One of the more “popular” classes I teach is on parenting transracially. The class typically begins quietly, but soon becomes rather lively with a lot of great introspection, sharing and interaction. To date, the parents I have worked with have been Caucasian. Their children have been adopted domestically and internationally, and they do not “match” their parents.
Within the class we examine labels, like the use of “colorblind,” which does a disservice by ignoring differences. We also look at how challenging it is for white parents to embrace the idea of talking to their non-white child about something in which they have little to no experience. So, how does a parent begin?
- By establishing the foundation. Begin early and talk about physical differences. Doing so brings tough topics out of the shadows, exposing them and making them easier to discuss. My kids have been talking about their differences since they could talk. Their differences are part of who they are and their differences are also part of who we are as a family. My kids’ complexions vary greatly, especially in the summer months. Their features are also markedly different—from the shapes of their heads, noses and eyes, to their ability to squat (or not). My kids understand and appreciate their and each other’s differences (as well as similarities).
- By preparing your child to expect teasing, comments insults, and or rejection because of his race. Educate yourself about the history of racism within the historical framework of the country you live in as well as the country your child was born in (if this applies). Racism exists everywhere. Help your child know what has transpired and what to expect by sharing this history with him.
- By educating yourself, and then your child, about why people do look different. Why people have different colored skin and eyes, hair color and texture, and facial and physical features. For example, “People from Guatemala with Maya ancestry, like you, have brown skin and dark brown hair and eyes like you do.”
- By NOT waiting until the first injury to discuss racism with your child. Explain what racism is in age-appropriate language so that your child will recognize racism when he hears or experiences it. You will need to get comfortable with the uncomfortable racist words and situations because your child needs to know what they are and he needs to hear it from you, not from kids on the playground or from members of the opposing basketball team. Point out examples when you hear or see them. Unfortunately, examples abound within any culture. Terms will vary by region and country.
- By encouraging your child to share with you.Explain to your child that racism isn’t his fault. Racism is a weakness of the offending person. Injuries will most likely happen to your child when you and your “white umbrella” aren’t present. Talking over the event helps your child (and you) to process it.
- By NOT tolerating ANY racially or ethnically biased remarks. Why would you?
Parents: The manner in how you handle these challenges of race or ethnicity will either facilitate or hinder your child’s development. What will you do?