin color. What’s not okay is to pretend color doesn’t exist. It’s the way you acknowledge color, and how you react, that makes you embrace race, hide from it, or run from it. Don’t shush your child when they ask about the color of someone’s skin. Suck it up (yes, it’s uncomfortable) and answer them. Or, better yet, teach your kids to ask questions politely and respectfully of the person they’re looking at. Most people will be delighted. And for those that aren’t? Well, there will always be people who judge. Step out from behind the curtain of color-blindness, and embrace that not everyone is the same.
Stop Playing Pretend.
I work hard to teach my daughter the truth about race — that our brains are wired to notice looks first. I don’t make a big deal of it, but when she looks, I talk.
The urge to segregate is a scientifically proven, primal instinct built into each and every one of us.
[pullquote align=”normal” cite=”http://liesaboutparenting/teaching-diversity”]Teaching diversity starts with acknowledging diversity.[/pullquote]
I want my daughter to know that it’s okay to ask questions about race and culture, and I’ll do my best to teach her to ask her questions in a respectful manner. I’ll work even harder to answer them in a culturally sensitive, exploratory way.
The people I know who are racially sensitive, culturally aware and non-judgmental know that skin color does matter.
It’s just not the only thing that matters.
Not by a longshot.
This article appeared in its original format on HuffingtonPost.com.
Ashley – thanks so much for this article. I come from a family mixed with black and white. I was wondering how to introduce this topic with my daughter who is now (20 months). Thanks for sharing a great topic!
Absolutely, Theresa. I’m glad it is helpful. If there are any other topics you’d like to see discussed, let us know!
It is a start and I applaud you for having the courage to be uncomfortable. Most people will hold on to their comfort zone, no matter what. Thanks for being a brave mama!
Great article Ashley, and a really hard thing to push through comfort-zone-wise, although absolutely worth it.
When my son was two, we were checking out and he said something about the “black lady” that was checking us out. We all looked at each other awkwardly, and I asked him who he was talking about, he kept pointing to the “black lady.” I didn’t know where it came from because we had never discussed race with him or even around him. Later that day he said something about the “blue man” he saw, that’s when I realized he was talking about the color of their shirts, it just happened to be that the cashier was a black lady wearing a black shirt…he wasn’t making a comment about race at all.
It opened my eyes to the issue of race with kiddos though and we have had more open conversations since, but there is always a bit of a cringe-factor inside me hoping the first thing he says when he sees someone new is not about their race (even though we all recognize race first, we just don’t openly admit it).
Thanks for the reminder that I need to get comfortable with being in that situation and to put teaching my kids the right way to think about race first, instead of just working to avoid awkward looks by random people I don’t know or care about.
Wow. Your story is the perfect example of how we assume what kids are thinking rather than ask! Thanks for sharing.
I appreciate you reading and commenting. As I mentioned (numerous times), it’s a tough topic. No one wants to share or talk for fear of being labeled.
Your honesty and willingness to look inside yourself are an inspiration to us all!
Agree with this so much.
“This February, in honor of Black History Month, why don’t we just try telling them the truth: Color is a part of our lives. The color of our skin does matter. Teaching diversity is teaching kids about history, cultures, and everyday lives.”
BOOM. Well done.
Thank you so much for the support! It’s a tough topic to talk about and I appreciate your support!!