Are you sending a racially biased message to your child?
As we’ve watched and listened to the disturbing media reports regarding the event that took place in Charleston, SC, recently, we’ve been asking ourselves, in what way were we responsible — as individuals, as parents, as a society?
First, we want to say that our thoughts and prayers go out to all involved in this heartbreaking, numbing act of senseless violence and misguided reasoning.
We hear parents asking, Why does this continue to happen?
We hear parents asking, What needs to change to keep this from ever happening again?
We hear parents asking, How can I make any difference for my child?
Change begins by taking responsibility for one’s own actions and beliefs. There must be the willingness to look within and ask the question, “Do my actions encourage or discourage racial discrimination?”
As a parent, the question is, What example am I setting for my child?
Consider the following as a self test:
Pretend that you (“you” being a white person in this example) came home from the grocery store, and related the following story to your family. . . “I had the most wonderful conversation in the produce department about asparagus with a friendly and extremely knowledgeable black lady.”
By pointing out the lady’s color, are you racially discriminating?
We believe the answer is . . . yes!
What if, in your story, both you and the woman in the produce department had been white. Would you have referenced her color by stating that she was “a friendly and extremely knowledgeable white lady?” Probably not.
So why add the label “black”? Describing her color, implying that she was an African American, wasn’t relevant to the story. Plus it sows the seeds for the need to not only notice, but to point out the differences in people. In this example the difference being skin color.
This innocent, yet blatantly discriminatory, word description takes place daily — probably even subconsciously — by people who see themselves as being racially unbiased. Has it been instilled that people of color are less intelligent, thus your surprise — and need to point out — that the “extremely knowledgeable” woman was black? If we, as parents, as a society, want racial prejudice to come to an end, then labeling someone by their color of skin, when skin color isn’t relevant, must stop.
Think of it as setting an intentional example for our children, the next generation. Children look up to, and emulate, the adults around them, which comes from a strong desire to fit in, belong, and be a valued member of the community. At first, they just mimic actions and words waiting for a positive response. Eventually, the imitating turns into a habit and then a belief. Each generation will repeat the same pattern of beliefs, by default, unless that cycle is interrupted. Awareness is needed first, followed by new examples of appropriate behavior.
In order to initiate change, parents need to sharpen their attention to the words they choose, and what they mean (or what they’re not meaning) in the communication with their child. There are certain words we urge parents to completely remove from their vocabulary. If you don’t want your child to be afraid of the world (and help him or her feel more confident), then replace “Be careful!” with “Take care of yourself” when sending them out the door. In our produce department example above, we would remove any reference to a person’s skin color.
If you want to be part of the solution, and not part of the problem, then at the very least, for the next 31 days, be deliberate about not describing someone by the color of their skin. Intentionally begin paying more attention to the words you use.
It’s all about the relationship.
Please take the time to give us your comments and feedback.
Share how you are helping to put a stop to racial discrimination.
And of course, please share this with a relative or friend.