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Raising A Racist?

Unintended consequences of ignoring race.

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.

Jessica Hollomon February 24, 2012 at 06:21 PM
Tonto- It's hard to be a parent. It is an everyday beat down by people who are accusing you of doing things wrong. To think it could be your fault your child has negative feelings about others in sometimes too much to take. You know you would never want them to be mean to another person for any reason including difference in appearance. Soon they will grow-up and make decisions about people based on what they experience. Make decisions with a rational adult mind that understands people should not be judged by appearances alone. My kids doctor is a black man, so she thought Doctors are black men, that is natural for the mind of a child. I do not think informing her that the way a person looks does not determine if they can be a doctor, is "brain-washing". If you want your kid to be accepting and kind-Obviously, you don't use insulting terms or make negative comments regarding the person. Obviously, you allow your child to have friends of all kinds and not make fun of them for it. But there are things that are not obvious- and for that I turn to science, studies and professionals for advice. I have never thought of this as "brain-washing" but hey- why not through that on my pile of things feel like like I'm doing wrong as a parent- Brainwashing. But, ya know what- if I can wash my kids brain of cruelty- I guess thats not a bad thing. I think we should acknowledge the differences, celebrate differences but don't make the differences obstacles.
Jessica Hollomon February 24, 2012 at 06:40 PM
children see differences in people- and children should be informed as to why people are different-Told it's okay and maybe told things about that different person they can admire or respect them for- this is not just about racism, I am talking about children and I do not believe children are racist- they don't know what that is, they may be mean to a person because they are different but their minds are not developed enough to call them a racist. I titled it "raising a racist" because I am referring to the adult your child could possibly develop into. - it is about giving our children information they need. Satisfy their curiosity so they don't have to draw their own conclusions. It's about how children have positive attitudes towards traits they have and therefore naturally could have negative attitudes towards different traits. My child has said "I don't like people with brown hair, I have blond hair". Okay- do I just say all people are the same no matter their hair color. It may help her better understand if I show her a bunch of people with brow hair, tell her why they have brown and she has blond and how her hair could turn brown and ask how she would feel in a room with all brown hair if they were mean to her... just more info.
Tonto February 25, 2012 at 02:21 AM
I just tell my kids I don't know why god made differant color people but there must be a good reason we are all in the same boat.
kaco February 25, 2012 at 03:18 AM
I think that the real underlying issue here is that our society is becoming less tolerant and more critical of people who are different in some way than oneself. This does not just mean race. It could be religion, lifestyle, political view, economic status, or even which sports team is your favorite. We are all guilty of this thinking, just in different degrees and in different areas. Children are naturally accepting of others, even others who might look or act differently from them. Prejudices are a learned behavior. Parents may choose or not to choose to talk to their kids about race, but even more important than this discussion is what they teach them with their actions and reactions in life's diverse situations. If you teach your child to accept and respect people of other races, yet refer to people of a different political party or lifestyle critical negative names, what is the message that you are sending to your child? Tolerance goes way beyond race. This is a great discussion and a challenge for each of us. I am still working on the man in the mirror to change my behavior. We need more Jeremy Linn's in the world to help break down the stereotypes that we all battle.
Space Ship April 25, 2012 at 04:18 PM
Tonto, just throw some Old Testament at them. That will resolve the issue.

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