Motherhood

Raising Race-Conscious Children

Raising Race-Conscious Children

Cup of Jo has been running for 13 years (!) so we’ve decided that every week, we’ll be highlighting one of the most popular posts from the past. Here’s one that’s more important than ever, originally published on October 3, 2016…

As a mother, I’ve always wanted my children be kind to everyone and accept people without biases or stereotypes. I figured that by being “colorblind,” or not calling attention to race, I was showing them that everyone was equal. But then I read a Washington Post article that explained that a colorblind approach may actually do more harm than good. To further educate myself, I spoke to Lori Taliaferro Riddick and Sachi Feris from the fantastic site Raising Race-Conscious Children, and here’s what they told me…

Lori identifies as black/biracial/multi-racial, and Sachi is a white Jewish woman of Russian, Polish, Lebanese, Syrian and Cuban descent. They each have two children.


ON NAMING RACE

Sachi: Parents can be so nervous of making a mistake that they avoid conversations about race. They make an assumption that the topic hasn’t come up for their kids yet. But that’s not true. It’s easier to imagine that kids aren’t seeing things we aren’t comfortable with, versus that they’re observing the world around them with a higher level of accuracy than we notice or want them to.

When reading a children’s book, you might say, “I see a picture here and it has three little girls and one has pale skin, and we call that white, and we’re white, too, and there’s another little girl with brown skin.” We’re just saying the words, just like we’re saying the sky is blue. Ultimately, before you can teach more higher level critical thinking, you have have this language in your toolbox.

Lori: With very young children we often point out the colors of buses, fire trucks and grass, as we teach them about the world. We’re naming all these things, but we’re not talking about people’s colors. In some ways, it’s really odd that there’s this whole description that we’re not addressing. It teaches kids that race is not okay to talk about. When parents are silent, children make up their own stories as to why.

Sachi: Parents often ask which words they should use to describe skin tones. We advocate for using both types of words — actual skin tones (like “brown” or “peach”) is more descriptive and more accurate to what we actually see; but I use the words “white” and “black” even though it is a social construct just to break it down for my children. If I don’t use those words, it’s harder to talk in a larger way about race in our society.

Lori: Some parents will say, “I don’t want to mention that someone’s black,” and I say, “Black people aren’t upset that they’re black.” I think it’s important to dispel that idea.

ON STARTING A LARGER CONVERSATION ABOUT RACE

Sachi: As a white woman, I had never heard the term “white privilege” until I got to college. I don’t want my children to learn at 18 that white privilege exists and is very real. I want them to understand that as children. It’s hard for them to understand they’re little people who can make a difference in the world and their immediate lives if they don’t have the awareness to talk about it.

We don’t expect any family to have their first conversation on race or racial justice when another tragic media story comes up about the police and a black person. That’s not the place that anyone can start if they haven’t been building vocabulary and comfort and confidence before then.

Black Lives Matter was a tangible and easily accessible place to engage a young person. I might say to my children: “We live in a world that’s unfair. People are not treated the same all the time, and that has to do with how we look sometimes. People who are white don’t have to worry about this, but people who are black do sometimes. We’re treated differently based on our skin tone; we don’t want the world to be like that, and it’s important to us to stand up to this. We don’t want to live in a world where people who are black aren’t safe.” The concept of fairness and unfairness is a very tangible thing for a three- or four-year-old!

I’m organizing a small gathering with some neighbors to make Black Lives Matter shirts with fabric markers, and window signs, in honor of Wear Out the Silence. For me, this is a concrete way to get my children in dismantling white privilege in however so small a way.

ON CHILDREN’S BOOKS

Sachi: With books about race, there are two types: a diverse cast of characters that’s sort of the point of the book [like Everywhere Babies], and our goal there is to name race. And then there are books that talk directly — Let’s Talk about Race by Julius Lester or The Colors of Us by Karen Katz.

Lori: It’s also important to have books that have characters of color and yet aren’t about race — to normalize the idea that that’s enough. [There was a great Slate post about this, too.] These stories of everyday people are worth telling. For example, Ezra Jack Keats books are wonderful. [Here are more children’s books with characters of color.)

People Colors Crayons also allow students from different colors to represent themselves and others in their artwork in a way that traditional color schemes did not. They’re useful in supporting students’ exploration of race and color. Also having a diverse set of toys — both black and white dolls, for example.

ON EVERYDAY CONVERSATIONS

Sachi: My daughter knows she’s white. I’m not sure when I knew I was white, not when I was four. It’s not like it’s this rigorous thing where you’re doing something wrong if you don’t talk about race every day, but the more experience I’ve gained as a parent, the more of a daily experience it is for me. If I walk by the basketball court by my house and see that most of the kids playing that day are brown-skinned boys, if I don’t break it down and say some days we see a more interracial group and sometimes we see girls playing, then I am letting my child see that stereotype every day.

