It's as clear as gray: How to teach your children about racism
December 05, 2015 at 2:00 am
How do you accurately teach your children about racism?
Should Can you? Sorry if this hits a sore spot for some but it's the unfortunate reality in many all black American households. Whether we want to admit it or not, race bubbles under at the surface of education, government, politics, sports, entertainment and, as of late, any other subset of everyday life. The issue of skin color could no more easily be removed from Cam Newton’s “dabbing” in the end zone and the open letter response it spurred from a mom to the Charlotte Observer than it could be from the over 365 days that have passed without a formal charge being brought against officer Timothy Loehmann for the death of 12-year-old Tamar Rice.
Race is the bone and invisible spine that runs through the arm of each instance telling us that a different skin tone would have yielded a different outcome.
We are just too bombarded on a day-to-day basis to pretend to “plead the 5th” on its effects; you can’t deny it. You aren't allowed to. You can only acknowledge the varying degrees of its impact you’ve been witness to. If you're reading this and saying, “I don’t see race at all,” I'm talking specifically to you and I ask: how do you teach YOUR children about this? I would like to take this time to make a clear distinction: if you don’t teach your children ABOUT racism you allow someone to teach it TO them. I am sure a few people have a plan of active ignorance as the best policy to combat the ideology so ingrained into our society. If it isn’t a problem in their household, it doesn’t affect them.
But it does.
You are always teaching, whether you know it or not. Your children are always watching what you say or do and how you interact with other people. So while you might not believe you have implicitly told your son or daughter about different races, you have. Your children will pick up on the queues you give them as well as the ones that society bombards them with, so your goal as a parent is to create stronger queues to follow.
One of my biggest challenges as a black father is knowing just how ugly the world is and the ultimate power it takes to shield my children from it. There is a delicate balance of knowledge and guilt in knowing it could be more damaging by letting them not see the ugliness. I often wonder if Sasha and Malia’s father grapples with this issue knowing how strong his shield can be. As a single father of twin African-American girls, I have adopted the philosophy that “it takes a village.” I dont have a last name attached to the highest job in the land. I need the help of a collection of people in order to produce the environment I think my girls deserve to develop to their highest potential, I can’t do it alone.
[Warning: this is disturbing] Check out this video.
Now besides the woman’s vile and ignorant rant, there was an even more repulsive act transpiring in the background; the education of her children on how to interact with a person of color. Forever etched into their minds will be their mother calling this black man a n*****. She validated screaming profanities as a conducive way to display her dislike for — according to the video — starting his car. The lessons learned are how to convey anger when you are upset and how to do it when the object of that anger is a person of color. I can’t imagine this being the first time those children have seen their mother upset but by their quiet demeanor I would guess that even THEY knew it was embarrassing and “not quite right.”
You might be saying this is an extreme case, but I ask you – is it really? How many times have you been so mad and pissed off that you spewed hatred toward another human being simply because you felt they deserved it regardless of the fact it was in the presence of your children? And I understand that no one is perfect. Policing yourself 24/7 around your children comes with the territory of being a caregiver, plus they have to learn at some point how evil the world is, no?
Let's play devil’s advocate for a moment and say this was an isolated case, one that doesn’t happen regularly. If this is true where does racism exist in the day-to-day teachable form that our kids observe and absorb? The media? Are movies, television and popular music that often glorify a negative image of African Americans to blame for surviving negative stereotypes? Or are there more direct causes?
Rashid Polo made some pretty hilarious videos of him being followed around in different stores by employees. Coincidence? Maybe but, after the third video its very hard to deny a pattern. Some might see this as a young kid trying to sensationalize moments for internet fame, but I doubt there were too many black men who saw this video and did not give a nod of approval at its validity.
I am not sure what transracial means but apparently it's Rachel Dolezal’s explanation for pretending to be African American for several years as president of a chapter of the NAACP, despite growing up with two Caucasian parents in Montana. The dynamics and narrative to this story still baffle me quite frankly. Rachel Dolezal sent herself false death threats from white supremacists. I guess that validated her experience as an African-American woman? You can identify with the African American culture without being African American. Generations of authentic African American men and woman actually died in order for Ms. Dolezal to do just that. This makes a mockery of that very fact in my opinion. Even Rachel Dolezal knew that what she was perpetrating wasn’t right. You can watch her reaction for yourself when she is questioned about her ethnicity. The picture was worth 2000 words.
