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Courage, Dignity and the Parenting of Black Children: Part One

Jomo Mutegi

I was at a luncheon not long ago and there were several African American parents sitting at my table. The discussion moved to a recent racially charged event that had been in the news. After some time, one of the parents asked the group, “How have you all discussed this event with your children?” A few of us shared our approaches for addressing racism with our sons and daughters. What really surprised me, however, was the number of parents who said that they don't talk about racism with their children at all. One of the parents asked me, “Jomo, do you think I should teach my daughter about racism?”

The question reminded me of a proverb that a friend once shared. He said, “A mother rabbit has to teach her baby bunnies about being rabbits. But she also has to teach them about the wolf.” This simple proverb makes the answer very obvious. If we want our children to survive and to thrive in this life, we certainly have to teach them about racism!

Many of the parents who avoided discussing racism with their children gave reasons for their avoidance. But what I learned from that lunchtime conversation was that all of the reasons given, ultimately came down to fear and shame. This blog is about parenting with courage and with dignity. This is the first of four blogs in which I will share four of the specific reasons parents gave as well as a few encouragements. My hope is that parents in the BKR Family will overcome fear and shame to courageously and with proud dignity address the realities of racism. We do not only want our children to survive, we want them to thrive. I will also point out ways that Black Kids Read books and curriculum products can support parents and children in learning to successfully navigate racism in our society.

Reason #1: I do not want to teach my child to hate white people.
In our popular discourse, “hate” gets a bad rap. Hatred is a normal human emotion like love, fear, joy, apprehension, and excitement. All of these emotions serve valuable functions in our survival. Where hatred is concerned, humans typically hate those things that are detrimental (or appear to be detrimental) to us. Conversely, we typically love those things that are beneficial (or that appear to be beneficial). That being said, we cannot teach an emotion. We can (and should) help our children to identify benefits and detriments. Whether or not our children develop an emotional response to those benefits and detriments is out of our hands.

You might also have noticed that as people have less control in a situation, they tend to have stronger emotional reactions. This is especially important for parents who don’t want their children to grow up “hating white people.” One way to position our children not to have strong negative emotions towards whites, is to teach them strategies that will help them to (a) understand and anticipate the behavior of whites, and (b) have a high degree of control over their own lives (and self-determination) where whites are concerned.

The Black Kids Read books and curriculum products are a very useful starting point for teaching these strategies. All of the products include a component aimed at helping children to think about the challenges facing Black communities as well as ways that they can exert maximum control over their own lives. One example can be found in the series, Kayla’s First Chickens. In this series the main character, Kayla, learns that she can actually raise and process chickens for herself. Children reading this series should be encouraged to consider ways that they (like Kayla) can control their lives even in the face of challenges that they may face. Each book also provides parents discussion questions that push children to think more deeply. Learn more about this series at the Black Kids Read website. As you begin to have these discussions with your children, write back and let me know how things go.

And as always... Have Fun!

Jomo W. Mutegi, Ph.D. is the founder of Black Kids Read, an author of science-related children’s books, and Associate Professor of Science Education at the Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis. He is also Principal Investigator of the (ES)2 STEM Learning Lab. To learn more about Black Kids Read, visit www.BlackKidsRead.net. To learn more about Dr. Mutegi’s research, visit www.ES2RP.org.

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