ON SEEKING OUT A DIVERSE COMMUNITY

Lori: Having a diverse friend group is important, as much as it’s possible. Of course, we work with some folks who are just in homogenous neighborhoods and that makes it difficult. Interaction helps children, in particular, break down biases they would have otherwise believed. We might join a soccer leagues or swim team that is more diverse. Try to find a church with people who aren’t the same color as you. There are opportunities to do things that are more integrated – there’s value in seeking them out, if that’s important to you. 


More posts by Lori and Sachi:

* How to Ask Questions About Differences.

* “Is That Your Mom?”

* Why I Use the Words “Black” and “White” Versus “Brown” and “Peach”

More great articles:

* Children Are Not Colorblind

* How Silence Can Breed Prejudice (This quote jumped out at me: “Silence about race removes the opportunity for children to learn about diversity from their parents and puts it in the hands of media and misinformed peers. Television, movies and video games are full of stereotypes, and over time children pick up on these. They see blacks portrayed as criminals, Hispanics as uneducated service workers, Asians as unassimilated foreigners, and whites as powerful CEOs. Without discussion about the errors in these portrayals and a conscious effort to expose them to counter-stereotypical examples, children will unwittingly adopt these images as pieces of evidence of how the world is supposed to be, and these pieces become a breeding ground for prejudice.”)

Raising Race-Conscious Children

Lori and Sachi

Thoughts? How do you talk about race with your children? Do you have any other ideas or suggestions? Thank you so much.

P.S. 5 books that teach kids kindness, and children’s books with characters of color.

(Illustration by Erin Jang for Cup of Jo.)

  1. Thanks for getting your powerful message out there. So often it is just a matter of opening our eyes and hearts to what is really going on around us that allows us to make change happen.

  2. Hi Joy,

    I remember this post, a great resource. I would love to suggest my upcoming book Bringing Up Race: How to Raise a Kind Child in a Prejudiced World. It’s out in September, currently available on Amazon UK and hopefully North America soon. Here’s the UK/Europe order link if you’re interested and would love to connect on this at a later date: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bringing-Up-Race-Raise-Prejudiced/dp/1529368723/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=Bringing+Up+Race&qid=1591349103&sr=8-1

  3. Colleen says...

    I’m realizing that reading this post in 2016 when my kids were newborn and 2yrs has shaped how I parent them now at ages 6 and 4, and it gave me tools I would not have had to parent them through this week and others like it. We all need to begin somewhere with this conversation & movement. Thank you for breaking the silence and don’t stop!

  4. Naomi says...

    Thank you for this and the other posts on this topic this week. And thank you to all the interesting comments on here – a really great place to read, learn, think, reflect.

    I have a question: there are lots of lists of books for younger children… but I’m looking for books that are geared to the 9-11 year old age, that discuss equality / inequality, discuss the history of these challenges (doesn’t need to be just US history – oppression is a world-wide problem), and yet don’t present the story in such a heavy format that is too much for that age. I can talk with her about racism, about inequality, about today’s events – where I can explain things in a way that make sense for her… but in book-form, this is trickier.

    • Aya says...

      A good place to start is:
      https://socialjusticebooks.org/booklists/
      They have curated 60 multicultural and social justice booklist and you can search by subject and/or age.
      I find this resource by using Google.

    • Naomi says...

      @Aya Thank you! What a great resource! I’m digging in… and making a list already.

  5. Malaika says...

    As useful as these resources are, as a mum of colour I can’t help but wonder where these leave me? I feel like this whole thing has been turned into an introspective look at whiteness. Isn’t that the problem to start with?

    Where are the resources that help people of colour talk to our children?

    • I think it would be irresponsible for a white writer to suggest books on race to POC. It is now on white people to do the work because we have shouldered the burden for so long. This is an example of white people educating themselves. I wouldn’t look at sites like this to educate black people on how to talk to their black children because what would they know about that? There are many black blogs and writers who speak to this that I would much rather hear from.

    • Sarah says...

      Hi Malaika, Lakeisha Johnson (a mom and SLP) shares diverse children’s books on her blog in case you’re interested: https://mayasbooknook.com/

  6. Mary McFarland says...

    I read this when it was posted years ago and it transformed the way that I talk to my children. I’ve sent it to so many people over the last week. Thank ou!

  7. d. says...