On the other end of the spectrum is McKinney, Texas, where a police officer was recorded waving his gun at black teenagers at a pool party. Apparently a Caucasian resident called law enforcement when too many teenagers showed up. There were both white and black young people there but, only one group that was targeted by Texas officers. Can you guess which group? No? Here is the video.
As the father of girls I can’t accurately describe what my reaction would have been if my daughter had been handled that way by a police officer. On one hand I would have been relieved my daughter and none of her friends were killed while on the other I would have been infuriated that she had been subjected to sub-human treatment. The interaction between police and the African-American community is a completely different topic that this essay could not begin to address even a small infraction of. I could have cited 20 other examples of blatant racist interactions between these two groups but it becomes exhausting. We could talk for days about Freddie Gray, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Walter Scott or the many other black men who have lost their lives in the past few years.
Lastly, I saw a this video of a young boy expressing his frustrations with president Obama and the African Americans he has come in contact with thus far in his maybe 8 or 9 years on the planet. Someone is recording this video [probably an adult] whom you can hear in the background snickering. These views weren’t learned through osmosis but came from somewhere, most likely from home.
And I get it, for some they just don’t understand what the problem is because it isn’t one they have had to deal with all their lives. They don’t get all the “complaints” and “protests” every other week over things as simple as listening to an officer when he tells you to stop moving or appreciating the opportunity to play football for a division 1 football program like Missouri. They have the privilege of seeing something without having to understand it.
So…as a father I have to explain what and why transracial is. I have to train my daughter on what she should do and how she is to conduct herself in the presence of a police officer. I have to explain why they should keep receipts whenever purchasing something inside a department or convenience store. I have to coach on what to say if a classmate who thinks all black people smell like sh** is sitting in Algebra class. I have to figure out a rational way to explain why Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times in Chicago. So how do I do this?
Sorry for the anti-climactic gut punch but as an African-American father I have not found an accurate way to keep up with the different attacks to skin color my children may endure. As I patch up one hole another emerges that requires attention to fill but expertise to recognize. As if becoming a “woman,” dealing with the opposite sex and pimples weren’t enough. What is a single father to do? Nothing?
No. Not nothing. Not alone.
If you are reading this then welcome, you have just joined my collective village. As I said, creating that environment for reaching highest potential will take more super powers than I possess alone. I will give you the strategy that has been serving me thus far and the only one I can come up with to combat a systemic plague against people of color: I would like you to be yourself. Simple, right? Which means it probably isn’t. The only accurate way I have found to teach your children about certain difficulties in life is by example. Are all white people racist? No. Does every police officer you met see you equally? No. I have to teach this by how I INTERACT with people who are different than I am. How I INTERACT with police officers. What do I say about people of different races? What do I TEACH? If I have racist thoughts am I working on them? Am I pushing myself and my boundaries to include others who don’t look like me? Do I encourage my daughters to have MANY friends of different nationalities?
I do my daughters a disservice if I don’t tell them about police brutality, the marred history of the black experience in America, about keeping receipts and dealing with the burden of educating ignorant people they might come in contact with. I also do them a disservice if I only tell them to play or interact with people who look like them because it makes ME feel comfortable. Difficult as it may be, the highest form of care for yourself and parenting your child is by leading them toward the barriers of their comfort zone. Even that still might not be enough, but it's a start. The only complete way I have found to teach my children is to grow myself.
Samuel K. Rhind is a creative writer and single dad who believes the sum of the parts is more powerful than individual pieces. A graduate of Syracuse University he worked in the financial industry for several years doing technology before realizing it was too blood sucking. He decided to write as a release and found a genuine passion. He hopes to pen his first novel in the next year and is actively trying to finish a screenplay. He is on the editorial staff of THRONE.xyz and is also a loving father who puts his daughters at the center of everything he does and is. You can check out more of his thoughts here: athleteandadiva.com