I am the child of immigrant parents who wholeheartedly believed in the American dream. My parents came here for opportunities for themselves and their children and were embraced. Unfortunately, things feel different to me now. I find myself devastated by the future of my children in this country. Mostly, I worry about my son and how his dark skin may make him a victim to unconscious bias in the classroom, by the police, and in the community. I realize that to promote diversity and combat the stereotypes about kids of color, we must parent better and harder than ever before, especially given the mixed media messages our children are exposed to every day.
Here are six ways to teach our kids about unconscious biases and help them become more inclusive:
Do the books they read show people of different cultures, abilities, and backgrounds? It never occurred to me until I was at the bookstore that so many books have characters that don’t look like me or my kids. I know this because my son literally jumps for joy when he sees a book with a brown character in it. If I dig deeper, books targeted to girls have a specific look (think pink, purple, and glitter) while boys books have a different look. I follow a few amazing resources on Instagram to help acquire diverse books in your household: @theconsciouskid, @raisinginclusivekids, and @hereweread. Check out this PMB post for another great reading.
Do the books in your library reflect the diversity you want your children seeing and embracing?
What are the shows your kids are watching? What gender roles do the characters play? Do you agree with those roles? As a mom of both a boy and a girl, I am shocked there are still so many shows depicting women in a light I feel will negatively impact my daughter. I love Paw Patrol, but why is Sky )a girl) getting paw-dicures and why is Chase (a boy) always in charge? This may seem minor, but these shows unintentionally send our kids messages about their place in society.
Do the TV shows you watch show equality, strength, and diversity in gender?
We can no longer sit quietly when we see something wrong happening. We must speak up and help children articulate their own feelings. Current events – which I want to avoid – are becoming hard conversations. My son heard about the New Zealand incident at Sunday School, which meant I had talk with him about people getting hurt in a mosque (where he goes regularly). This was horrible, but also necessary for him to understand. I don’t want to tell my kids about these things, but I feel like I have to now.
How do you frame conversations with your kids about scary current events?
4. Your Village
Look at your friend group. Look at your kids’ friend groups. Do they reflect diversity? I’ll be the first to confess most of the people in the lives of my children look like them. Fortunately, my son’s school is full of many different people, and I am thankful for that. When looking at schools for your kids, do you see the diversity you want your children to embrace? Be deliberate and thoughtful as you make decisions about the community you surround yourself and your children with.
How do the people in your village reflect diversity?
5. Cultural Appropriation
I have come across many families who tell me they expose their kids to culture by eating at “ethnic restaurants” or going to cultural events. This is awesome, but it’s not enough! The story you tell your children about these experiences is important. Make sure when you expose your kids to other cultures it’s not with an us vs. them mentality. Ethnic diversity make up the cornerstone of America as a melting pot. Other cultures aren’t different; they are part of us. We need to check our own biases and generalizations about people around us. Also, if your kids ever want to dress up, be thoughtful of costumes. Using another’s culture as your costume could be offensive to some.
What are ways to incorporate culture in your family without creating division?
6. Ask Questions
When I feel really ignorant, I am super thankful for Google. I remember once posting #AllLivesMatter when police officers were killed after the #BlackLivesMatter campaign started. It did not get a strong response. I used Google to understand why and was shocked to see how my words could have unintentionally hurt others. We live in the Google era, so many answers are nearby.
What are some hot topics you should get more information on?
Get used to being out of your comfort zone. Generally, the knee-jerk reaction to uncomfortable feeling is to get defensive. Don’t do this. White fragility has enabled generations to ignore and avoid conversation, and in the meantime, so many continue to have to explain their culture, religion, traditions, and skin color. Race is uncomfortable. Confrontations and misunderstandings are difficult, but if we can’t have these conversations as adults, how will we ever help our children navigate and communicate in this ever-changing society of diversity?