My youngest is 19 months old, so it’s time to start talking about race. In our house, we believe that being race explicit is essential to understanding racism and oppression in this world and country. We also believe that colorblindness is harmful and we want them to untangle this problematic worldview in their lives.
Once, my daughter identified herself as “normal” when we were talking about race. Despite our repeated teachings, she is still absorbing the whiteness around her.
So we start young. And keep teaching.
There is a book we have called “Eat!” that was given to my oldest by our first pediatrician. It’s a story about messy eating and shows several baby faces covered in food. I love this book, one because they love it, two because it’s gender expression neutral, and three because it’s a wide array of skin colors.
This baby loves this book, seeing the baby faces, the messy food and meeting the eyes of other kids their age. We read the book and then we point out skin color. “This baby has dark brown skin. This baby has lighter brown skin. Look at your skin, see how it’s different. We call your skin white.”
Being race explicit does something so important for our kids. First, and foremost, it makes us a family who does not pretend race does not exist in this world. It’s a common belief among many white folks that if we just treat people as people, or if we just recognize that we’re all the same underneath, then we can change the world.
We believe that this can probably eventually be true. But right now it cannot. Our society, our internalized beliefs are rooted in skin color and race. Pretending to not see it, or trying to love through it means we are not seeing the racial oppression, or we are trying to love someone as a solution when they are telling us that they are actively being harmed. Not to mention, not seeing a person’s skin color erases their humanity. We are all linked to our ancestors, our cultures, our history. Many white people don’t do this well. And just because some of us don’t feel connection to our ancestors, tend to live ahistorically, and/or fail to identify with many of our ethnic cultures doesn’t mean others should do the same. White supremacy has also impacted white culture, teaching us we are the norm and that others should follow suit, or they are then less deserving. And the policies and practices have been and continue to be put in place ensure things are taken away, restricted, policed, or even manipulated to our benefit all to uphold white supremacy.
So we talk about race in this house because we want our kids to know these details and to name them.
At dinner the other night, we played a game with our oldest. She asked if we could take turns saying things that are real that we wish were not. I went first.
“Capitalism,” I said.
“What’s that?” she asked.
I can’t remember my exact response but it went something like this, “it’s where people make a lot of things to make a lot of money. Where money is important and some people end up having a lot more than others.”
She went next.
“Guns,” she said.
Then my partner, “Poverty.”
We explained this one too.
Next I said, “Racism.”
She didn’t blink and said her next choice. We mentioned climate change, cancer, politics, human trafficking, animal abuse, stealing, the system of police, etc.
We talked about some but she knew many already. We have taught her that the world has big things in it that hurt people, that white people hurt people, that our ancestors hurt people. And we also teach her that we can talk about it and work to make it better.
Next we did a round on what doesn’t currently exist but we wish it did. We got answers like being a kid forever, unicorns, magic, boss baby, captain underpants, etc.
At one point, my partner said “superheroes.”
“Superheroes are real!” she exclaimed.
We exchanged eyes and just let it be. Even though her superheroes might be spiderman or batgirl, she also knows there are real life superheroes too. She knows Harriet Taubman, Martin Luther King Jr, Angela Davis, Dolores Huerta, Frida Kahlo among so many more.
So if you’re also a white parent raising a white kid, talk about race with your kids. Without knowing what it is, how to see it, and it’s impact on the world, they won’t know how to contribute to change, their own growth, a better world for their future. If you talk about race, they’ll believe in racism. And if they believe in racism they’ll also believe in anti-racism. And if your strategic, they just might believe in superheroes.