February is Black History Month in America, as well as in a few other countries. It is an annual observance that is a way for remembering important people and events in the history of the African diaspora. Black History Month often sparks a debate, from both people of color and white people, about the continued usefulness and fairness of a designated month dedicated to the history of one race. However, the reality of it is, the history of black people and other people of color, as well as their contributions to society, are still not equally represented in society, in the classrooms, in homes, etc. Ideally, the celebration and contributions of black people, as well as other people of color and other marginalized groups, would be integrated into mainstream education and society, all year. Since that is not usually done, we still need specific months to acknowledge and celebrate these contributions, such as Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, Asian Pacific Heritage Month, Native American Heritage Month, etc. However, what’s more important is to not limit these acknowledgments, celebrations, and exposures to one particular month, and instead, make it apart of your “normal” day to day life. Here are 5 ways to help you do just that!
- Actively Seek Out Diversity. Do all of you and your child’s friends look like you? Diversity is so important to have! I can honestly say that our (my husband, children, and I) have a diverse group of friends. We have friends that are White, Black, West Indian, African, South American, etc. And I don’t mean, “friends” like “we have “friends” of another race or culture” meaning we just know them, but don’t really have a personal relationship with them. I mean, like friends that we talk and hang out, go to each other’s homes, even go on vacations together, etc. If your child looks and lives like all of his or her other friends, your child believes himself or herself to be the “norm.” So, even if you openly condemn racism, your children’s attitudes are affected by the color of the company you keep, which is why having a diverse group of friends is so important. In addition to having diversity in your friends, you can also actively seek out cultural and diverse events and activities to attend as a family. Parents must work with children to avoid building up walls of intolerance, prejudice, and harsh judgment. If you are interested in doing this, one thing that you can do is join my Facebook group, The Ebony Journey at http://www.facebook.com/groups/theebonyjourney. The group is for people who are interested in being aware and sharing information, resources, events, toys, books, activities, and articles, which emphasizes black and brown people. There is a ton of information constantly being shared on the Facebook group.
- Have Diversity in Books and Toys. Whenever I purchase books for my children or to use with my child clients in therapy, I look through the pages. If I don’t see any kind of diversity, for example, at least one person of color, I DO NOT purchase that book. It is important for children to see images that look like them and that look differently from them, to teach acceptance, self-love, and have a positive image of self and others. The only exceptions that I make are for character books and toys, such as DC or Marvel Superheroes, Disney Princesses and other Disney Characters, etc. “It is what it is” and Superman is white, Wonder Woman is white, Cinderella is white, and so on and so on. So, I will not go to the “extreme” and not purchase those books or toys for my children, however, I will also make a conscious effort to purchase other books and toys, such as Black Panther, Cyborg, Princess Tiana, Princess Jasmine, Mulan, etc. Oh, and don’t limit these purchases to your children only. Make these conscious and diverse choices for books and toys, as gifts for other children, for birthdays and other occasions. If you have children and they’re like mine, you always have a child’s birthday party to attend, from school or your personal circle of friends. So, why not take that opportunity to bring diversity to their homes, as well.
- Seek Diversity on the “small” screen and “big” screen. It is no secret that people of color are usually not well represented on television and movies. Often times, when people of color are on television and movies, it is usually portraying a negative role or stereotype. Other times, there is one “token” person of color playing a major or supporting role in the show or movie. However, there have been great improvements in this area over the past few years. Of course, you always want to make sure that the show or movie is age-appropriate, if you are planning on having a child watch it. Some of my favorite TV shows for myself are: Black-ish, which discusses and challenges stereotypes in comedic fashion, This Is US, which does an excellent job of not only having topics about race, but also the challenges and differences of a white couple raising a black child, and of course, ALL of Shonda Rhimes’ television shows, which are known for not only having a diverse cast, as our society really is, but also having characters with black people, other people of color, and other marginalized groups in lead roles. Oh, and let’s not forget about the highly anticipated release of the movie, Black Panther, about the first superhero of African descent in mainstream American comics, set to release on February 16, 2018. Some great television shows for children are: Doc McStuffins, about a young black girl, who is a toy doctor (she can talk to and fix toys) and Elena of Avalor, about a young Latina princess, who has saved her kingdom from an evil sorceress and must learn to rule as its crowned princess. Both shows are targeted for preschoolers and younger elementary school aged children.
- Do Not Teach “Colorblindness” or “Not To See Color”. Once when my son was about 6 years old, he asked me, “why they always have a whole bunch of peach people on shows and only one brown person?” So, as much as some people would like to believe that people, especially children, don’t see color, we all see color (and that is okay)! Children notice that people are different colors, have different hair textures, etc., as young as 3 years old. Not talking about color or teaching children to ignore it, will not stop the spread of racism! Black people and other people of color are “forced” to talk to their children about the color of their skin at a young age, in order to prepare them for times when they will be treated differently and sometimes unfairly because of the color of their skin. This is also done in an effort to teach a sense of self-pride and having a positive image, in a society where you are often taught and treated otherwise. When all children discuss color, in regard to race, and learn about racism, children usually have a more positive and less negative views of black people and other people of color. If you teach your children, “colorblindness” or “not to see color”, you are indirectly teaching your children to remain silent and possibly believe whatever hateful or negative thing that is being said, which brings me to my final tip!
- SPEAK UP AND SPEAK OUT. When you hear someone make a racist comment or joke or stereotype, even if it’s your parent, family member, friend, or stranger, SPEAK UP! Speak up by challenging, defending, not tolerating, not accepting, and correcting what was said! So, at times, we must get uncomfortable and risk possibly losing friends and family, or not getting invited to the next social event. The future of our country is in our hands, as well as the generation that we are raising, and our children are watching us!