About two weeks ago, racism showed up at our family camping trip as a fellow camper told my family just how easy life is for minorities in our country. This experience — alongside news of a racist letter left on a West Seattle porch — intensified my thoughts on how to effectively teach my daughters about white privilege (we’re Caucasian) and how to be part of the solution rather than ignore America’s racism problem.
I reached out to Marquita Prinzing, a family and early education educator at Families of Color Seattle (FOCS). In part one of our conversation, we discussed how to react to racist comments and where to begin conversations at home. Next, we explore how families can educate themselves about racism and get involved in their local communities to help create change.
I think many of us that are Caucasian are struggling to bring ourselves up to speed. What are the steps parents can take to educate themselves about racism and Black Lives Matter?
It’s not up to people of color to teach white people how not to be racist. Don’t expect them to.
First, educate themselves about racism and the Black Lives Matter Movement. There are many people of color writing and talking about the topic, producing mini-clips on YouTube and creating podcasts [for example, The Racist Sandwich and Yo, Is This Racist?]. There are also meetings facilitated by white people for white people. It’s important for white people to help white people find ways to challenge each other to recognize and change their biases.
It’s not up to people of color to teach white people how not to be racist. Don’t expect them to. Still there are many who have already produced material that can help [including author Tracy Brown’s book, Mine To Do: Responding to Race-Based Hatred and Violence].
How can parents educate their children about racism and the Black Lives Movement?
Choose to talk about it. Silence is a privilege and it perpetuates the actions, messages and practices of racism. Let your child guide. Elicit ideas and questions. Ask them how they feel. Ask them if they have seen, heard or experienced anything at home, school or elsewhere. Listen to them, really listen.
It seems, anecdotally, that children have a natural gift for knowing what is fair and can often point out when something has happened that doesn’t seem fair. Then they usually ask why. That is the tricky part. I go for being honest. Tell them that individuals make choices. Tell them that institutions create policies that affect people on a macro level, i.e. it doesn’t care who you are as an individual. We can work to change both of those areas with our individual choices.
We can ask ourselves and teach our children answers to questions like, 'How do we talk with our friends and strangers who don’t look like members of our family?' and 'What do we value and why?' and 'What do we do if someone has a different idea or perspective than us?' and ' What if it’s a different perspective about something that is important to us (race issues, religion, way of life, etc.)?'
As parents, we should ask ourselves 'Who do I chose to bring around my child?' One thing that I found really interesting is this idea that children, starting really early, categorize people based on their characteristics and associate value to those people. This can manifest in ways we completely didn’t expect. For example, your child may embarrassingly question whether or not a black doctor is really a doctor ... [Your child] may not [mean it as] a racist statement but rather it’s deduced from your child only seeing white doctors in their lived experience.
If you want to change what your child thinks is normal, then give them experiences that show them people of all shapes, sizes, colors, gender, etc. can be in every part of their life. Start with books. There are so many amazing books. Weneeddiversebooks.org is a website with great books that feature characters who are not the typical cis white male in a position of power.
This is also another great website that provides resources and examples of how to talk to your children about race and how to teach your children to be anti-bias. Here’s an amazing post from the website. This site includes articles that help educate white people about the work of being anti-bias and how to talk to white kids about racism and activism.
For parents: Go to forums, panels, and other discussions in your neighborhood. Meet people and listen. Attend a Coalition of Anti-Racists Whites meeting. Visit The People’s Institute Northwest to learn more and find out about events and ways of advocating for change.
For your kids: Take them to events and activities where they will see people of color, particularly being represented in ways they may not be in everyday media. For me, I still reminisce about the memory of my black mom taking me to see Alvin Ailey dance theater and plays or musicals produced and performed by black people. If these events aren’t produced, organized or directed by people of color, make sure they’re heavily influenced by leaders of color. Avoid culture appropriation as token diversity.
For the family: Go to parks in other areas of town. Talk to parents at the park and encourage your child to play with other kids. Try different cuisines from chefs who are from that culture. Financially support organization or activities or events that promote change, for example, donate to Black Lives Matter.
One important area to get involved is voting and communicating with political officials. There are issues that concern one group of people more than another. Learn about the different perspectives and if you agree that there should be a change, even if it doesn’t directly affect you, then support the effort by being a voice. Call and write your representative.
What are your thoughts on local website Reparations.me?
OMG! I saw it circulating on my Facebook feed but never looked at it. I think it’s AMAZING!!! [Editor's note: Emphasis from Prinzing via email.] It’s like DonorsChoose.org, which has been a lifesaver for teachers and helps revitalizes teachers by believing we really are appreciated. Reparations.me reminds me of that: People giving what they can and people who need it are asking for it.
It’s always about relationships and building relationships. You build relationships by telling stories and
listening without judgment or personal defense to other people’s stories.
I mean, I think it will be hard to manage it eventually, but I’m so happy to see it. I hope it continues to be successful. Maybe they can use the Donors Choose system as a model. There is a tedious set-up for the ask, but once you do, it’s pretty easy for others to give. I’m worried about the pressure the makers of the site will receive from racist people. I’m worried it will be shut down even though the participants are willing on both sides.
I think it’s a great tool for white people to feel like they are participating and affecting lives for the better without imposing and for black people to receive something that feels like it slightly rights a wrong or makes life a little more fair.
I really liked this quote from the article: “She takes care to note that Reparations.me is 'absolutely not' trying to address actual reparations for American slavery right now — more like 'reparations for microaggressions from last week.'”
Any final thoughts on how people can start to address racism in American culture?
It’s always about relationships and building relationships. You build relationships by telling stories and listening without judgment or personal defense to other people’s stories. Many people have a friend who is fill in the blank whom they love and respect; they would never allow harm to come to this friend.
So why are we less likely to protect people from that same group, especially when that group is systematically and institutionally being unfairly mistreated? Because it’s harder to ignore it when it’s someone we have a relationship with. How do normal people who are developing their advocacy skills but are unsure of how to start or how much time, energy and power they have to give effect change right now? Meet people and talk to them.
Read part one of writer Nancy Schatz Alton's conversation with Marquita Prinzing.