By JASMINE BANKS
While the nation was demanding justice for Sandy Bland, the 28-year-old woman whose jailhouse hanging is the latest police custody death to have us screaming #BlackLivesMatter, Rachel Dolezal managed to weasel her way back into the news, this time with a profile and photo spread in Vanity Fair magazine. This white woman from Spokane is still proclaiming she’s Black. She is still delusional. And she is still confusing the hell out of those adults who are bothered enough to listen to her explanation on why she tried to pass herself off as African American and benefitted from her lies. And I am over here wondering, “What will we tell the children?”
If you’ve spent any time in the comment section of the articles about Dolezal, you’ll find “colorblind” ideology. I keep thinking that surely these commenters know better. But as it turns out, many Americans still have no clue how to approach discussions of race and racism. While parents of children of color spend a lot of time educating their children on how to navigate the world as “other,” there are swaths of parents of white kids shrugging and saying, “We are all part of the human race.”
But if you are teaching your child to be colorblind you are doing those children and their future communities a disservice.
The good news is that it is never too late to start shaping (or re-shaping) belief systems. If you aren’t already educating your child about colorblind politics, it is time to start. My children have a Black (multi-ethnic) momma and a White daddy. We have been intentional about instructing our children how to navigate the difficult discussion around their identity. So if, like me, you wonder, “What will we tell the children?” I’ve created a list to help you start teaching your child how to be an ally to children of color.
1. Recognize that even if you teach your child about race, he’ll still need help understanding how to respond to racial experiences.
You have to give them a context to assist in how they conceptualize race, one involving their peers, otherwise they’ll be taught by the status quo. The status quo, in case you need a reminder, is a society that says people like President Barack Obama isn’t even “technically Black” and Rachel Dolezal was “helping Black people” with her lies.
2. Teach your child about empathy, not sympathy.
Yes, race is a social construct and we are all part of the human race, but life isn’t that quaint. Minority social experience reflects the opposite of what the colorblind ideology preaches. We experience being marginalized, not included. We experience a systemic invalidation of our lived experiences. If your child is an ally, she will need to learn to be present with her friends of color as they experience the discomfort and also extend kindness and empathy. But be mindful: this isn’t an invitation to become or raise a “White Savior.” Sympathy is couched in pity and pity comes from feeling separate from an experience.
3. Teach your children that being colorblind actually means you’re not acknowledging people of color.
Functioning under the guise of colorblindness means that those who experience difficulty due to their race and ethnicity don’t have the support they need. If you are teaching colorblindness you are teaching people to not acknowledge the historical, social, and cultural experiences of a people. By saying “I don’t see your color,” we also say, “I don’t see your struggle, your strength, or your beauty.”
If your child is a white ally, impress upon him the importance of historical figures throughout history who helped the cause, like Harriet Beecher Stowe.
4. Teach your children that multiculturalism is better than being “colorblind”.
What makes us stronger is an acknowledgment of what makes us different. We know from nature, that systems that thrive have a wide range of diversity. This is also true for our communities. The Color of Us is a great conversation starter for younger children.
Let me go on record and say that if you are a transracial parent (meaning you parent a child that is not the same race ethnicity as you) who is not covering the subject of race with your child, you are hurting your child by not doing the work. Do the work. Being colorblind (and teaching your children to be colorblind) is a luxury that is afforded by your privilege, and can only lead to confusion, deep harm for your child and is, frankly, racist.
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Jasmine Banks writes about everything and nothing at all at JustJasmineBlog.com. You can follow her obscure cat and kid pics on instagram http://www.instagram.com/djazzo or tweet her at @Djazzo.
Your third point reverberates greatly in me. Growing up while often hearing “I don’t think of you as black”, which I knew was supposed to be a compliment, irked me to no end. I’ve also heard it as an adult but now I know to answer “You should”.
Yes. Yes, I love all of this. My daughter is mixed. Like, really mixed. I am third generation Mexican/Spanish from my mom and my dad’s family was from Ireland/scotland. My daughter’s dad is black and native american. My daughter will know all of her roots. Including the fact that she is black in a world that will only see her as a black woman. She’s going to have pride in her roots. I may not be able to give her all the background she needs, but his family will, and I’m so glad for it.