One of the classes I teach addresses transracial parenting. Within the framework of this class we discuss strategies for dealing with racism. Even in this progressive year of 2011, racism, like bias, stereotyping and discrimination, is everywhere.
Racism is personal; it is also institutional. Racism segregates individuals into castes and can damage souls. Racism strips people of their dignity. If you aren’t aware of this, I’d advise you to open your eyes and ears. It you don’t see or hear it, just gently scratch below the surface. There it is.
Your child needs to be aware of racism. Your child needs to be prepared to expect the uncomfortable and demeaning—rude comments, teasing, insults, and rejection. This is your responsibility as his or her parent. And you just can’t pay it “lip service.” You’ve got to “walk the walk.” White parents can find talking about racism a daunting task. Many parents have little to no personal exposure or experience with racism. It can make them extremely uncomfortable.
But think back, there is a place from which parents can begin.
Were you ever bullied? Excluded? We’re you ever teased to the point of cruelty or tears? How did you discuss it with your parents, or did you? Did you experience feeling worthless, anger or fear? A lack of power to speak or act? Did anyone ever tell you, by their words or actions, where you “fit” or didn’t?
You need to go further. Consider the layer of your child’s color or ethnicity and the pervasive attitude a person might hold about them because of the color of their skin or their ethnic features. Be honest with yourself. Really think about it.
Talk to your child. Not talking can be twisted by your child; they may think you condone racism if you avoid talking about it. Additionally, by not talking about racism you may be teaching your child to bury their feelings instead of addressing them.
Talk to people who have experienced racism. Find your voice and comfort level. Share how you feel about racism with your child and validate his or her feelings if they are hurt.
Racism is a state of mind—toxic and born of ignorance. Provide your child with “tools” to deal with racism. An example, might be practicing staring (we’ve stared in unison, the “family stare,” when someone has rudely stared at us or commented) or the use of humor (we’ve also used). If you parent more than one child, use their sibling teasing or put-downs as teaching examples.
Don’t wait until racism happens to broach discussing it. And don’t protect your child. Prepare them. And assure them that you are there always, to listen and for support.
Parents: Begin with yourselves. What biases do you hold? Be honest with yourself. And then explore why. What is you knowledge of race relations and racism in your country? For parents who adopted internationally, what was the history of race in your child’s birth country? What three strategies can you come up with to empower your child to deal effectively with racism?