Learning to Address Racism as a New Parent
February is the official month to celebrate Black History. As the founder of Curious Baby, I want to take a moment to start a conversation with our readers because it's important for our company and it matters for us to join in this public discussion.
This month is intended to celebrate the achievements of great Black men and women, to better understand how racism plays a part in our history and lives, and what we can do about it. But it’s a challenging topic for me to write about.
Not because I am a white mother and don't know what it is like first-hand to grow up Black in this country (or to raise a young Black child), although that's undoubtedly true, but also because there are so many layers to unpack.
But if there’s one thing that I’ve learned, it's that hard things are hard for a reason: because they matter. So I’m not going to let this moment pass. I have an opportunity to participate in the conversation and share some of what I've learned with other parents to help seed change and bring awareness to a topic that carries so much weight.
While I'm far from knowing the right thing to say, I do know that my best effort is greater than no effort. In this post, I'll break down what I’ve learned as a white parent who is committed to raising race-conscious children. And my hope is that these tips help enable you to do the same with your children or future children.
THE SHIFT OF RESPONSIBILITY
Before you become a parent, you’ve likely gone through multiple stages of life. Stumbling through your childhood and teens searching for your identity, rebelling against your parents, or pushing the boundaries of the world around you to see what happens. It’s all part of growing up, but all of that changes when you become a parent.
The responsibility shifts. Life is no longer about you. Your actions now affect more than just the people you touch. Your children are growing up and they will enter the world and impact many more people than you ever did. Bringing with them the things that you’ve taught them, and the values you’ve instilled in them.
Before you try and figure out how to teach others about racism, it's important to take reflection on yourself to make sure your behavior and actions reflect the views that you want to teach your children.
"Really what children pay attention to is adult behavior,” says Dr. White. “You can talk incessantly with your child, but if you behave in ways that demonstrate you are fearful of people of color, fearful of Black people, or if your children are growing up in an all White neighborhood and you don’t expose them to people of color — children do notice that. They notice your body language. And they listen to what’s being said around them.” (Read More)
It’s your responsibility to lead by example to help them grow up with a healthy understanding how we’re all different, how that’s okay, and how we should treat others.
Specifically, we can start by introducing our babies to positive influences in their lives. Buy them a black baby doll to play with, watch TV shows that feature Black primary characters (We love Doc McStuffins on Hulu), and most important of all, help your non-Black children make Black friends!
This will enable them to grow up with a more diverse perspective on the world and they will be less inclined to associate diversity with fear.
DIVERSITY DOESN’T MEAN COLORBLIND
Growing up, my parents taught me that you shouldn’t judge another person based on their appearance. This was largely based on our Catholic upbringing, and didn't often touch on the concept of race. Looking back now, I think my parents may have been fearful of perpetuating incorrect stereotypes or perhaps they just weren’t sure what to say. But the things I learned growing up around race were more focused on the fact that racism shouldn’t matter, which I've found is all too common in white families.
"While white parents’ intention is to convey to their children the belief that race shouldn’t matter, the message their children receive is that race, in fact, doesn’t matter. The intent and aim are noble, but in order for race not to matter in the long run, we have to acknowledge that, currently, it does matter a great deal. If white parents want their children to contribute to...a “racially just America”... their children will need to learn awareness and skills that they cannot acquire through silence and omission." (Read More)
In a great article from PBS entitled “How to Talk Honestly With Children About Racism”, the author shares that a key part of helping educate our children on race and changing the bias that exists is to acknowledge them.
Acknowledging difference is a key part of raising awareness and making sure people feel seen and that their backgrounds and lived experiences are valued,” Nzoma says. (Read More)
Some parents think that inclusivity means teaching their children to be 'colorblind' so that their children will grow up without any racial bias and treat everyone equally. But in our current world, this doesn't exist.
If we keep believing this to be true, our children will end up growing up without the tools and understanding on how to process racism and will struggle in how they process and react to what they see in the world.
