The New Playbook for Anti-Racism Parenting

Pt 3: Raising Social Justice Warriors

Most racists are like Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) in “The Sixth Sense”: You spend your days walking through everyday life, having no understanding of who you really are. Until suddenly, one day, you do.

For most, that big reveal (“I see racist people!”) is a shocker. Perhaps you’re like Dr. Crowe, newly “woke” to the fact that you are one of those racist people after having walked through this world with blinders on. Perhaps you are wondering how to raise your kids differently, with their eyes open from the start. If you want to raise conscious, anti-racist children into conscious, anti-racist adults, then keep reading.

First and most important…

Do not trust your previous instincts when it comes to race. You were probably raised to equate being nice with not being racist; that’s simply not true.

It might be hard for you to talk about anti-racism with your kids because you didn’t get that talk from your own parents. Much like the dreaded sex talk, talking about race was not something widely embraced by the generation of white grandparents currently buying Carter’s fleecy jammies at Costco.

Your parents worked hard to protect their kids (you) from the ugliness of racism, and a big part of that defense was to put as much distance as possible between “us nice people” and “those racists.” As a result, you probably grew up believing that you know exactly what racists looks like: They’re the ones wearing white hoods or red Nazi armbands and waving Confederate flags from their pickup trucks. And they actively spout hateful, violent, racist rhetoric everywhere they go.

Your parents made sure you knew: Those are racists. Not us. Them.

Your parents operated from a playbook that we like to call “How To Not Look Racist.” And until you have your Sixth Sense moment, you operate from that very same playbook.

Some of the greatest hits of “How To Not Look Racist” include:

  • I don’t see race. I just see people (but all my friends just happen to be white, it just worked out that way).
  • Never use racial slurs (but I avoid engaging when Uncle John uses the n-word at Thanksgiving).
  • Never wear blackface (but little Madison wants to wear a Native American costume for Halloween. So cute).
  • Volunteer with people of color (because we must save them from their broken communities).
  • Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was an American hero (but Black Lives Matter (BLM) promotes protest violence and looting).
  • If Henry, who is Chinese, makes jokes about Chinese drivers, I can too (Henry knows I’m a nice person).
Photo by Alisdare Hickson.

This “How To Not Look Racist” playbook was designed to protect you — and now, your kids — from the shame of being complicit or feeling responsible for systemic racial oppression. It creates a comfortable distance from the public shaming rightfully doled out to Charlottesville neo-Nazis and white supremacists…

Them. Not us.

The playbook was not, however, designed to protect people of color from you. And now, your kids, too.

As a member of the next generation of parents, it’s your job to recognize that playbook for what it is: just as racist as the Confederate flag and even more insidious, dangerous, and harmful.

Racism survives because it whispers in your ear that having a good heart is the same as fighting racism. Racism tells you that you’re a nice person, and it’s just plain unreasonable when someone challenges you to risk your social currency to tell Uncle John that his slurs aren’t welcome at your Thanksgiving table and in front of your children.

Racism tells you that you don’t have to “ruin” the day by making a big deal out of the way your white child is excluding children of color on the playground. Racism is sneaky, and it loves your politeness and good intentions. Racism loves how much you don’t want to look racist. It tells you that not looking racist is the same as fighting racism.

If you posted a bunch of stuff on FB about punching Nazis but have not taken the time to examine the ways you have helped build the foundation of this exact America, you are still working the “How To Not Look Racist” playbook. And your kids are watching.

If you wrote an impassioned post that got shared a bunch of times about how Black Lives Matter but also agree that BLM doesn’t have to be so aggressive, you are still working the “How To Not Look Racist” playbook. And your kids are watching.

If you keep working that playbook, you have to accept that you prefer to look nice, rather than genuinely fight for equity. You have to admit that you are fine with not looking racist in a very racist society. And your kids are getting comfortably marinated in white privilege every day.

By Debra Sweet [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

Confronting the facts of racism — including your complicity in it — is messy, painful, hard work. But so is teaching your kids to drive safely or preparing them with the facts of sex and drugs and dating. And you tackle those lessons when you need to. Because they’re not optional. And neither is talking about anti-racism.

You have to start talking about anti-racism with your kids in the same way that you teach all of these other foundational elements of human society.

You are blessed to have the chance to write “The New Playbook for Anti-Racist Parenting”:

  • I see skin color. I see people of many different cultures. I see how culture is an indivisible part of human identity. I see how children of color have been traumatized and their identities shaped by past and current narratives. I realize that being white did not injure my self-worth.
  • Not all racists wear swastikas and white hoods. Racism is everywhere (including inside me, my friends and family, and my kids).
  • I assert that nice is not good enough. Anti-racism is not a byproduct of kindness. Anti-racism is its own hard, crucial work.
  • I consciously infuse voices of people of color into my world. I buy books, music, and movies by people of color. I listen to podcasts by people of color.
  • I support nonprofits that are led by people of color and that serve communities of color.
  • I consciously build my children’s world to include the voices of people of color. I choose Doc McStuffins over Sofia the First. I choose Diego over Wild Kratts. I choose books that delight my children, such as “Please, Puppy, Please” by Spike Lee, over books that spell out “This is an African American child wearing an African outfit for Black History Month.” I recognize that children of color are as magical, silly, smart, creative, curious, and wonderfully strange as my child. I choose stories depicting real children just like mine.
  • I affirm that people of color do not need protection from themselves. They need protection from me and people who look like me. I commit to being part of building that protection. That’s my job. This is my commitment to a healthier society.

I will never be done. And my kids are watching.

*This is the collective product of women of color and allies. This piece specifically comes from the voices of a WOC and an ally.

Pt. 1: White parents, talk to your children about racism

Pt. 2: White parents, here’s how to start talking to your children about race

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