    Thank you for this eloquent post.
    There is a genuine question I would like to ask regarding “white guilt”, if I may, fully aware that most of CoJ readers are based in the US and therefore they are familiar with the social contexts and historical responsibilities burdening their own country, but not necessarily with the sociopolitical contexts of other countries.
    Would you say that a white (European) Romanian, a Finn, an Armenian, a Cypriot-Greek or a grandma who’s lived in Catania, Sicily, her whole life should bear the same burden and feel the same amount of white guilt and shame compared to their (formerly and very openly imperialist) English speaking counterparts in the UK and the US?
    Without meaning to shift the conversation away from the issue discussed here (the injustice is clear as day and black lives do matter!), I couldn’t help thinking that some of the “old” countries have been invaded, mistreated and oppressed over and over again by fellow “whites”, in many cases of the English speaking variety. I live in one of those countries.

    So who is the enemy here? Is it determined by the colour of people’s skin? The language they speak? Or the sociopolitical agenda they serve despite their colour? Is it really unthinkable to an American that a black American may be considered a representative of an oppressive and imperialist force meddling with their country’s affairs in certain parts of the word?

    By posing this provocative question I would simply like to respectfully emphasize that to pontificate on the universal state of being “white”, to make assumptions about what “whites” collectively think and abide by is a bit ignorant at best.
    Injustice, all kinds of injustice needs to be highlighted and addressed.
    Thank you for providing the space for us to think out loud without judgement or assumptions.

    • LK says...

      No enemies here – if you benefit from the white narrative (which is for white people or white-passing) then you have a privilege. You don’t have to necessarily feel guilty for this – but a white person does nevertheless benefit from this privilege. Perhaps you can relate to what black people are going through as an Armenian (I am Jewish and it wasn’t so long ago that Jews were oppressed). But since I am white, I don’t have to worry my child will be followed in a store or killed by the police.

    • B says...

      I don’t think anyone has to feel guilty if they didn’t do anything wrong. As it says in the bible Fathers are not responsible for the sins of their sons and sons are not responsible for the sins of their fathers. Just like as a Jew I don’t think the children of Nazis need to feel guilty, they didn’t do anything wrong, their parents did. However, we do have a responsibility to make the world a better place and learn from the mistakes of the past.

    • B says...

      America has the specific issue that has to deal with skin color and slavery of people because of their skin color, but in other parts of the world they had slavery as well, Russians enslaved their own people and they were as blond and as white as can be. Each area of the world has its own history and it’s important for people to learn world history in general so they can understand many different aspects of the world and the many immigrant’s past who make up the USA.

  8. Clare says...

    Thank you.

  9. Thank you for this article. As a women of color it is very much respected. We need to have more conversations like this. We all need to unite and remember we are all one race the “human race” and we need to lead with love❤️ I share topics that help with mental health stability if anyone is struggling right now head over to naturallyculturred.com and check out our lifestyle category

    • d says...

      Dear Shay,
      “remember we are all one race the “human race” and we need to lead with love”.
      This thought resonates with me deeply and thank you for expressing it so beautifully.
      As a woman of colour you can say this, but I’m afraid that as a white woman, if I attempt to express this very idea, that we are all one thing and one race, I may be accused of being colourblind.
      It has actually happened to me before and I find it unfair. Because, at the end of the day I might choose to adopt and raise a child of colour. And the child’s perspective will become my own perspective. Even if I’m white.
      I am all for listening and being educated on matters that are close to my heart. Including everyone in the race discourse as opposed to alienating them is more important now than ever. Thanks again

    • Elle says...

      Hi D,

      I think the reason you might have gotten a bad reaction in the past is that while race is a social construct, it is a social construct that has existed for hundreds of years. So to say that we are all one race ignores the fact that a division was created by white people for the benefit of white people and because of this we do not all share one experience today. People of color do not have the same experience and privilege of white people and to say otherwise is a form of erasure of their experience.

      If you adopted and raised a child of color as a white woman that child’s perspective would not be the same as yours. You could choose to teach that child whatever you want, but the experience of being a person of color in the world would teach them something different that you could never understand without firsthand experience.

      When I read “It has actually happened to me before and I find it unfair” and “Including everyone in the race discourse as opposed to alienating them is more important now than ever” I worry that you are missing an important aspect of anti-racist work. I read comments like this every day in reaction to racial justice posts and it is a symptom of our white supremacy culture that prioritizes the feelings of white people over the dire needs of people of color. Black bodies are being killed, white feelings are sometimes being hurt. This is not on the same level. Also, hurt feelings are often a choice in how you respond to feedback.

      In the racial justice work I take part in we use the term “called in” as opposed to “called out”, so take it as that. When someone has to inform you that what you are saying is problematic, you are being called deeper into the work, not being shamed.

