Tuesday, September 13, 2011

How Not To Talk To Children About Color

Note: an accurate transcript is available on the video itself.

The following is the reason the father posted this video:
So my 3 year old daughter asked me why some of her barbie dolls were black and some were white. Jokingly, I replied that all little girls turn black on their 4th birthday (as her birthday was roughly a week away) and the reaction was worth recording……
First, let me start off by saying that I don't believe that the child was being racist when she cried about not wanting to be Black.  She is three years old and at that age, children are only just starting to piece together that difference might potentially mean something.  At the end of the video, he laughs and calls her his racist daughter, but if anyone was being racist and irresponsible in that video it was the father.

I get asked quite a bit how I manage to talk about social justice issues with my children and the answer is quite simple really - I jump on opportunities just like that father had in the video.  He could have told her that people come in all different colors and that all colors are beautiful.  He could have used this opportunity to lay the ground work for future conversations that would have taught her about racial discrimination and the White privilege that she was born with, but instead he chose to tease her and laugh as she asserted repeatedly that she does not want to be Black. I shudder to think that this is his version of enlightened parenting.

Being a parent is tough and in many cases an isolating job.  There are endless sleepless nights and constant second guessing of your actions.  As hard as I try, I know without doubt that at times I have not been as patient as I should be, and I have not taken all the opportunities given to me to talk to my children about the isms.  I only have faith because I know that parenting is an ongoing job and if at the age of ( well let's just say my age), I have not decolonized my mind, I cannot hope that my children who are still new to society will know enough to always recognize something problematic when they see it.

The biggest challenge in being a socially aware parent is attempting not to teach your children to discriminate.  In a thousand different ways, I know that I have acted on my cis/het/class/western privilege in ways that sustain my privilege in front of my children.  I don't actively have to say a slur, for my kids to pick up the message that I support various isms. No matter how aware any parent is, they have done the exact same thing.  This is why it is imperative to be conscience of what messages we are sending, if we do not want to confirm that oppression is good and naturally occurring to our kids.

There are some messages that will take years for kids to understand.  One of the issues that we are trying actively talk to our children about is class.  Right now they are very resistant to eating leftovers and believe that throwing out food should not be a problem.  Each time I tell them that dinner is a leftover they begin to whine.  I have tried repeatedly to point out that this is an expression of their class privilege.  They know that their father and I have always been able to provide a variety of food for them and think that this situation means that we should simply throw away what we are not able to eat in one sitting.  I have tried various approaches and still I cannot get them to see that there are people who struggle to eat.  This does not mean that I will give up.  It means that I will search for other ways to teach them.  They don't understand the politics of food and it is my job as their parent to help them to understand.

It is fine to make a game out of teaching children social justice issues because they often learn from play, but you don't make a joke of the issue itself.  When I talk to my kids about the politics of food, I don't minimize how important this issue is, because I know that understanding class and how it impacts the world is a valuable lesson.  Just as I take conversations about class seriously, that father should have taken is daughter's question seriously.  It is never to early to start talking to children about social justice issues.

When we make a joke of the issue itself we teach our children that they need not think deeply about it or how it will impact their lives.  Critical thinking is a skill that must develop slowly over time,  and responding to questions in a manner that evidences that you don't take the question seriously show a disrespect of both your child and the itself and it does not encourage them to continue to investigate the world around them. Opportunities to talk critically with your children may be plentiful but that does not mean that each occurrence is not absolute imperative to forming impressionable minds.