A while back, Michael’s cousin, who is a principal at the Monroe Elementary School in San Francisco, sent him an article about race. It all started with a 2007 study in The Journal of Marriage and Family. The study and a subsequent book (NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Brosnson and Ashley Merryman) concluded that if you don’t talk about racism, you’re gonna have problems.
I thought we were pretty well covered. I exposed Zia to all sorts of races and cultures. We had dolls of different colors, we read books with non-white protagonists, we learned about real girls and women who had to deal with racism in our not-so-distant American past. Plus, we had friends from many different races and we were surrounded by many different cultures.
So I would facetiously pass on the information about the article during cocktail conversations and book club discussions, implying that I, of course, had it Under Control. I did, didn’t I? Look at how I handled it with Zia. Brant was learning by default.
Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that while I may have exposed the issue to Zia, I completely dropped the ball with Brant. Two years of living in Texas, surrounded by white people, has made me inadvertently raise a potential racist.
Last night, Michael recounted an incident with Brant at the airport. He said they were sitting down in the waiting area and when Brant looked up, he saw a young black boy sitting near them with his family. Very loudly, he turned to Michael and said, “I want to move seats. I don’t like black boys.”
Yes. My son, my own flesh and blood, said these words.
At first, I was furious: it’s that combination of anger and embarrassment, when you think, “Oh, my. I have failed miserably at my job as a parent.” And because of my humiliation, I was ready to kill Brant a week after the incident happened. Then, I realized that we had become the subjects of that study. In NY, we talked about it frequently because we were surrounded by many different races. In Texas, we didn’t really talk about racism, not because we were intentionally avoiding it, but because, well, the subject never really came up.
Luckily, knowledge is power and we are not powerless. Out will come the books, discussions will be had, differences will be pointed out. And maybe next year, we won’t be a statistic anymore.
In any case, I hope that my lesson will become your lesson and rather than simply passing on the results of the study, you will talk to your 2-year old, your 3-year old and your 4-year old before they’re too old and it’s too late.
If you’re wondering about ways to start:
- Find books like Keats’s Neighborhood: An Ezra Jack Keats Treasury by Ezra Jack Keats;
- Look at the news, tv shows, movies, etc. Talk about the difference in colors or (sadly) the lack of difference colors;
- Recreate pretend scenarios. Tell your child you’re going to playact with her/him and have him say, “Play with me.” You respond, “Hmm… I don’t know if I want to play with you because I don’t like white boys…” Talk about how that makes you feel.
- Delve into history. Share stories and incidents about racism.
- Above all, don’t be afraid to mention it. Talk about it in the car, at home, away from public eyes, but do talk about it.
Do you have more ideas about how to create an environment aware of all races? Please share them!