      This work requires that we all sit with the discomfort of ideas that may be new to us, and it is not the responsibility of POC to fight for their rights in a way that makes white people feel okay.

    • d says...

      @Elle
      My “Including everyone in the race discourse as opposed to alienating them is more important now than ever” statement had you worried that I am not sufficiently informed. And yet I am here, actively including myself in this conversation, having the conversation and opening my eyes and ears to other people’s perspectives.
      Or are you implying that this an issue that white, non Americans should have no opinions or reactions about the ugliness unfolding in the States right now? Because I disagree.
      The world sees America as a very divided and backward country at the moment, its very makeup is a product of slavery and exploitation.
      This is not the case with every other “old” country under the sun though.
      I live in a country that was previously oppressed by white, English speaking folk.
      So, no, the feelings of “whites” don’t particularly matter in this case, however “whites” are not one, universal thing, as it is often implied. I have commented earlier on this.
      I try to make no quick judgments or assumptions about other people’s lives, backgrounds, beliefs and values.
      And I expect the same thing back, no exceptions ;)

    • Elle says...

      Hi D,

      My comment had nothing to do with people outside of The United States not being informed enough to be a part of the conversation, or not having a place in the conversation. My comment was specifically about the common and problematic reactions that White people often express when they are corrected when talking about race. White people often tell Black educators that they would be more successful if they responded in a softer way so as not to alienate their White readers. What I am saying is that it is not the job of Black people to do their work in a way that feels comfortable for White people. It is the job of White people to learn to sit with their discomfort and not react to it in a way that does more harm. Telling Black people that they are alienating White people or being unfair to White people does more harm.

      This has nothing to do with where you are from or any other circumstances about you, because I don’t know and didn’t assume any of those things. It was a specific and direct reaction to the words you used in your post.

      Of course there are differences in White culture in different countries, but there are aspects that are showing up in what you said that are similar to what is showing up in The United States.

      As I said in my first message, this isn’t me calling you out, or trying to exclude you from the conversation, just the opposite. Showing up for the conversation isn’t enough. We all need to be open to learning that something we are doing or saying is hindering the work or causing harm. If your reaction is that someone’s response to you is unfair, that can very easily end the learning. Instead of really hearing and learning from them, you could be writing them off or letting yourself off the hook because you feel they are unfair or alienating.

      I would recommend checking out @rachel.cargle on Instagram or Patreon if you haven’t already because she addresses a lot about the issues we’re talking about in her posts. Also, here’s a quote from her work about the problematic use of “we are all the human race”:

      “What we often hear are things like, “I don’t see color” and
      “we are all the human race” as attempts to sweep aside
      conversation that addresses the “racial divide.”
      Pretending race, racism, or the ideology of white
      supremacy doesn’t exist isn’t the answer. In fact, it’s
      critical for us to have knowledge about the implications of
      race. But, in order to really unpack the various ways race
      play into our lives, we must understand the origins and
      history of the concept of race itself.”

    • d says...

      @Elle
      Thanking you for the detailed response to my own response to another’s comment, I wanted to repeat that the *offensive* “we are all the human race” phrase was not my own, but Shay’s who is a woman of color. And I said (to her) that as a white woman I would be accused of colorblindness if I were to ever resort to it. Which, as I clearly see, stands.
      I keep reading the argument that it is not the responsibility of Black people to make White people feel comfortable in their pursuit of justice. And I don’t disagree.
      But at which point are we allowed to say out loud that we are all adults and we can have adult conversations and exchanges, and that if someone is remotely interested in putting their fair point across and securing allies (instead of mere white, guilt-ridden punching bags), resorting to divisive or even aggressive language is doing a disservice to the cause.
      I hear your arguments, all of them, I understand that the wounds of racism are impossible to heal with words and good intentions and that to certain people, the random color nature chose for my skin somehow makes me accountable for practices and behaviours I personally find appalling. By default.
      But it is not my responsibility either to prove my principles, my values and what I stand for as a person to anyone, and if that leads to misconceptions, then so be it. ;) I find virtue signalling extremely harmful, you see. (A quick scroll on LinkedIn right now, for example, will show you what I mean… You have gung-ho Instagram posts featuring and promoting the BLM hashtag and then, bam, affiliate links at the bottom, because, monetization… That’s madness!)
      People don’t generally respond well to being talked at, they always respond better to being talked to and with. Again, I refuse to allow opportunists and narrow minded, divisive individuals to steer me away from the bigger picture or for continuing to care for the things I deem important.
      But no-one can dictate how I care and which words I use when I do.
      From some rather bizarre comments addressed to other people I’ ve read in other CoJ threads regarding this subject (like for example the one asking white people to donate money to funds supporting Black people and follow Black accounts and blogs to educate themselves, “but if they are white to stay away from the comments”!!), I have to say this.
      People are genuinely scared of even having an opinion, let alone express it, in case they are bullied or labelled as racists! They’re delicate flowers, you’ll say, and you might be right, but when did debating become such an odious thing?!
      When someone (white or non-white) offers their emotional, verbal or material support, kindly don’t pick apart their effort and reduce it as lacking, simply for not using all the “right” or “perfect” terms/words or for seemingly being awkward. These are awkward, imperfect times. So, kindly acknowledge and accept the support from allies for what it is. An act of solidarity.
      Thanks for allowing me to share my perspective.
      Be well and hope the world will eventually become a lighter place.
      Over & out ;)

