As we observe Martin Luther King’s birthday today with MLK Day, Memphis Moms Blog is looking inward to see how Memphis moms are handling the topic of race in their households. MLK would have turned 90 years old on Jan. 15 and in April, it will be 51 years since his death in our city. Are race relations any better for our children in Memphis, or even nationally? If not, how can WE, AS MOMS, change that?
For me, I’ve always wanted what’s best for my children, just like every other mom out there. My husband and I have worked hard to teach them that they control their destiny and that no one can stop them from achieving all that God has in store for them. But in reality, life is so much more complicated than that when dealing with biases within our society.
My first memory of race being a touchy subject for one of my kids is the day my middle daughter came home with a coloring sheet of a pilgrim. Thanksgiving was coming up so of course, the kids were knee-deep in learning about the discovery of America. Not surprisingly, my daughter colored her pilgrim with a brown crayon. Unfortunately, her teacher told her that she colored it wrong because pilgrims were not brown. Oh really? In the world of second-graders, anything can be any color in their minds so for her teacher to choose this moment to tell her she was wrong stuck with me — and that was more than 13 years ago.
As an African-American, talking about race with my children is not a one-time thing. It is a constant stream of conversations that happen over the course of their childhood, just like talking about school or church or music or their friends. As my older son reached his teens, our conversations were accelerated somewhat. In a world where young Black boys’ names were becoming hashtags, the fear I felt (and still feel occasionally) for my son was indescribable. And as a newcomer to Memphis, I had no idea that race relations in Memphis had not progressed too much beyond what it was almost 50 years ago. There are no overt displays of racism or no outright protests but from my vantage point, there is a simmering just below the surface.
I think the most important piece of how we prepare our children is through education. Schools tend to teach African-American history from a painful— or negative — perspective. We all know that Blacks were brought over as slaves. We all know about the Jim Crow laws preventing Blacks from being treated fairly in all aspects of life. But when do our children hear the history of our great accomplishments, our positives (outside of Black History Month)? There is a reason it took more than 50 years for the nation to be made aware of the great NASA mathematician, Katherine Johnson. “Hidden Figures” is both literal and figurative in this sense.
So in our household, we teach our children ourselves about our great, and positive, history. They don’t only hear about the pain of our people, but the accomplishments too. Books upon books upon books have come through our household to show our children that in a world of craziness, they matter too. This is how we focus on race — show that it’s not a bad word but an integral part of who we are. Yes, there are some people who believe that the color of our skin means we’re different. I invite them to take two eggs — one brown and one white — and tell me the difference they see when they crack both of them open.
The second way of preparing them is through awareness of life around them. I’ve always made a point to engage in all spaces — whether they are mixed spaces, predominantly Black spaces or predominantly White spaces — so that my children will have the knowledge of how to navigate wherever they are. Notice I didn’t say so they will be “comfortable” wherever they are because not all spaces are welcoming.
This is just my take on talking about race. I’ve mentioned before that we all have different ways of handling the topic in our households. Read on to see how my MMB colleagues handle the subject of race in their own households.
QUOTES FROM MMB CONTRIBUTORS
“I try to prepare my boys for negative things they will hear and experience. For instance, while we are the Levitt Shell my 6-year-old asked me: Why does that lady keep calling us little black monkeys? I’m not black, I’m brown. And I’m not a monkey – I’m a people. I continuously remind them: You are a brown-skinned boy. The same rights that others have will not always be afforded to you. No matter how smart you are, or how kind you are, or how helpful you are; when some people see you, sadly, they will only see a little black kid that’s about to do something bad. So when we’re out and about, stick close to Mommy or Daddy unless we say otherwise.”
“At one point, my girls felt that they weren’t as pretty as other girls because they didn’t have straight hair and light colored eyes. My response to them has been: you are beautiful. Embrace the way God made you. Your hair is curly and kinky and that is just fine. We all have our unique qualities and that’s what makes us all special. Love yourself first and make sure you carry yourself with respect…but you have to give it to get it. You will have those that will treat you differently because of the color of your skin but always remember love triumphs the deepest of hate. Walk with your head up high and know you deserve the very best. Don’t ever compromise who you are.”
“As a white mom, I am always trying to find ways to talk to my kids about race. I think teaching them that the color of our skin doesn’t matter is important, but to stop there would be a disservice to them. I want my kids to know that while our country has come a long way, it still has a long way to go. This means staying aware myself. It’s easy to get comfortable in our little “white bubbles” where we all look the same and are treated the same. We say we aren’t “racist” because we treat everyone the same, (in our white bubbles, mind you). It’s not enough. Unless we are actively part of a solution, then we might just be part of the problem. I don’t want to be that person, and I definitely don’t want my kids to be those people either.”
“The first race discussion we had, came up just last week. We received a book for Christmas about female trailblazers, and I had to go more in depth as to why Rosa Parks sitting on a bus was significant. My child had a look of horror on her face as she heard me telling her that some countries had laws governing what you were allowed to do based on what you looked like, where you were born, or what parts you had in your pants. So we talked about how unfair and ridiculous that is, but really, I need to be more prepared. Here’s the book, if anyone’s curious.” https://www.amazon.com/This-Little…/dp/1534401067
Memphis moms, now it’s YOUR turn. Tell us how you talk to your children about race. This is a safe space for ALL comments/opinions/reactions.