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How do parents of ethnic minority children teach them about racism and -- most importantly -- how to deal with it?
November 17, 2006 10:14 AM   Subscribe

How do the parents of Black (and biracial and other ethnic minority) children teach them about racism and -- most importantly -- how to handle it?

Lately, I've been thinking about having kids, and how I would raise them if I had them. Good parenting should prepare your children for a world that won’t love them unconditionally, the way that you do. A world that, at times, can be quite harsh and cruel. Parents of children who are Black (or biracial or from other ethnic minority backgrounds) know that one of the cruelties their children can encounter, over and above the typical slings and arrows of childhood and adolescence, is racial prejudice.

So how do their parents prepare them for this unpleasant aspect of our culture? What coping techniques do they teach them? What sorts of attitudes do their parents try to instill in them? I ask because I am white and this is a territory I don’t know well at all. As always, it would be great to hear from people who have first-hand knowledge of this topic.

Many thanks in advance.
posted by jason's_planet to Human Relations (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
My two cents.

I suggest, when they are old enough, to teach them that they are only a minority in the relative sense, i.e., inside the borders of the united states. When viewed globally, these so-called minorities are anything but.

Also, teach them distaste for the types of flawed, conceptual thinking that lead to rascism. Point out the exceptions. Refute the logic of rascism and show how it is ridiculous. Show nothing but reasonable contempt for all examples that you encounter together.

These two things will help make rascism the world's problem, rather than it being something wrong with them.
posted by milarepa at 10:31 AM on November 17, 2006


I'm not black (I am Mexican, but have never experienced racism because of it, gott sei dank), but I would think the best way to prepare children for the real world is to simply allow them to experience it more and more by themselves. It seems to me the best preparation you can do is make sure your child always feels comfortable talking to you about things (that means you're comfortable with it back, even if it's awkward!)

But hell, what do I know, I don't even have kids.
posted by !Jim at 10:40 AM on November 17, 2006


I don't have first-hand knowledge of this topic, but I have worked on some research that looks into it. Of course there isn't a single way that parents handle teaching their kids about racism, but there are several predominant categories of styles that people tend to fall into (these apply only to African American families):

1) Submissive coping style: racism is out there, and there's nothing you can do about it. Be polite and submissive to the white people.

2) Active-avoidance coping style: work extra hard to make up for the racism you will face, be careful of trusting white people, and avoid doing anything that would cause people to hassle you.

3) Contextualized, reality-based agentic coping style: know your own worth, and don't believe any of the racist stereotypes that are applied to you. Rise above the racism, and don't lose your own identity.

4) Self-assertion coping style: actively stand up for yourself and confront people about their racism. Don't let anybody get away with harassing you.

Of course parents might give their children messages from more than one of these categories. By the way, this info comes from an instrument that is used to assess race coping styles. More info, including the actual test form and scoring rules can be found here.
posted by nixxon at 10:41 AM on November 17, 2006 [1 favorite]


I'm biracial (Korean and Black). I don't recall racism ever being discussed in my house. I grew up an army brat and was always exposed to diverse racial backgrounds and cultures.

My parents used to always tell us that we could do anything we set our minds to do and to not let anyone tell us any different. They never really said "your're black...don't let this/that happen..." or whatever.

Reading nixxon's post about race coping styles (my parents teachings being in categories 3 and 4), I guess they were teaching us about handling racism without being explicit about it.
posted by mamaquita at 11:41 AM on November 17, 2006


Nixxon's examples don't apply only to black families (perhaps it was a typo). I am disabled (yes, it's a minority, and yes, there are serious issues of discrimination), and my parents (non-disabled) mostly taught me to go the route of 3 and 4.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 11:45 AM on November 17, 2006


I'm half black and half white (Italian American) and like mamaquita, I never really got a racism talk. I did however get a lot of feminism and "you can be whatever you want to be." Nowadays, I find I am best insulated from racism by my having grown up with white people, my Ivy League degree, my total obliviousness and my massive narcissism. That is, I don't get much of the racism that comes from cultural clash because I have a similar cultural background to most white folks. My shiny degree just adds to that. My obliviousness means I don't recognize when people are trying to be subtly rude and acting like I have a right to be wherever I am also disarms people.
posted by dame at 11:51 AM on November 17, 2006 [2 favorites]


I am the white parent of two Asian children, both in primary school. We have encountered a small amount of racism by other children at school. Kids can be cruel at that age, looking for any difference (race, gender, weight, height, etc.).

My two cents: develop an open dialogue relationship with your children before this happens. Encourage them to discuss problems with you. Our youngest told us older children were making fun of her eyes. We talked about it with her and then dealt with it as any parent would: we talked to the teacher and the principal. By luck, there was a wonderful Asian-American teacher in the next grade and we arranged for our daughter to be in her class. Role models are important and, in our case, this was something we, as parents, couldn't provide.

Racism is an unfortunate fact of life. IMHO, the best way to approach it is to be age-appropriately honest with your children. Protect them when you can. And help them to grow up to be sensitive, fair, and honest adults.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 12:11 PM on November 17, 2006 [1 favorite]


Yeah, spaceman_spiff is right, in that those coping styles don't just apply to African American families. What I should have said is that the research that was used to come up with those categories of coping styles was focused on African American families, so they're not necessarily generalizable to other populations.
posted by nixxon at 12:25 PM on November 17, 2006


As a Mexican, I think nixxon's #3 applies to me. My parents never taught me and my brother about racism. If anything, they gave the lesson that we were equal or better than everyone around us - like two golden children.

This made me an arrogant little snot but I do remember when I got a racist remark (as one of very few mexicans in a very white town) and my own internal response was a bit of confusion and amusement in the sense of "Really? Is that all you got? I'm supposed to feel bad because of the color of my skin? Ha! Ridiculous."

