Though I'm learning by the day, I've gleaned some tips for racially conscientious parenting that can also be helpful for grandparents, guardians, teachers and others involved in child raising.
1. Acknowledge and discuss the reality of racism.
I began talking with my son about race at an early age. We've discussed how sometimes people don't get treated fairly because of their skin color and how they've had to stand up for their rights. I've explained that I'm called "white" even though my skin is tan, and he'll often be called "black," though his skin is brown. We talk about current events, like a few summers back when a group of black children weren't allowed to swim in a Pennsylvania pool. These conversations are as natural as talking about the changing weather and safely crossing the street. I'm helping him understand his reality so he's equipped to deal with it. And I want him to know that it's OK to talk openly about race, especially with me, and hopefully with others.
Addressing racism involves seeing and listening more carefully, and speaking up when something's wrong. Don't be "color-blind" or "race mute," for avoidance is unhelpful and silence is complicity. We must illuminate racism in order to eliminate racism. As adults, we can step up and initiate ongoing and age-appropriate discussions about race. We can learn through practice how to lead and model constructive, validating and enlightening conversations.
It's helpful to connect with, or create, a group of allies with whom you can talk on an ongoing basis about race issues. Look around to see if there's a local organization that addresses racism, or try to find an online community. Don't be afraid to start a local group, if needed, by pulling together some interested acquaintances who are willing to meet regularly. My son and I have found a genuine community of people engaged in racially conscientious parenting through a summer camp put on by Pact, an organization that specializes in providing services to families with adopted children of color. Pact provides educational resources and services that directly address racism and highlight the perspectives of adult adoptees of color.
2. Learn to understand and challenge institutional racism.
Racism is not simply personal prejudice but, rather, a system of institutional inequality. It's not enough to try and change yourself or other individuals. We also have to change institutions that have biased practices and unfair policies. Schools are a great place to start challenging institutional racism, since most families have direct experience with them.
When parents at my son's racially diverse school learned of a proposed policy change that would make it easier for the district's wealthier and whiter schools to obtain more computer equipment, we started a petition and presented it as a group to the school board. We know that the so-called "racial achievement gap" is often a reflection of a resource gap, where unequal inputs yield unequal outcomes.
If the advanced placement classes are filled with mostly white students, if the curriculum is perpetuating stereotypes, if there aren't many teachers of color, you can do something about it. Ask questions, talk with students about their experiences, request public documents, organize parents, talk to elected officials, notify the media and take public action. If you're white, you don't have to wait for people of color to complain first. You can be change agents and agitators by speaking out when something's wrong, as well as allies to people of color.
Read more tips at ColorLines.