When I was growing up, race was more than talked about. It was the butt of many a joke. Black baby dolls were given as gag gifts, grown-up's didn't catch "a tiger by his toe" and accusing you of having a "black" boyfriend was meant as an insult.
I was taught very young black people look different. They talk differently, walk differently, act differently, dress differently.
And different was not good.
Somehow, with all of the negative attitudes about race, I emerged unscathed. All of the negative talk about everyone with a tint, somehow made me more accepting. At least they were talking about it.
Now I have kids. I don't talk about race or skin color. I don't point out hair texture or eye shape nor do I discuss past atrocities with my four-year old.
I am beginning to think I should.
Bronson and Merryman, authors of "NurtureShock," discovered, through various studies, that most white parents don’t ever talk to their kids about race.
They found that most parents, the ones who think racism is wrong, don't want to point out skin color to their kids because they want them to be color-blind. They said we use vague phrases like “everybody’s equal” but don't explain why it's necessary to make such a statement.
Parents would like to believe kids don't see racial differences. Obviously they do. According to "NutureShock," the differences should be acknowledged as young as four. Kids whose parents openly discuss race are more accepting than those who don't.
Living in a diverse neighborhood and sending your kid to a melting pot school in lieu of talking honestly with them when they are young, is not teaching your child acceptance.
In their studies Bronson and Merryman learned:
- Only 8% of white American high-schoolers have a best friend of another race. (For blacks, it’s about 15%.)
- The more diverse a school is, the less likely it is that kids will form cross-race friendships.
- 75% of white parents never or almost never talk about race with their kids.
- A child’s attitudes toward race are much harder to alter after third grade, but a lot of parents wait until then (or later) before they feel it’s “safe” to talk frankly about race.
I acknowledge comfortably and discuss openly differences in gender. I often let my daughter know girls can be astronauts, superheroes and doctors, and her brother can push a stroller. These stereotypes I fight everyday. I forget she needs to be told people of any color can be all of those things too.
And she can be a Hip Hop Mogul, if she chooses.