Talking Race As The White Parent

As the white parent in an interracial relationship, my experience with talking about race is very different from other parents of white children. I attended an event a few nights ago titled “Raising Race-Conscious Children” (more info at raceconscious.org), and the underlying discussion was to bring up race before it is brought up by the child. This can normalize the fact that people are different skin colors. For example, when reading a book, look at the different races of people in the book and point it out. Studies show that kids begin to see race as early as 6 months and begin to react at a couple of years and by the time they’re 5 or 6 are beginning to act in accordance with the beliefs but they’ve picked up. What I find so fascinating is that as a parent of a multiracial child, there’s no question that race will come up. He’s only one and a half years old and it already has come up a number of times. But for parents of white children, it takes an effort to raise the topic of race and to bring up a child who is aware of race.
I’m in a place of privilege that I don’t feel the stigma of raising a child who is a different race (even though he is) because our skin tones and eye colors are very similar. But I see the looks when my wife is with us.

There is no rule book for raising a race-conscious child, but the experience with race is different if you’re non-white. The most important thing that the webinar really showed is that race is a messy subject. But it doesn’t mean parents should shy away from the topic. As white people, we have to be aware of our own privilege, biases and racism before we can begin to ask (or demand) the same of our children.
I got up in front of our congregation at Yom Kippur and discussed feeling like the Israelites standing on the precipice of the Promised Land in terms of dealing with race in this country. I have to make the conscious decision to face race and racism head on. I was surprised at how many people were impressed that I outed my own racism, even as I spoke about my interracial family. That just seemed natural to me. If I’m supposed to take a jump to the other side and to be anti-racist, I have to recognize my own racism.
A webinar is hard and impersonal in general, but this was especially tough because we were expected to discuss how we would talk about race with our kids before even tackling the subject ourselves. I’m lucky to have race be something I am faced with on a daily basis because I can think about it, discuss it and grow. For those who don’t have the space, the friends and the family who are of different races to discuss this with, it’s just another abstract topic.
I don’t know how others should tackle this question. I just know that I feel lucky to tackle this messiness on a daily basis in an open, loving environment with people who can forgive me for messing up and I can forgive them, too, because racism exists in everyone. A good friend and mentor in the subject of social justice, Jaime-Jin, once brought a rule to my attention that I hope I always practice (though I need to get better): W.A.I.T. or Why Am I Talking. I try to spend more time listening. Listening to my white friends, friends of color, my wife and especially my son.
For now, I’m a W.P.I.P., a White Parent in Progress.

9 thoughts on “Talking Race As The White Parent

  1. Love love love this. As a parent in an interracial relationship and a professor who teaches diversity this is refreshing. Often my white students look like deer in headlights when I challenge them to confront their own “isms”.
    I will be using this in class 👏🏽

    1. I think people are so afraid to look within and see their own racism that they rather pretend it doesn’t exist. It’s easier. Kudos to you for challenging them. And for sharing this.

  2. I am the mother of adult biracial children and wonder about how my grandchildren can grow up without the implicit bias that I have. One thing it seems to me is to make sure children and particularly white children have either playmates or playthings of other races when they are babies and preschoolers. Skin color should be treated like eye color or hair color and the effort must be made to show non-white people in a positive light. Obviously, society does not treat skin color that way so race should be talked about openly with school age children. When dealing with one’s own racism on the conscious level, reading and talking about race is important as is being willing to make mistakes. But on the unconscious level, I don’t think we know how to reduce the racism so many of us have. What is encouraging is that young people as a generalization have less implicit racism than people my age. When I grew up everything was white except for people I would see on the bus, so those movies and books and role models that are truly diverse today must be making some difference. Do other people have other ideas?

    1. Hi Denise, Thanks for making these really important points. It is critical to have others who don’t look like us, or identify the same as us, in the same learning spaces and in similar work roles. We try to be very conscious about putting our son in learning environments where he would not be the only one with light skin or be the only child of color. Once in a diverse atmosphere, skin tone can be treated like eye or hair color, but it’s still important to have conversations about race, differences and privilege (some will be helpful and some will be messy–like you say, we will make mistakes). Research (and history) point out that race is a construct, so racism is learned. We have to understand and accept our own racism before we can become ant-racist.

  3. Another comment: There are wonderful books for preschoolers than match skin shades to objects around the house like cinnamon that every child could benefit from thinking about.

    1. Hi Eve, the webinar was through the blog Raising Race Conscious Children. They have lots of fantastically informative articles and resources and will have another live webinar again listed on their site.

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