      D, a Greek friend

  10. Maja Gnjidic says...

    Hello,I would like to share one story from schoollife of my seven years old son.He starts this year international school and when my mother ask him about new friends he tells her that his friends are colourful.
    He meant that in most positive way.
    P.s.Sorry for my english

  11. sarah from switzerland says...

    Thank you, this is so interesting! I live in Switzerland and still have a lot to learn. I grew up a bit “color blind” I guess, living with lots of African and French-African neighbours and just not understanding why their beautiful braids wouldnt stay in my hair (yeah I was the white kid with box braids, very cringey in retrospect). It took me years to realise that these neighbor kids, who were from the same social environment as me, would have a harder time finding jobs because of their name or would have their papers checked all the time when taking the train. Just recently I asked my two best friends (one is Haitian-Swiss and the other Vietnamese-Swiss) to tell me about their experience with racism… We’ve been friends for 20 years, and I never thought to ask! Soo much to learn and UNLEARN.

  12. Megan says...

    Thank you so much for bringing attention to this post again. I’m a white woman and never remember discussing race as a child, but as Lori and Sachi are saying here, this is one of the most important ways to be anti-racist. A couple other good resources for parents that I’ve come across are @theconsciouskid and @hereweeread on Instagram.

  13. I feel it’s important to add literally SHOWING UP FOR RACIAL JUSTICE to this list. As I’ve been more intentional over the past few years to say yes and show up to BLM events, my community of friends has just gotten more diverse as a result. I’m showing my own 2 kids who matters and my values by how I spend my time and resources. There have been times when I show up to something like a Trans rights march and honestly feel a tad uncomfortable and out of place— and then I realize it’s a sign that I’m in EXACTLY the right place, in a healthy “zone of disequilibrium”, doing the work I need to do. My 4 yo asked me what protest I was going to last night and it opened up a window of a conversation about police brutality and standing up for what’s right at a developmentally appropriate level for him. We read You’re Going to a March last year before marching for LGBTQIA+ rights— He can’t wait to protest more with me soon.
    https://www.amazon.com/Youre-Going-March-Martha-Freeman/dp/1454929936

  14. Emily says...

    Ladies and gentleman, without throwing tomatoes at me, can we have a real and open conversation about the way some people of color talk to their children about race? I work the inner city of a major US city, and my job is to help and advocate for children of color. I love these kids! And I would- and actually do- do anything for them! A reality that I have experienced is that some people of color teach their children that all white people are oppressors. This is not balanced, and not helpful to anyone, mostly themselves. Has anyone else experienced this? Any suggestions of what can be done ? (Please don’t tell me that white people are to blame for this, we *all* need to work to solve these problems)

    • Kerry says...

      Emily, it seem mis-guided to focus on the fact that some black parents raise their kids to be somewhat scared of and cautious about white people. Like — why redirect this conversation to make black parents the problem?

      And honestly, I think these parents are correct. Systemic racism means that even the nicest white people (inadvertently) oppress black people. We may be working with black kids, donating to the right causes, smiling at black people in the park, etc. but we still have decades of over-privilege that makes us able to get jobs more easily, get the benefit of the doubt from police officers, move our kids to “better” school districts, live in safer neighbourhoods, get loans, walk freely in our cities, decide a black job applicant “doesn’t seem like she’ll fit here”, etc.

      White people need to work on ourselves — when black parents experience a better world I’m sure they’ll raise their kids differently.

    • Dee Nargi says...

      Thank You. We really *all* need to work to get better at this.

    • Kim Rhodes says...