IT'S NEVER TOO EARLY TO START
Some new parents may think that this is a topic for parents of toddlers or preschool-age children. You may be surprised to learn that it’s not too early to start having these conversations. Start by talking with your spouse or partner to get on the same page with the behavior that your child will observe.
Your children are aware and watching you, even from the very first year of life. Researchers have said that babies as young as 6 months can distinguish skin color and facial features among ethnic groups.
"In these early years, your task is to lay positive groundwork, addressing hate by cultivating its opposite—compassion and tolerance. Luckily, your child has a head start: an innocent indifference to what sets people apart." (Read More)
As a new parent or soon to be parent, you don't need to inherit the way you were brought up. The responsibility of becoming a parent and starting your own family comes with the power to form your own opinions and beliefs on how you will raise your children. Foster a set of ethics in your family that values racial awareness, empathy, and a greater understanding of how our differences shape us.
And it’s never too early to educate yourself on how you will approach the topic as a parent. Being prepared and knowing how you’ll respond if an opportunity presents itself is the best way to make sure you’re putting your best foot forward. And you may be surprised at how early the topic may come up.
“When your 3-year-old points and asks at the grocery store, “Why is he black?” Don’t hush or ignore him. Instead help him. Reframe the question, “Yes, he is black. Do you want to go say hello and ask him what his name is?” (Read More)
If you’re looking for more resources and education around children and racism, we recommend taking some time to read through these curated posts.
- Raising Race-Conscious Children (Michigan Health)
- What White Children Need to Know About Race (Ali Michael and Eleonora Bartoli)
Why I Teach My 2-Year Old About Race (Washington Post)
LIFTING UP BLACK WOMEN AND BLACK MOTHERS
As a white mom, I know that I've grown up with privilege. My family and my kids haven't faced the same types of challenges and judgment that my Black peers have. It’s a fact, it’s not a matter up for debate. And because of that, I know that I’ve had greater access to education, business connections, and job opportunities. It’s not fair, it’s not right, but instead of focusing on the inequity of it, I’m choosing to do something to help correct it.
Black History Month may be over after February, but it shouldn’t be something we celebrate for only a month.
Learning, discussing, and truly listening to Black women’s stories is how we learn, how we empathize, and how we become better parents and role models to our children.
When we tell each other's stories and listen to them carefully, we acknowledge each other, and we build up our respect for others.
So, we’re going to be celebrating a few inspirational black women and mothers throughout February and March (and the rest of the year, too!).
I hope you’ll enjoy the stories that we’ll share, and join me in supporting their black-women owned businesses with great products for children and powerful ideas to thrive on.
Coming in the next few weeks: Conversations with Inspiring Black Women
Meet Debra from Little Muffin Cakes
Debra is the founder of a unique baby brand, Little Muffin Cakes, that creates character-based clothing, blankets, bibs, apparel, wrapping paper, and more. Her items feature relatable imagery that celebrates the diverse beauty in children and helps promote high self-esteem in children of color from birth. We'll be sharing her story on the blog soon, but until then visit her shop to purchase her precious baby clothing & bibs! Shop Little Muffin Cakes
Meet Nashville Dr. Iwelu OB/GYN
As a member of our medical advisory team and one of our best friends, Dr. Iwelu has been an inspiration to us for years. We can't wait to share her story of working as an OB/GYN throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and why she risks her life each day for so many mothers out there. We're so thankful for Chibbi and all of the front-line workers across the world, and we're grateful to be able to tell her story to the parents in our community. Dr. Iwelu's story is coming to our blog soon. Donate to Front-Line Worker Relief
Meet Shanell from Two Lights Academy
Meet Nickey from Junobie Bags!
If you're a breastfeeding mom, you need to check out Nickey's reusable eco-friendly breastmilk storage bags! We'll be sharing her story soon to learn how she's become the incredible mom-a-preneur she is today. Shop Junobie Bags