By Angela Carroll
This is third part of a series running during Black History Month concerning race relations in our valley and beyond.
The exchange of honest conversation is one of the best gifts humans can give to each other. As a long-time educator of preschool and elementary-aged children, I have found that youth especially need honest answers to their sometimes-challenging questions. These answers will help them understand and navigate the world in which they live. I recognize the enormous difficulty in discussing the “hard things” with young kids, and in particular, the idea of talking about race can feel very uncomfortable.
In my home, tough conversations are initiated by my child, who is biracial, out of the necessity of his experience. He was three when he first verbalized his awareness of racial classifications. At around four he came home from the playground asking why other kids thought he was so different—Why was his brown skin not “normal”? Our first heavy conversation about race occurred when he was five. We are at the beginning of a lifetime of tough conversations and it is my hope that if all families had similar conversations it would lead to lessening the hurt, confusion and continuance of racial divides.
When I discussed the science of skin color with my child (see February 14 issue), he grinned and said, “Cool, it’s like I have super skin! I could live anywhere.” What a better message than feeling “not normal.” We have recognizable physical differences, but you do not ever see a child feeling alienated for having blue eyes when his friend’s eyes are brown. Providing knowledge of the biological basis of human diversity and the history behind why skin color has been taught to matter, would offer kids a clear and non-judgmental understanding while simultaneously raising their awareness to recognize and stand against injustice.
To recognize and honor Black History Month, I ask you to explain to your children about the history and wrongness of slavery, highlight the great people with all colors of skin who fought to end it. Explain about segregation and its lasting impacts. Celebrate black heroes, watch videos of speeches by MLK, seek out books that feature people of color, normalize people of color in your home and in your children’s lives. This is especially important when you live in non-diverse places or if your family and extended family are predominately considered white.
Look at the books in your home. Are people of color represented? When you are listening to favorite music of artists of color, make a point to show your kids a picture of that artist. When you are in the aisle of baby dolls and they are all white, make a statement to your kids that you think it is not fair that all the baby dolls have white skin, because that does not represent all people. Highlight inventors and scientists with brown and black skin. For example, Jan Ernst Matzeliger, Elijah McCoy and Garrett Morgan revolutionized the shoe and railroad industries and invented the stoplight and the gas mask. Shirley Ann Jackson, George Washington Carver and Susan McKinney Steward were a great nuclear physicist, an agricultural scientist and a doctor. These are just a few great people who made discoveries that impacted human history, but they are little known because of their skin color.
Black history should not be separate from history, but because of historical segregation and classifications, the contributions of amazing leaders, scientists, inventors, etc. of color were not included in classroom teachings. We have the power to change this. We must do this because standard history teachings have been skewed. This is illustrated by everyone knowing the name of Thomas Edison and not Granville Woods, who was a brilliant electrician and the actual inventor of the telegraph system. All historically significant individuals need to be acknowledged and honored for their greatness and sacrifice, regardless of their physical traits.
To fight injustice, it must first be recognized. Parents and educators have the greatest impact on children’s perceptions, and through conversation and education can help eradicate racism and racial divides in our country. We can fight against racism, injustice and disparities but this needs to be a conscious effort. Specifically, there needs to be an active effort from white people to stand against it. History needs to be told with accuracy and justice. All homes need to have conversations about race if we no longer want race to be an issue.
Throughout the history of humanity, people have wronged each other. There has been slavery since biblical times. There have always been people who want to claim they are greater than others. These stories play out again and again. Differences in religion, gender, ethnic culture and physical features have been used to cause divides. In our nation, part of our history involved the story of oppressing and wronging people of color, and we continue to deal with the aftermath of this atrocity. But knowledge is power, and that starts at home between parents and their children. In a history where mis-education was used to gain power, we must counter it with truth.