Colorblind doesn't cut it. Be brave and talk to your kids about race
Many white parents have difficulty finding the right words to use when talking to their kids about racism. Preschool director Jasen Frelot runs workshops for white parents. He starts by telling those parents to sit with their discomfort.
A lot of times white people want to have these conversations because they have some experience that goes, “I don't want anyone to think I'm racist. I don't want anyone to think I'm a bad parent.”
The whole reason they come to the workshop is to convince themselves that they're not a bad parent. But that's not the point of anti-racism work. This is a process and within that process there's going to be discomfort.
I understand as a parent and as a teacher of 15 years, that when we're talking about children, we're talking about our hearts outside of our bodies running around. So I take great care and I try to be kind and patient and encouraging. The very act of engaging in these conversations is an act of courage.
We live in a society that has told us over and over again — my generation and generations before me — you don't talk about race. And we've seen the result of that. This generation now is the first one in our country's history that is coming to terms with the fact that we need to talk about this.
We are moving away from the charismatic black man who is going to save us from racism, and we're recognizing that we as a people need to have this conversation — that we as parents, that we as educators, that we as a public radio station need to have this conversation and that's brave because we don't have a model.
There is no Dr. King who is going to hold our hands through this. We just need to be confident and brave and go into it.
When we first started the workshops, the audience was mostly cross-racial adoptees — white families with children of color. As the program has developed, we've gotten more families that are just white families, parents that recognize they need to talk to their children about this, that they can't hide their children from it. One good thing about it is that our racism is no longer hidden. We have to deal with it now.
I encourage them to think critically about their own stories.
For example, our neighborhood in North Seattle is all white. There’s one other family of color on our block. I'm concerned that the story my daughter sees is white people as professionals, teachers, pastors, business owners — and people of color in service, sweeping and throwing away the garbage.
If we as parents don't interrupt this story, if we as a society don't interrupt this narrative, then of course my daughter Ruby, is going to grow up thinking that's the only thing she can be. Of course the white kids that are going to be her friends are going to think that's the only thing she can be. Of course they're not going to think she can be a professional. They're not going to think that she can be the princess or the superhero.
What messages are we really teaching our children if we're telling them, “Martin Luther King says that all men are created equal and that we all should be treated the same; that it doesn't matter about the color of your skin?” When they walk outside, and they look at the society that we're in, they see that clearly it does matter. The kids see that we're not telling the truth.
Colorblind is not good enough anymore. It’s not good at all. But the idea of white privilege is a very recent realization; colorblind was standard for the longest time.
I also encourage parents to think critically about the stories they're telling their children. I am very critical of media and the stories that our kids are consuming. The parents, they'll go, “Oh, Jasen, why are you all down on Disney princesses? There's good lessons in it.” And there are some good things — Disney teaches our kids about feminism, teamwork, about being together.
But at the same time, Disney is also teaching them about who's important, who's valuable, who's powerful, who can be in charge, who's beautiful. And the answer, always, is white people. It's destructive not only to the black or brown child consuming this, but to the white child who can never fulfill the ideal that this media is setting up.
This is not about putting our children in a box. It’s about showing our children what reality really is.
This transcript of Jasen Frelot’s interview with KUOW’s Patricia Murphy has been edited for clarity.
Patricia Murphy can be reached at email@example.com. Have a story idea? Use our story pitch form.