As an African-American parent of a 21-year-old son and a 6-month-old daughter, I've had the opportunity to reflect for over 20 years on the special issues of being a parent of color. In the past two decades, many positive changes in race relations have occurred in America, but conditions have not yet improved to the extent that we can feel comfortable that the effects of white racism are irrelevant.
Being a parent of color, I cannot raise my daughter-any more than I could raise my son 21 years ago -- by assuming that our society will be color-blind and judge her solely by the content of her character. On the other hand, many opportunities exist for minorities today in schools and in the work place when diversity is valued.
Parents of color, as well as white parents, must raise their children by exposing them early on to the reality of our multiracial society in which the future generation will play an important role. Children of color need to grow up experiencing the world as a place where they feel included, not invisible. As a parent, you can nurture your child's healthy development in the following ways:
- Expose your child to dolls, toy figures, storybooks, and music that reflect diversity.
- Choose TV programs and movies that feature people who share your child's ethnicity.
- Talk about the civil rights movement, wars, and our present struggles so children of color can appreciate that we strive to live in an open and just society.
- Teach kids about your ethnic history, including contributions to the sciences, arts, music, business, and sports. It's important that your children have ethnic pride and respect for their own cultural background.
- Don't encourage ethnic chauvinism because it will instill in your children feelings of superiority over children from other groups.
- Teach your kids to respect themselves while honoring the differences in other cultures.
Parents of color must maintain an upbeat approach when talking to kids about race. Although racial discrimination still exists, don't paint the world as a scary place for your child. It's better for him to assume, at first, that the world will treat him fairly -- so that you don't inadvertently inhibit him.
When questions of difference of skin color and hair texture arise-usually when kids are about four or five years old-simple answers are adequate: The world is made up of many different kinds of wonderful people who help to make life more fun and exciting." Later on your child will have more sophisticated questions to ask about differences. Your answers should instill a philosophy based on democratic principles, with a "we are all brothers and sisters under the skin" outlook.
On some occasions, children of color (and white children, too) may be verbally attacked with racial slurs or insults. If that occurs:
- Quickly reassure your child that he or she is just fine and that the person using such a slur has a terrible problem.
- Follow up, if necessary. You may need to talk to the offender's parents.
- Encourage your child's school to have multicultural activities and positive discussions about differences.