April 9, 2012 at 10:04 am
by Rosalind Wiseman
Treat everyone the way you want to be treated.
I’ve never specifically talked to my kids about race but my kids know that everyone should be treated equally.
Unfortunately, these are the most common statements parents say about talking to their children about race.
I’m fully aware that people may read what I just wrote and think I’m out of my mind. In fact, I’d totally understand if you thought, “Why unfortunate? That’s exactly what parents should be saying to their kids.”
But the reality is that for most parents, that’s all we say. We keep it general because we often don’t understand or admit to ourselves our own feelings about race. So we believe we are imparting our values and that our children will turn around and value people equally regardless of race.
Well, the reality is a lot more complicated and uncomfortable, and if you watch Anderson Cooper’s special Kids on Race you’ll see what I mean. What the AC360 team did was empathetically but directly challenge all of us to confront the truth about what kids think about race. As the researchers they worked with showed, while we have made great improvements in reducing explicit racism, we have much farther to go to stop implicit racism: the biases we all have about people of different races.
AC360 asked Dr. Melanie Killen, a revered child psychologist and University of Maryland professor, to design and implement the study, help highlight and explain key findings and offer advice and explanations to parents who allowed their children to participate.
Specifically, the show investigates a concept known as “subconscious racial bias.” This is described as “a bias that kids pick up on from messages they hear at school, at home, the characters in the TV shows they watch, what they see online.” As Killen points, these are not overt feelings of racism, but rather “the things that we’re not aware of, the things that we do when we don’t realize it.”
And acknowledging and understanding how those biases work is essential if we are truly committed to making our culture less racist.
No doubt this a very uncomfortable thing to do. Think about how awkward people get about even talking about race difference. Like when a young child describes an African American person as a black person and the parent shushes the child. Or when we are describing a person of color to someone else and we’ll describe everything about them except one of their primary physical traits–the color of the skin. It’s laughable except for the fact that those shushed children learn that there’s something inherently so shameful about these people with darker skin that a physical characteristic can’t even be named and dancing around a subject never gets us to authentic dialogue.
As I watched the show, I caught myself wondering how my sons would answer the questions the researchers asked the kids in the show. But what I am certain about it that even though I’ve talked to them a lot about race, I wouldn’t be shocked if they answered like all the other kids and showed race bias against African Americans.
So tomorrow night my children will be very happy when I tell them they get to watch TV after they do their homework–and then we’ll watch the show and discuss it over dessert. I don’t want my children living in a race-blind society. I do want them living in a racism-aware society. Kids on Race is a great way to do help me do that.
How have you spoken to your kids about race? Share in the comments below.