As a parent, I often think about my own struggles with race. Not just how I , as a Black woman, am treated by others in American society but rather how I function within a society that is built on a foundation of racism, sexism, and all-around bias. So, it naturally begs the question–how am I going to teach my Treasured One (TO) about race? I wondered do other Black parents struggle with this question.
These thoughts led me to think about three truths that could be a starting point for Mocha Parents to begin teaching their kids about race:
Black Brilliance. All kids are simply amazing. They are little sponges capable of soaking up any and everything. It is this capability that we, Mocha Parents, must praise them—no matters its form. All kids can do something. I create situations in which my Treasured One (TO) can thrive. For example, I encourage TO’s creativity. For example, our home is a “no coloring book” house. It’s nothing against coloring books. I do this intentionally to cultivate TO’s creative self by allowing her to create her own beautiful pictures (See the “Resources Link” below). I encourage and affirm her. I know I say “good job” about fifty times a day. As Black parents, especially, we must uplift, praise, and hail their accomplishments–no matter how small. All contribute to a positive self-image.
Society Does Not Value Black Brilliance. In teaching Black kids the wonder of their brilliance, we must also teach that often society will not value them for it. This lesson is one of the most heartbreaking. Yet, we must teach our kids the reality of American society, which does not as a whole value people of color (PoC). We have to teach the social perceptions of black and brown—those stereotypes that plague every racial group that create and foster misconceptions about what it means to be black or brown. If we don’t, then we will have failed to equip our kids to encounter a dominant culture that seeks to narrowly and cruelly define them, and whose social institutions reinforce that dominance. Mochas of means are not exempted. Class won’t shield kids from the effects of race. For example, research indicates that even when Black male students have perfect test scores, they often lowered teacher expectations (See the “Resources Link” below). I think for young children, it’s important to instill a deep knowledge that who they are is inherently valuable. One way to do this is by exposing them to books that feature characters that look like them. In our home, I insist on Black dolls, puzzles, toys, and TV images wherever possible.
Sometimes Mochas Don’t Value Their Own Brilliance. Many Black folks don’t value their own brilliance. Often it comes in the forms of putting down others through relentless teasing, “mean girling” bullying, and sometimes harassment. Why? Because each racial group carries with it a stereotypical narrative created by the dominant culture. Often, groups push back against this narrative, yet Mochas have not only internalized these stereotypes, we have more often than not, embraced them and now judge ourselves by them. Race theorists refer to this behavior as internalized oppression. Mochas oppressing ourselves.
What does this mean for Black parents? It means we must do the hard work of self-examination to determine if we are perpetuating these harmful stereotypes within our own parenting. The impact for kids is growing up with a pre-determined stereotypical definition of blackness reinforced by us, their parents.
In other words, being Black is…(insert racial stereotype) versus (YOU) my child are…
It’s completely changing the narrative of how we as parents define blackness for our children. One night, I was on Twitter tweeting with other “blerds” (black nerds) and exchanging stories of being teased for intellect (e.g., being in gifted or AP classes), for interests (e.g., liking music beyond hip-hop, comic books or science), for activities (e.g., theater or drama, dance or gymnastics). Of all the things people tweeted, the most common and the most hurtful was the label by peers and even family members of being “not black” or “not black enough”. Here’s a powerful tweet from that discussion:
— Yung Gumdrop (@DopestArtista) September 18, 2014
For young children, one way to counter this harmful narrative is to expose them to a range of experience that include different activities, toys and experiences. Invest in things they like. You will likely be surprised at what they enjoy. Support them. Letting them choose when possible centers their interests versus our expectations as their parents.
These are heavy burdens we carry as Black parents, but we don’t carry them alone. There are thousands of Mocha Parents wondering how I teach my children to be their brilliant selves when in many spaces, that brilliance is undervalued.
Dr. Joanna Scott
Resources mentioned in this post:
What’s the Big Deal About Art? >published by the Downtown Baltimore Child Care Center, Spring 2011 (pdf)
Examining Teachers’ Beliefs About African American Students …> a paper by Dr. Marvin Lynn (pdf)