      Emily, it is not the job of your students’ families to convince their children white people are not the enemy, for your comfort. White people are to blame for this. Period. Black people didn’t turn white people into the enemy. We (black people) are fighting for our lives right now…the very right to live and breathe as much as anyone. Instead of asking others to support you so you may feel better about your work, I would ask myself why I decided to do that work in the first place. Educate yourself. The internet is free. So are the suggestions listed above.

    • Emily says...

      @Kim Rhodes, I hear your pain, and it is not my intent to flip this in any way. Both you and Kerry make good points. I agree, don’t think anyone should change their mindset for my comfort. But it’s not about my comfort, it’s about theirs. My point was that this viewpoint is destructive to people of color, especially children . When you get stuck in the victim mentality, you have trouble moving forward. Personally, as a minority myself, I’ve been discriminated against many times, once flat out refused job because of my race. My approach is to just move forward without anger, while trying to advocate for equality on a global level, and making sure that I myself work to treat all people fairly. Anger and hatred would not have been helpful for me. Also, I think that when we have a discussion, it needs to be with an open mind and intellectual honestly to all the factors, this being one of them. We need to look at how all parents- myself included!- talk to their children about this important topic.

    • Caitlin says...

      @Emily please consider that these parents are literally trying to protect their children’s lives, and equipping them with a toolbox for surviving in a racist country.
      I’d also add that the “bootstraps” mentality of telling Black folks that they can fix systemic racism by changing their mindset is not helpful. I’m reading Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility and one metaphor that she uses, which I found so insightful, is the women’s suffrage movement: women could not grant ourselves the right to vote since we could not vote; we had to convince MEN to grant us that right. Similarly, white people are the ones with the institutionalized power, and so it is up to us to dismantle systemic racism.

    • Emily says...

      @Caitin, that is a great point. Definitely something to think about! Two points from this end-firstly, let’s not minimize the current black vote and their ability to use the legislative process to effect change. For sure, all people should help right any wrongs that exist, but they are definitely not powerless in this equation. Secondly, while black mothers certainly need to talk to their children about how to act so that they are protected, it’s super important to express that *some* white people can engage in wrong behaviors, but not all. In the same way that I tell my children that some cops don’t act as they should but many, many do. From my personal experiences, I’m not sure this message is being conveyed.

    • Caitlin says...

      @Emily I certainly didn’t mean to discount the agency and the power of black voices and activism. I simply meant to say that nitpicking black mothers’ language seems seriously besides the point, unhelpful, and unkind when white people are the ones holding so much of the systemic power in this country. I strongly disagree that it is “super important” to focus on any issues you may have with the language of some black folks. I’d argue that we should be focusing on the fact that white folks have spent centuries participating in and benefiting from the kidnapping, enslavement, segregation, disenfranchisement, incarceration, and brutalization of black folks. That, to me, is SUPER important to focus on.

    • Eva says...

      Emily, thanks for posting your comment. What you said about victimhood culture resonated deeply with me and is something I’ve been trying to articulate for days, so I’m grateful someone else sees it too. First let me say I absolutely do not intend to minimize BLM and the atrocious history of blacks in this country and around the world. I fully support justice and equality for all.
      For the sake of intellectual discussion and contemplation though, I would like to ask the general public if this movement is so powerful today because we are in the midst of a very strong victimhood culture. An articles describes victim culture as— “People are intolerant of insults, even if unintentional, and react by bringing them to the attention of authorities or to the public at large. Domination is the main form of deviance, and victimization a way of attracting sympathy, so rather than emphasize either their strength or inner worth, the aggrieved emphasize their oppression and social marginalization.” …. “ Under such conditions, complaint to third parties has supplanted both toleration and negotiation. People increasingly demand help from others, and advertise their oppression as evidence that they deserve respect and assistance. Thus we might call this moral culture a culture of victimhood”
      By the way, I’m not implying that what has happened to blacks in this country can merely be captured in the phrase “insults”. I just mean to point out that I see a lot of parallels between this movement and these descriptions of victim culture.
      We can spend all day discussing how to label this, but more importantly, I think part of the detriment of victim mentality is that it makes it difficult to move on, as Emily pointed out. So I am genuinely curious what people think— is this an effective mindset? How does this actually serve one to move forward? And yes sure we need other people to cooperate, but is that it? Are we completely putting the onus and responsibility on other individuals? That is what it sounds like to me and therefore it’s hard for me to wrap my head around how that kind of shift in responsibility honors one’s own self-worth and resilience.
      Genuine questions here, not trying to undermine anything.

    • Christy says...

      Emily, you may find it helpful to read about critical theory, particularly as applied to race and oppression. It’s possible that you’re already familiar with these concepts. I’m really not sure what the best resource is for this. After a quick Google search, I found this link, which might be useful. I haven’t read it closely, but perhaps it is a start.

      https://vanissarsomatics.com/surviving-oppression-healing-oppression/

      I can tell that you are trying to have a sincere conversation. Wishing you well in this very difficult time.

