With all the confusion and wholesale use of the word racism to brand and ruin anyone you might disagree with, I thought a father’s view might be a welcome relief. One of the most powerful feelings I have ever experienced happened when I held my little girls for the first time and realized that I would be able to form their view of the world around them. That feeling of power was immediately followed by a pain in the pit of my stomach when the weight of responsibility for that power landed hard.
The most important thing I can say about forming the values of our children runs counter to what is being said these days. As I wrote last week, there seems to be a movement to allow children to form their own values when they are old enough to think and reason for themselves. The problem with this view is the complete ignorance of reality it reveals.
Whenever the ability to reason arrives in the mind and heart of your child, they will already have their values. If you choose to say absolutely nothing and try with all your might to give them a blank slate, your values will ooze out your pores and enter the mind and heart of your unsuspecting little one anyway. That’s why some people say values are caught, not taught.
I’d like to begin this discussion with a couple of incredibly mundane, below the radar suggestions. You might say these are unworthy of mentioning in your next inclusiveness training but I believe they are the means to great influence on a level that will truly make a difference.
Talk about others as persons. That is all. Not black man, white man, poor man, or rich man. Not pretty woman, fat woman, Mexican woman or Oriental woman. If those words didn’t offend anyone, I’ll be amazed. The important point is the way we describe others reveals our prejudices about what makes them less than us or even different from us in negative ways. When you tell your children something that someone said at work today, leave off the need to describe them by race. They are a co-worker, not a black co-worker.
Seek out and spend time with people of other races. I remember being questioned when I roomed with a friend of mine in college because he was black. I remember a person of color mentioning their surprise that white people had the same food they did at dinner. They never knew that. We don’t understand what we have never experienced. When our children see us interacting, eating, talking on the phone and going places with people of other races, it has a normalizing effect on their values. We are becoming more like them, actually. Children play with whomever is available on the playground and toddlers hug anyone, regardless of race.
Be fearless when it comes to comments. The idea that only people of color can complain about people of color is ridiculous. An ugly part of racism is the kid gloves we insist upon. If someone isn’t doing a good job, it would actually be racist to allow them to fail over fears that we would be considered racist to correct them or seek their improvement. A kinder edge on our words of criticism would help mute charges of racism more than choosing silence. If I don’t care enough to even comment, how does that promote inclusion?
I disagree that racism in ingrained and unavoidable. Racism is a choice to continue habits and traditions that no longer serve us as human beings. We are all flawed human beings. Everyone deserves kindness. Our children deserve a parent that treats everyone with respect and no one with suspicion and inferiority. Use the power of parenting responsibly.