Being the mother of one multi-ethnic/multi-racial child who is about to be the mother of another, I am frequently asked questions concerning race and children. Sometimes, almost like I am an authority on the subject. I am not one, not by a long shot.
I sure did not grow up surrounded by fantastic examples of tolerance of differences between peoples or examples of respecting all peoples like the amazing human beings that they are. I was born and raised in the Buckle of the Bible Belt, Oklahoma. Oklahoma, being one of the most “red states” and just about as Conservative as they come, is not the hotspot of cultural, ethnic, racial, or any other kind of tolerance, acceptance, or equality. Don’t get me started on how shitty it is/was for American Indians/First Nations Tribes, let alone anyone else not, white, male, Christian, Conservative, heterosexual, and at least middle-class.
Somehow, I managed to escape a lot of that kind of narrow-minded, bigoted, and self-serving indoctrination. I grew up, a mainly-closeted Queer person, who married a Black/Sioux/Irish man and proceeded to have a child with him. Awesome humanity can happen in some of the least awesome or humane places.
This does not mean that I am infallible. It does not mean that I do not suffer, like most white or “passing” people, from weird ingrained racists bullshit that surfaces from time to time. It does not mean that I have all the answers for other parents — I do not even have all the answers for myself.
What I do know that works/counts/matters are a few simple things. These are not always easy, but they are not all that complicated either.
You’ve got to find a way to love everyone. Even those assholes in your life right now who are hating on Muslims and are staunchly against helping out refugees. Don’t get me wrong, loving these people does not make them any less asshole-ish, but it makes you a better person. And everyone deserves love, even those that have a fear so deep and so big that it allows them to turn their backs on people in need. You can still let go of the toxic people in your life, but you have to love them. Love is the only way to win out over fear.
Hiding, lying, redirecting, and misleading all come from a place of fear. You have to be honest with yourself about who you are, where you come from, and where you want to be. When you invariably fuck up, you have to admit it and make amends. When you ignorantly let loose with something that lands as racists, homophobic, or some other less-than-stellar message and you realise it or get called on it and you did not mean it, it is not *that* hard to apologise and/or allow yourself to be schooled.
Be honest with your kids. We all want life to be rainbows and kittens and to shelter our children from the harshness of reality, but some of us do not live that kind of privilege. Some of us have children who nobody else is trying to shelter from the bullshit out there. You have to be real and from a really early age. While most parents might be having conversations about race with their children that are the same age, I lay odds 10 to 1 that the conversations I am having with my children are not as love and light or Sesame Street-friendly as many others’. I do not like it, but I am not going to try and make things sounds better than they are.
Be An Example:
Our children are ALWAYS watching and listening to us, even when we would swear a thousand times that they are not. Do not laugh at the racist jokes that Uncle Joe always tells at family gatherings (they’re not funny anyways) — a simple “that’s really insensitive/racist” and moving to another room will do it. I have found that a simple “excuse you” or “I do not know what you mean” goes a long way with a lot of people for many ignorant and hateful things that come out of their mouths. Comment on or point out sexist (et al) things in the shows and YouTube videos that we and our children consume daily.
Do NOT be afraid to point out differences. We are all so incredibly different (and yet so similar) and that is exactly what makes us all amazing. “That man has very dark skin!” is not something to shush your toddler about — “Yes, he sure does!” is a proper response. “That lady is very large/fat!” — “She is bigger than you, huh!”. “The girl I met on the playground has two mommies; I don’t have two mommies.” — “No, you don’t; our family is made of two daddies/one mommy and one daddy/whatever, because there are lots of different families out there”. And so on. Little kids have no filter or reason (unless given one) to think that pointing out skin colours, genders, body shape/size, family structures, etc., different than their own is wrong or something to be ashamed of.
If you find that you and your children are living in a neighbourhood/city that is predominately one race, religion, whatever, and you feel like exposure to other living beings that do not look like you or do everything similar to you is important, there is an entire world of children’s literature and shows that explore all the differences in people and for most people, at least occasionally, it’s also not too difficult to shop, eat, go to church, visit libraries or parks, and attend public events in neighbourhoods/cities outside of your own.
And remember that you do not know someone else’s story, you can not know it unless they share it with you — assuming you know what is going on is of no benefit to anyone, especially when generalisations creep in. If your children ask you why about some thing/one and you do not know why, it is completely okay to admit that you do not know and, only if appropriate, offer ways to find out the reason(s).
I do not have all the answers, but I know that the principles I live by up above have helped me along way in being a good person, partner, parent, and ally.