    • Rebecca says...

      Emily, your comments are deeply problematic, involving harmful victim-blaming and assuming you know what is “helpful” to communities and families of color (and that now, of all times, is when “we” need to have a “real and open” conversation about this harmful point of view).. I strongly suggest you read and re-read Kim’s comment, and turn your investigation inward. There are many good resources on the White Savior Complex and how that operates for white people who work in helping professions. Additionally, White Fragility is a book that I think would be very helpful to you.

    • Ana D says...

      Emily, it’s the height of arrogance to continue assuming that
      A. You know how black parents are educating their children in their homes, and
      B. That you as a not-Black person knows how to parent their children better than they do about the multifaceted deadly threats that you have never faced.

      You obviously care a lot. Right now it feels like your care is focused on correcting what you see as an error in perception on the part of Black parents. I can speak with 100% assuredness that your efforts will be better spent towards correcting the realities of police brutality, extrajudicial killings, and systemic oppression faced by Black parents and children on this continent since before the founding of our country.

      Also, Kim Rhodes gave you a GIFT in her response – she spoke clear truth from her deep experience, brilliance, and spirit, and you missed the boat entirely while moving the goalposts.

      I perceive your comments as really, really, really far off base, being hurtful, and wasting your gifts and heartfelt feelings on an ultimately self-soothing mission at the expense of Black parents and children’s wellbeing during an amped-up era in our nation’s racial horror saga.

    • Elle says...

      Emily,

      I have heard a lot of people use this victim mentality argument as a way to discredit or minimize the very real experience and needs of the black community. There are so many reasons why this is wrong, but the simplest might be that the persecution of black people has never ended, the murder of black people at the hands of police officers has never ended. If a man is in the process of beating a woman, you wouldn’t say to her “stop acting like a victim, it’s holding you back”. The first step is stopping the harmful actions, then trying to undo the effects from the harm, and then a victim can start to heal. We haven’t made a dent in step one. So it comes off as incredibly callous to tell people who can’t yet live safely in this world to stop playing the victim.

      Also, to say that black people have the ability to change this problem though voting ignores all the ways that black people have been continually and purposefully disenfranchised and barred from the political process. It would be far too longwinded to explain all the ways that this has happened, but I hope you will read more about this issue. I don’t think you would have made these comments if you had a more complete understanding.

      Believe black people when they tell you what they are experiencing. Do not look for ways to victim blame. Thank you to Kim Rhodes for that perfect response.

    • Maria says...

      Emily, I think you’ve raised a really great question. As a minority I find it very concerning that impressionable children are being taught to judge all members of a race as bad, as “oppressors”. Teaching children to judge and distrust others because of their race without giving them a chance as individuals seems like it will end up hurting those children and create divides within our community. And I find it very meaningful that you, as a person who has devoted her life to helping children of color and works with them every day, are searching for advice on how to best help them.

      I honestly was taken aback by the hostility in the replies to your comment – especially the response by Kim Rhodes. I have followed Cup of Jo since 2011. I’ve kept coming back to this blog for so long because of the compassion, empathy, and kindness that Jo, her staff, and the commenters have consistently shown. Kim’s comment “Educate yourself. The internet is free” showed none of that. It was angry, condescending, and not productive – it honestly read like Kim just wanted to publicly chastise someone for daring to ask a tough question.

      This is not the community I have known, and I worry that these angry chastising voices will alienate people who genuinely want to help, and silence others who want to ask questions and learn more. Especially at a time like this – more kindness, more compassion, more empathy is needed by all of us.

    • Elle says...

      Maria,

      As Rachel Cargle said, people need to be showing up saying “You have a righteous anger, you’re allowed to be livid at the things that we have imposed on you over history”, not trying to tell Black people that they need to fight for their right to exist safely in the world in a way that is comfortable for non Black people. I understand that you are not White, so maybe the “we” does not apply to you, but everyone needs to recognize that the oppression continues to happen, it is costing Black lives, and Black people have a right to react in the way that they are to the unchecked and unending murder of their people.

      Prioritizing the comfort and feelings of non Black people over the lives, equity, and liberation of Black people is part of White supremacist culture. I recommend reading the Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture here: https://www.uuare.org/cwsc/ . Even if you are not White, you can be inadvertently helping to uphold these structures.