I dont know how widely applicable my case is. In elementary school I was pretty much at the top of the heap in terms of achievement and had lots of friends. Most kids were white (there was maybe a few mexicans, a few asians and ONE black kid who everyone admired) but I had an asian friend I used to play chess with. From my very skewed sample set, white kids seemed to be kind of dumb. :) But that little artificial world I grew up in did a lot to carry me forward through life.
posted by vacapinta at 12:26 PM on November 17, 2006


I'm biracial/triracial, mom is half black half native american, but comes across as black, dad is white. My dad never really brought it up - and I didn't really realize race was an issue until around 9th or 10th grade (which I count as a blessing). My mom always told us that the police were are enemies and claimed certain people were racist, but I never really took it to heart. (even though those both might have been true)
posted by matkline at 1:10 PM on November 17, 2006


I think that at any age, you can talk to children about what they see. Everyone has a desire to be treated fairly. If a child is not treated fairly (for whatever reason, including racism), then you can do what you can as an adult to fix it, and then talk to the child. See what they thought or felt about what just happened. See if they figure it was a good thing or a bad thing. Then discuss a little about how some people have personal problems which keep them from treating others fairly, and which make them do bad things.

Basically, acknowledge and support their right to just treatment and their responsibility to treat others justly. When bad things happen, model a coping strategy which isn't based on negativity.

Don't beat them over the head with this. This part is probably the hardest because racism and other types of discrimination bring out strong emotions. It is necessary to have a strong coping strategy for yourself before you can teach it to anyone else.

I was lucky in that the area in California where I grew up was almost exclusively minority and while racism existed, we were insulated from it by numbers and geography. I remember the first few times I found that I was the only non-white person in a room; that didn't happen until college. But I learned to pass.
posted by halonine at 1:27 PM on November 17, 2006


I think it is important for your child to see you having true friendships with people of different race, if possible have your children be involved in racially mixed play groups at a very young age before they even start to think about race, so that they can begin to understand that we are all just people, some good, some bad but race has nothing to do with it.

Set the right example and keep your children very educated on the different cultures, and the effects of prejudice against race, sex, disability, age, religion, etc, and that all of these should be respected even if they are hard to understand, and your children should grow up ahead of the game.
posted by trishthedish at 4:32 PM on November 17, 2006


I think a bit of common sense goes a long way. You may as well ask, OP, how do parents teach their daughters about the evils of men, or how do parents in developing countries teach their children about the economic inequality inherent in the world, and so on.

In other words, racism, like sexism and poverty, isn't just one group's problem, and you shouldn't have the attitude of some curious outsider looking in, wondering how "those" people deal with it. These are social issues that we all deal with in one form or another, and there isn't one correct way to "teach" children about it.

How did you first learn that not all humans were benevolent? When did you first realize that life is not all pleasant? By reducing the issue of racism to something similar to an isolated disease, you make it seem like something that can be taken care of by administering some booster shots in the form of "lessons."

That said, I think most of the commentors above did give some excellent advice on how to open up these channels and start dialogues with your children. Characterizing racism as a "Black" or "biracial" issue, however, would seem to me to simply exacerbate the problem.
posted by war wrath of wraith at 6:39 PM on November 17, 2006 [1 favorite]


My parents used to always tell us that we could do anything we set our minds to do and to not let anyone tell us any different. They never really said "your're black...don't let this/that happen..." or whatever.

it's not important to teach them about racism, it's important to encourage and support in whatever they want to do. if you provide them with honest information and guidance when appropriate, and focus on the good side of things it will work out.
posted by edtut at 2:07 AM on November 18, 2006


Great responses! I've really learned a lot here. I had this naive image of . . . I don't know, some kind of capital-T Talk, on the level of the birds and bees or something like that. And that appears not to have been the participants' experience. It was very encouraging to read the responses from people whose parents taught them effective coping skills that helped them in all areas of life, particularly this one:

This made me an arrogant little snot but I do remember when I got a racist remark (as one of very few Mexicans in a very white town) and my own internal response was a bit of confusion and amusement in the sense of "Really? Is that all you got? I'm supposed to feel bad because of the color of my skin? Ha! Ridiculous."

And now I'd like to address WWW's criticisms:

I think a bit of common sense goes a long way.

First off, I'm a very uncommon kind of guy. The rules of common sense don't apply to me.

In other words, racism, like sexism and poverty, isn't just one group's problem, and you shouldn't have the attitude of some curious outsider looking in, wondering how "those" people deal with it.

I think the root of your misunderstanding lies in the word "issue." I wasn't really talking about "issues." I was talking about experiences. Because of the way our society is structured, some people are likely to have had different experiences in life than I've had. I'm humble enough to admit that my own experience of life isn't the only game in town and that maybe if I take a moment to listen to people, to see where they've been, to hear what they have to say, I might just learn something.

For the record, I do not think that racism is just a Black "issue." It affects everyone; it's everyone's problem. It's my problem too. But on an experiential level, I am actually an outsider to this. I didn't grow up around non-whites. I wasn't a guest in their homes. And looking back on that (lack of) experience, I wonder, what was it like for them to have grown up in our society? Were there certain topics their parent had to address with them that were more-or-less absent from my childhood, my upbringing?

It was a sincere attempt to learn more, to educate myself. I'm terribly sorry that you chose to take offense.

And thanks to everyone who responded! I really appreciate it!
posted by jason's_planet at 11:11 AM on November 18, 2006


[jason's_planet: email sent to address in profile to avoid threadjack]
posted by war wrath of wraith at 9:50 AM on November 20, 2006


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