“Mommy, I’m brown!” my son proclaimed out-of-the-blue. I was shocked that he, at 3-years-old, noticed skin color; we never talked about skin color or race in our home. I was also concerned by the look on his face that he thought being “brown” was a negative thing. I explained, “Yes, you are brown and so is Mommy, Daddy, and even the President. Look at how pretty your skin is, it’s such a pretty brown– it matches Mommy.”
I didn’t understand racism until 10, when I entered an all-white school in my neighborhood. Before that, my mother drove me across town to attend a fairly-mixed school near her work. But at 10, being Black became very apparent to me. I was one of maybe three Black students in the entire school. Most of the children I encountered weren’t racist, but many of their parents and members of the community were. I remember two of my schoolmates being called “nigger-lovers” by a grown, white man as we walked home from school. This is just one of many racist incidents I had to endure as a child.
Needless to say, I grew up with a chip-on-my-shoulder. My experience taught me that most whites weren’t racist, but the ones who were had the power to make me miserable. It balled my self-esteem, and made me feel out of place. Even still I held onto my pride. I never wanted to be anything other than Black, I just secretly wished certain attributes like my hair were more similar so I could fit in.
I don’t want my son to have the same experiences. My first instinct is to warn him, but would this prepare him for something he might not experience at all? The world is forever changing. My experiences aren’t the same as my parents or grandparents, I’m sure I’ve experienced a lot less crap than they have. And it is my suspicion that my son will have it even easier than I did. So how do I teach my son about racism without making him fearful and suspicious of every white person he encounters?
5 Steps to Teach Kids About Racism
1) Teach him about his people.
No matter how worthless racist people tried to make me feel, I remembered that I came from great people. I came from people who invented open-heart surgery, the traffic light, and even peanut butter. I came from people that survived arduous-treks across the Atlantic and endured unreasonable hardship. I came from people who sang better, danced better, ran faster, boxed harder, and jumped higher than anyone else on the planet. And no one could make me feel bad about being from such greatness.
2) Teach him about other people.
Not only were my people great, so were the Chinese, the Egyptians, the Italians, the English, etc.– we’ve all contributed great things to the planet.
3) Teach him about himself.
It is important to believe that your features– your hair, skin, nose, etc.– are attractive. Those “ethnic” features are what make you beautiful.
4) Teach him empathy.
Feel sorry for others that are intimidated by your greatness. They only sling hate in an effort to keep you from your potential. It is important not to hate them back, but to understand the great burden they must bare– carrying hate around all day must weigh a ton! I analogize racism to being angry because in fact that’s what it is. It’s like when you’re so mad, you can’t think of anything else. Your anger consumes every thought, emotion, and action, until finally you get over the anger and move on. Racist people never get over the anger and move on, they spend every day consumed with feelings of frustration, resentment, fear, inadequacy and anger. How horrible their life must be!
5) Give him the power.
Once I knew that no one could impede my momentum because I had inherited power, an ugly word or action couldn’t hurt me. One way to make your children feel powerful is to simply tell them that they are.
That’s it. If you teach your child about the greatness in herself and others, she will have all the tools necessary to combat racism.