Welcome to Black Kids Read Bookstore
Cart 0

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

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 a rabbit. 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!

“Should we talk to our children about Racism?” If we love them, we will!

I believe there are two core reasons that we as Black parents avoid teaching our children about racism: fear and shame. People do not typically admit to being fearful or ashamed. There are four other reasons often given for not dealing with racism. As we strive to parent with courage and dignity, we should be aware of these four reasons, and find better reasons to face our fears. I addressed the first reason in a previous blog: I do not want to teach my child to hate white people. This week I will exam the second reason.

Reason #2: I hope that things will change.
I had a doctoral student who spent a number of years working as an engineer for a government agency. One day over lunch, I asked her why she left her engineering career to pursue a doctoral degree. She explained that the racism she faced every day on her job was unbearable. As she shared some of the incidents of racism, she also pointed out that her father had worked in that same department for most of her life. She could not understand why he had not prepared her for the type of racism she would face as an adult. When asked about this, her father replied, “I had hoped things would change by the time you were an adult.”

Hearing this we both shook our heads and agreed that, hope is not a strategy. I don’t need to recount the history of Africans suffering at the hands of whites. I will say however, that it has lasted for at least 500 years. We are not going to wish it away in the 10 to 20 years, while our children transition from childhood to adulthood. More important than that, racism does not have to be eliminated in order for our children to thrive. But our children do need to develop strategies for navigating racism in institutions in order to thrive.

We can all help our children to navigate these institutions. Here’s how. First, be honest about the prevalence of racism. Don’t paint the world full of rainbows and unicorns. They will not believe you and you will lose credibility. Our children watch television. They listen to music. They go to school every day, and they watch us. They are very aware of racial bias and disparity. We can help them to recognize racism in specific acts and practices. We can help them to make sense of their experiences with racism. We can even teach them how to respond to racist assault. The one thing we cannot do is pretend that it does not exist.

Second, share your strategies for dealing with racism. Be honest about those strategies that worked and those that have not worked. Stories are powerful and memorable tools for teaching. Your “war stories” will be very useful points of reference for your children. They will encounter similar people and similar situations. Your stories will help them to avoid a good number of pitfalls.

Third, model the process of fighting racism by doing it with them. As your children are growing, they will have conflict some of which will be race-based conflict. You too will have conflict. It might be in a school, in the community, in a store or a restaurant. If it is safe and reasonable, have your children standing by your side when you address it. Children will learn a great deal by watching us. They will develop a sense of when to be the nice guy, when to raise their voice, when to go over someone’s head, when to call folks out, and when to use allies. Let them see your complete toolkit, and when the time is right, explain to them what you are doing (or what you did) and why.

I know the feeling of helplessness that confronts us. Sometimes it feels as though the weight of a whole society is against us. In those times it is easy to feel defeated. It is easy to rely on hope. But we are not a helpless people. Our whole history is a history of overcoming tremendous odds… and winning. We need to immerse ourselves in stories of victory, both real and imagined!

The Black Kids Read books and curriculum products are a very useful in this respect. Many of our stories feature Black families working together to address problems in Black communities. One example can be found in the series, Rebekah’s Healing Garden. In this series the main character, Rebekah, learns that she lives in a food desert. So, she works with her parents and grandparents to start a garden in order to provide fresh produce for the neighborhood. This is a simple story. It helps our children see that they too can identify and solve problems facing our community. You will love this resource! Learn more about this series at the Black Kids Read website.

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.

Older Post Newer Post

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published