May 29, 2020

Think you can’t teach your kids about race because they’re too little? Think again.

There’s a lot going on these days, isn’t there? Turns out, it’s been going on for quite some time, but now it’s being filmed. People are mad. People are irate. People are heartbroken and people are disgusted. The truth is, if you aren’t feeling any of those feelings, too? You’re part of the problem.

I’m a white mom, married to a white man raising four white girls in the south. Our home is full of talk about race because we have teen girls. It’s also full of talk about race because we have a four-year-old. It’s never too early to start.

Maybe you, like me, are a stay at home mom. JUST a stay at home mom, as many people would say. It could be that you’re thinking there’s nothing you can do to change things because you’re just a mom to really small kids. But guess what? You’re one of the most important ones. Studies show that racial prejudices are developed before age 3 when absolutely nothing is said or done or taught by parents. AGE THREE. Why wouldn’t you want to take matters into your own hands? Why wouldn’t you teach your child about race instead of ignoring it completely?

And I’m not talking about the “We don’t see color” mumbo jumbo mess.

I’m talking about RACE.

It could be that you believe talking about race will make it all too real. So, in that case, you ignore it altogether and just be “good people” towards other races. Well, guess what? Race is REAL and just being “good people” doesn’t teach children to be racially unbiased. It actually does the opposite. Not talking about it gives your child the impression that although the subject is important, it’s just too taboo to discuss. This does more harm than good. Don’t NOT talk about race. And don’t say “we don’t see color”. That’s a pile of poop right there because we ALL see it. It’s what makes my friend, Nevada…Nevada. It’s HER. I see her color and I see HER.

As a stay at home parent to little people, you are vital in teaching and showing your children that diversity is valued so that they are better able to detect racial discrimination. Teaching kids to be “color-blind” is useless. We do see color and we should embrace it.

So let’s get down to it. What can YOU do as a stay at home mom to change things in the world?

1. Watch TV shows and movies that include blacks as the main character/protagonist. None of this ‘supporting role’ mess either. We want MAIN CHARACTERS of color. Some that we love in our house are: Spiderman Into the SpiderVerse, MoTown Magic on Netflix, Doc McStuffins, Esme and Roy, and Blaze and the Monster Machine. Let’s also not forget Disney’s The Princess and the Frog. Don’t just watch these shows, but discuss the characters with your little one. “Wasn’t that amazing that he did that?” and “Look how he solved that problem! How cool!”.

2. Read books with African Americans as the main characters. My daughter loves Princess Cupcake Jones and I Got the Rhythm. We’ve also read Please, Puppy, Please and The Last House on Market Street more times than I can count lately. Ada Twist, Scientist is also a favorite as is When God Made You. Reading books seems like such a simple thing you can do, but it makes a tremendous impact on your little ones.

3. Buy black baby dolls and Barbies and the Black Panther toy. When you’re in the toy aisle, you’re likely going to see mostly white baby dolls and Barbies, but don’t discourage your child from choosing the brown babies. In fact, if funds allow it, I’ll pick up the diverse toys in addition to whatever she’s chosen. Later, at home, I make sure she hears me say how beautiful the African American mermaid doll is and what a great job she’s does caring for her.

4. Don’t ignore race in public. Children use adults as reference points and they learn by our actions; whether we realize it or not. If a child points out a black person while shopping in Target saying “their skin is too dirty or too dark” (kids do say the darndest things), don’t shush the child or say something like “that’s not nice”. Instead, point out the fact that just like everyone has different hair color, everyone has a different skin color, too. Skin is different even within our own families. See how mommy’s skin is lighter with lots of freckles, but daddy’s arms are browner? Don’t react to your child’s public comment about a person’s skin color as something that is embarrassing for them to notice. What’s embarrassing about that? Telling them to be quiet or dismissing their comment by saying “we don’t say that!” is the opposite of what you should say at that moment.

5. Parents should have a diverse group of friends. If we tell our kids that we shouldn’t judge people because of race, yet we only talk to white people, how far will that get us? Not far at all. As parents, we are their first teachers and our actions will speak far louder than our words. Showing them that a diverse group of friends is important is much more effective than the “do as I say not as I do” mentality. Isn’t it always?

What we as white stay at home parents need to realize is that talking about race, reading books with blacks as the main characters and watching movies with African American protagonists is very important; however, making sure your child gets to know other races is just as vital. Seek out schools that are diverse and make sure your child is on sports teams that are racially mixed.

If you think you can’t change the state of this world because you’re just a white stay at home mom to little ones, think again. The choices we, as parents, make inside our homes shape the world that our children see. Do we want to limit them to see only people who are “like us”? Or do we want to help them embrace the beautiful diversity that’s all around us? Teaching them to love, respect, and most importantly, speak out against racial injustice.

I can only hope that we are all choosing the latter. Let’s take care of each other and let’s teach our kids to do the same.

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