      Defensiveness, Right to Comfort, Paternalism, and Fear of Open Conflict are all showing up in bigs ways in these conversations. An antidote to Right to Comfort is “understand that discomfort is at the root of all growth and learning”. Paternalism is showing up as telling Black people that they would have more success and not alienate people if they did their work in a different way. Why not trust Black people that they have tried doing this work in softer ways and that has not helped?

      When you say “This is not the community I have known”, you are right, this is an improvement. I have also been reading Cup of Jo for many years and while the community has always been very polite, that is not more important than engaging in necessary discussions to end systemic oppression. Politeness is not more important than people’s lives. I’m sure people will say that you can do this work in a polite way but if that were true we wouldn’t still be fighting this fight. Black people do not need to respond to murder politely. Generations of silence and inaction from non Black people has required more drastic response.

      While this can be a space to ask questions, Emily continued to argue her point with very harmful statements and while there may be people who have not already been overly burdened by the work of educating others and answering questions, it is not ones right to get a gentle answer from people who have already been burdened and repeatedly harmed. Black people have been doing the labor of anti-racist work for generations and when it is met with harmful statements time after time, Black people do not need to respond in a way that makes others feel okay. Showing up in the comments and doing harm before doing the readings that are already out there and have been listed all over this site is asking other people to do the labor of educating you instead of using the free and easily accessible resources to educate yourself. Even a brief look at Rachel Cargle’s Instagram would prevent a lot of the harm that is happening.

      To your point and Emily’s original point about Black parents teaching their children that White people are oppressors, all White people are benefiting from being part of an oppressor group, even the best meaning. All black people are at an increased risk of harm and death in this White supremacist culture. It would be dangerous to not prepare children for that. Black parents wouldn’t all need to teach their Black children this if White parents taught their children better. Don’t ever lay the blame at the feet of Black parents for the wrongs of White society. The oppressor culture needs to stop and work to undo the damage done before Black families can begin to heal. Then they might get the relief of being able change the way they have been forced to raise their children. Don’t you think Black parents would love to have the burden lifted of having to confront their young children with the harsh truth’s of the word? They are doing it out of necessity and it is a painful necessity.

    • Emily says...

      I just want to say thank you for all the responses and I’m glad I sparked such a heated discussion! I think it’s so important to hear other’s perspectives so that we can all broaden our intellectual horizons and not just live in “echo chambers” that make us feel good! I do agree that Kim’s response seemed a bit intense, but when people are in pain sometimes things come out harsher than they intend. I respect the pain that people feel right now, and have viewed her comment in that light. One last point here- the purpose of this comment was not to minimize the Black Lives Matter movement or to in any way decrease the mandate that *all* people have to treat *all* people well. That is a truth that needs to be better implemented in our world, especially now. All I wanted to highlight was two things-
      a- a conversation of how to speak to our children about race should be broad enough to encompass all the issues and concerns, even those that make all of us uncomfortable
      B- the desire to help solve this problem from various angles. No one will ever say that there is one straightforward solution to any problem. We need to look at all the angles. I don’t mean to diminish the need for all humans to treat blacks with the respect they deserve, just that we also need to look at all the factors needed to resolve this super complex issue.

  15. Ingrid says...

    This post resonated with me two years ago, and still does. It’s harder to teach anti-racism when you are from a small town in the Midwest where there are few if any people of color, although it’s certainly easy to learn to be racist. You just have to listen. I never thought to actually bring it up when my girls were young. Thankfully they seem to have enough empathy for others to understand racism is not right. None of us are perfect, but we need to work on anti-racism however we can.

  16. Elizabeth says...

    Re: On Naming Race — I had a religious studies professor a couple of years ago who led us through the correct usages of race and the digressions she saw in undergraduates’ papers. She instructed us in the context of good writing and proper punctuation. “African American” is capitalized but not hyphenated. “Black” is not capitalized unless it begins a sentence. But what blew us all away was the use of “colored” by her undergraduates. She had to point out to them that this was offensive and outdated but guessed that it may have come from the phrase “people of color.” I found it interesting that a phrase that had come to be thought of as inclusive was now morphing into an appellation generally considered derogatory.

    • C. says...

      One gentle note on this – different people have different views on capitalizing “Black.” I’m a white woman and my Black colleagues prefer to capitalize Black (and we’ve adjusted our internal style guide to do the same). More info about why many Black people prefer capitalization can be found via Google.

    • Elizabeth says...

      C — thank you for your comment. I will take you up on your Google suggestion and I have no desire to offend anyone. My professor is very embedded in the academy (not sure if that requires a capital) and a stickler for punctuation and all rules relating to writing within an academic context so I followed what she required.

      It was the use of “colored” by her younger students that floored me and opened up a generation gap that felt like a chasm.