Like many parents, I look at the wide world around my kids and do my best to prepare them for life. We talk about working hard, being kind and responsible, Internet safety, stranger danger, and the (gulp) birds and the bees.
But what about a topic such as race? Race is also a subject that needs to be discussed. Absolutely.
My northern Wisconsin hometown did not provide much in the way of diversity, but I grew up with a knowledge of the problem of racism and considered myself to be an unbiased person. For years I assumed that this was enough. Then I went away to college.
When I first moved to Madison for school, I was in awe of the diversity I found. I finally felt I was part of a larger world. I loved finding my classes filled with the opinions of so many different people, and I thought I was finally experiencing what people referred to as the "melting pot." That is, until I really started to listen.
When topics of race came out in my social work classes, many students expressed their disappointment that the campus was not at all diverse and that they experienced racism in every aspect of their daily lives. It's tough to admit, but at the time, this honestly surprised me -- just as years later I was surprised to discover that putting my kids in a diverse public school would not automatically set them up to become racially unbiased.
Several years ago I picked up NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, and was intrigued to find an entire chapter dedicated to why parents don't talk to their children about race. Like me, the authors had assumed that by surrounding their children with diversity, their kids were absorbing all they needed to know about racial equality. The light bulb finally went off. I knew I had to do more.
I wish this is where I could tell you that I have found all the answers, along with a road map to this discussion, but like most parenting issues, talking to kids about race does not come with a set of instructions, nor will it be something you can wash your hands of after one talk.
What I do know is that as a white parent with a white family, I have an obligation to talk to my kids about race. Here's how I took the first steps.
Families for Justice is a Dane County resource for white families who are committed to discussing and taking action against racial injustice. The organization offers a list of readings and a blog. These are particularity helpful when you're still working on widening your personal knowledge on racial issues. A good ice-breaker for families is to attend a Just Family Time event. Here, parents can discuss issues while children learn about race and unfairness through age-appropriate activities.
If you have discussed race with your children, or have any insight into the issue, I would love to hear more. My journey is just beginning, but I'm so happy I started.