I’m terrified at the thought of sending my toddler to daycare. In fact just the other night, as my daughter sat in my lap with her head nestled in my chest, avoiding eye contact with cousins she hadn’t seen in months, I told a relative, “My baby is perfectly fine stepping into the ‘classrooms’ of her two sets of grandparents each week. She won’t step foot into a daycare until it’s time for Pre-K.” Like many new parents that I’m sure have felt this way, survived and soon found themselves asking their kids to tuck and roll their way into school from a moving car, I know these feelings are a part of the process and will pass. The idea of my daughter leaving the protection of her close relatives and entering a world where daycare workers throw children down steps gives me all kinds of anxiety.
But what worries me just as much is the cruelty of other children and my baby entering a world where racism exists and knowing that her classmates won’t all be returning to a household where dinner is served regularly with parents who have a decent idea about boundaries, acceptance and respect. I also know that all those kids won’t be taught about diversity and tolerance and I worry about whose feelings I may have to hurt in the event that they’re careless with those of my child.
Although my daughter is only two, the dilemma my partner I find ourselves facing is whether we want to put up private school tuition and continue to live in Philadelphia or put up tax payments to get our daughter an admittedly better education in the suburbs. Of course as we browse Trulia.com and even occasionally drive through neighborhoods in the county while doing our dose of weekly shopping we jokingly ask each other, “Are there any black folks out here? Will our daughter find herself having to be the class expert on hip-hop, cornrows and African-American culture even if she’s listening to Halsey with the rest of her classmates.” It’s also important to her father that she gets her fair share of “struggle” and at least have an understanding that no matter how fortunate she is that many of her blessings come from humble beginnings. I didn’t realize how real the fears of my daughter facing intolerance were until I came across an article by a woman named Margaret Jacobsen called, “Honestly, Sometimes I’m Uncomfortable With My Children Making White Friends”. In the piece Jacobsen recalls a moment when her bi-racial daughter handled an awkward moment with a “You Tried It” reaction Tamar Braxton would be proud of. Jacobsen was at a friend’s house when a child proceeded to question her daughter about her hair:
“Why did God give you this gross hair? Why didn’t he give you princess hair like mine?’ I just stared at her, because I couldn’t fathom why she would ever say something like that. But thankfully, my daughter didn’t get upset. Instead, she retorted, ‘My hair is perfect. I have a black mom and a white dad, so it actually makes my hair better than your straight hair.’ Then she went back to playing.”
Jacobsen says the moment was the first of many in which she realized other parents weren’t having the same conversations with their kids as she had with her own:
“It was the moment that I realized that not everyone talks to their children about race, which can put my children in an uncomfortable position — and I want to avoid putting them in that position whenever possible.”
Although Jacobsen’s kids are half black and white, she mentions race and respect for other cultures and backgrounds is a conversation that she suspects may not be as prevalent in white households as it is for minorities. She notes that when parents make remarks like, “I don’t see color,” it makes her nervous for her children, because when you don’t see color, you don’t see or appreciate diversity. When you don’t see color you aren’t having conversations with your children that “princess hair” doesn’t just mean straight and blonde, it can be black and curly or red and wavy. I don’t want my daughter to make friends’ with kids’ parents who pull out the dashikis every February to prove that they celebrate all cultures, but I do want other children to know that black is different and wonderful and not something my daughter needs to defend or give a PowerPoint on every time they tune in for an episode of black-ish.
Jacobsen mentions that she finds herself doing a sort of “vetting process” when it comes to her kids’ classmates and their parents to see exactly how “woke” they are. With her kids attending a suburban school outside of a major city, 90% of their classmates are white so for many it’s their first time having any sort of connection to a part of African-American culture. Jacobsen says discussing her work helps to navigate other parents’ ideas on race:
“I’m a photographer and a writer. I write about raising black children, being a black parent, and what it’s like to be black in America.”
For Jacobsen, this her subtle way of expressing how important race is in the life of her family and letting other parents know that her kids are prepared for these types of conversations, but are theirs?
As a parent, all I know is that I don’t want my daughter’s feelings hurt. I know that in the political and cultural climate we live in, that’s a tall order, but I don’t believe it’s impossible. The first time I ever had the subtle scent of racism and stereotyping fill my nostrils was during my freshman year of college when one of my white roommates stated matter-of-factly, “You’re so nice for a black girl.” I wasn’t offended, but I was awoken to the fact that there are plenty of Caucasian kids in Middle-Of-Nowhere, USA towns like where I attended undergrad who believe that every black girl from the city whose name ends in an “A”, will be popping gum, and twerking in some box braids ready to beat a broad’s behind. I know I won’t be able to prevent my daughter from having these types of encounters, but what I can do is teach her to own who she is in the face of ignorance, whether she’s rocking box braids or a bundle of Malaysian down her back. Because as much as parents of all colors may be intimidated by conversations about race, they are necessary. And in Jacobsen’s opinions conversations about race and respect go hand in hand:
“We talk about it. We talk about being black, about the white side of the family, about what it means to have light skin privilege, which my children have. We make sure that whoever comes over is respected and loved, but who they are is never neglected or ignored. We honor the cultures, traditions, and stories that are carried into our home by those who visit us.”
How are you preparing your children to defend themselves against racism and maintain tolerance in today’s world?
Toya Sharee is a Health Resource Specialist who has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog, Bullets and Blessings.