We Can't Hide the Realities of Race From Our Children

by Anna Gibson
“Black parents almost universally say they talk to their kids about discrimination, and black boys are given “the talk” by the time they’re in middle school: Keep your hands out of your pockets, don’t wear a hooded sweatshirt, your curfew is 9. I don’t care what time your friends have to be home.”
As the recent article “Can Racism be Stopped in the Third Grade?” in New York Magazine quotes, racism is an all too stark reality for black parents and their children. As the widespread spats of police violence against Michael Brown and Tamir Rice would indicate, black children are more likely to be demonized in tragic instances of police violence. They are also often seen as older and more dangerous than their white counterparts. With these realities in mind, how can society address the problem? Closing our eyes to the issue would be detrimental. The Fieldston Lower School is trying to create a dialogue around race that will help children honestly affirm both their differences and similarities to each other.

Conversations surrounding race involve everything from self-concept to how racial realities affect white, black, and other children of color. These children are beginning to understand how their race impacts the world’s perception of them at a very young age.

According to the article, “By the time [the students] have entered elementary school, they’re at the golden age. At 7 or 8, children become very concerned with fairness and responsive to lessons about prejudice.” It should be noted, the Fieldston Lower program begins discussing racism at a young age in a manner that’s open and honest between students. They aren’t too young to tackle the racial issues of the day. The people behind Fieldston Lower aren’t denying that racial inequality exists, but seek instead to expound and expand on that knowledge, confronting the reality head on in a way that will help our future co-workers, entrepreneurs, and politicians approach racism and racial issues with confidence and empathy.
A key issue that many people of color face in regards to racism is a sense of isolation. To be the only one of an underrepresented group in any given situation is bound to be an alienating and uncomfortable experience. Black women have described being the only woman in an all white class where the professor asks about the ‘African American experience.’

To have the courage to speak out when you’re the only black person in any group can cause these brave individuals to be labeled the Dangerous Black Man or Mad Black Woman, and automatically dismissed by their peers. These microaggressions are ubiquitous across the board and something that every person of color has had to deal with. In order to combat this at an early age, Fieldston Lower allows the children to break off into small groups by race, which they call “affinity groups.” This allows each group to feel comfortable discussing issues of race with their peers, and not feel isolated but emboldened to approach tough issues with children of other races.

It’s well known that people of color typically ‘code switch,’ navigating spaces outside of their immediate “safe zone” (i.e. family and friends) by speaking and acting in a manner that will ingratiate themselves with the environment they find themselves in. A segment on NPR provides an example of this phenomenon:
“We can not tell you how many dozens of stories we got from people who work in service industries who said that a Southern accent is a surefire way to get better tips and more sympathetic customers. Apparently everyone who works in a restaurant picks up "y'all" immediately upon arriving at their job.”
For people of color, this quickly becomes a defense mechanism as any sister with an ethnic name will tell you when trying to land a job. If your name is Keisha and you get an interview in a predominantly white corporation (even though your chances are lower), you’d better talk as ‘proper’ as you can. Code switching then, is a form of self-preservation as much as it is self-defense. The underlying implication is, who you are as a person and a race isn’t good enough. In fact, your “alien” status should be suppressed in the presence of the dominant standard. You should bend to that standard’s will or else you won’t survive.

By allowing the students to come from their ‘racial groups’ and mix with students of other ‘racial groups,’ they can give each other an honest appraisal about issues they see both themselves and their parents go through on the day to day basis. They’re also able to discuss racial differences thereby allowing them to be unique while simultaneously considering the similarities and differences of the other.

At this age, children are just beginning to make sense of themselves and how they’re perceived racially. While it can’t be denied that they’ll face a number of racial injustices in everyday life as they learn, this program could begin the process of our children understanding themselves and others. It’ll also create a forum and a bit of support to help them approach racial differences with greater ease, and hopefully release any animosities towards one another.

Photo: Shutterstock

Anna Gibson is a freelance writer, devout Buddhist and journalist attending Wayne State University in Detroit. She seeks to create a safe space for the marginalized to tell their stories. If you want to get in touch you can contact her @TheRealSankofa or on Facebook where she’s totally not hiding under the name Anna Gibson.

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