Be sure to read Part One: Awareness and Part Two: Embracing Change–Five Things You Can Do to Address Diversty in this three part series that addresses our assumptions, our reactions to prejudice and our identities.
Part Three–For Every Parent: Three Reasons You Must Discuss Racism and Inequality with your Family
I was 4. In a shoe store. Looking at shoes, I loudly sang James Brown’s song, “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.” A blonde, blue eyed white girl. A white girl with rhythm and a love for dancing to funk. Me. Clueless to the irony. Clueless to the symbolism, the meaning or the significance.
If you haven’t yet read, “NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children” by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, add it to your reading list. One, of my many favorites, is: “Chapter Three–Why White Parents Don’t Talk About Race–Does teaching children about race and skin color make them better off or worse?”
Take a breath.
Yes. I know.
Take another breath.
Three Reasons You Must Discuss Racism and Inequality with your Family
One: Cognitive Ability to Distinguish Differences
Young children’s minds “are developmentally prone to in-group favoritism; they’re going to form these preferences on their own…it takes years before their cognitive abilities allow them to successfully use more that one attribute to categorize everything. In the meantime, the attribute they rely on is that which is most clearly visible” namely “everything he likes, those who look similar to him will like as well.” (NurtureShock, pg 53) If we do not encourage children to explore that which is out of their norm, they will assume the philosophy of “that which is most like me, is acceptable and good.” The converse then, that which is not like me, will often be rejected.
Two: When We Are Comfortable, It’s Too Late
In cross-play studies, in which students specifically encouraged to learn and to play across race lines, “reasearchers found this worked in first grade children. Having been in the cross-race study groups led to significantly more cross-race play. But it made no difference on the third grade children. It’s possible, that by the third grade, when parents usually recognize it’s safe to start talking a little about race, the developmental window has already closed.” (NurtureShock, pg. 55) These natural learning tendencies form habits, and while we wait for the habits to become a conversation, the pattern has already been established. Discuss, act and explore with your young children.
Three: “Diverse Environment Theory” In and Of Itself Is Not Enough
The idea behind the Diverse Environmental Theory, as Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman explain, is the idea that if we expose our children to diverse races, then we need not discuss it, as we couldn’t begin to provide the first hand knowledge they are getting by being immersed in the diverse community. In essence, the diversity speaks for itself. That to point out diversity, implies we are not equal, and our jobs as parents is to merely provide the diversity and equality to our children. Unfortunately, studies suggest that exposure, in and of itself, is not enough. Studies found that “More diverse schools have, overall, more potential inter-racial contact and hence more interracial dyads of ‘potential’ friends” however; “The probability of interracial dyads being friends decreases in more diverse schools. Those increased opportunities to interact are also, effectively, increased opportunities to reject each other. And that is what’s happening.” (NutureShock, pg. 61) Simply because we provide the diversity, does not automatically make everything and everyone equal.
So, do you see, now? Can you see that if we want a world where “children will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character (Martin Luther King, Jr.), then we have to begin conversations, encourage exploration, and start now, in this moment.
What are you waiting for?
Live in the moment.
Resources for further consideration:
Martin Luther King–I Have a Dream Speech
NurtureShock–Chapter 3–Why White Parents Don’t Talk About Race
Are We Born Racist? New Insights From Neuroscience and Positive Psychology
People of Color Conference
Science of the Greater Good–Resources