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Raising Children in a Race Conscious World (Race Relations Mama Truth Show Series with Kara Wright)

White fragility…white privilege…what to do if your child says a racist remark…how to have a conversation about race. All of these topics and MORE are covered in today’s Mama Truth Show featuring America’s first Diversity Coach, Kara Wright, of

  1. Patricia Schnee says:

    Excellent interview! My children are young adults and I would have liked some of those tips when I was raising them.
    Thank you!

  2. Amelia says:

    Loved this interview. Kara’s perspective is so wise and so needed, especially right now. I’ve been trying to understand the difficult place our country is in for some time now. Some of the more extreme voices on both sides can be very off putting – it’s not easy to see the real people underneath the raw anger, confusion, and lashing out at “the other”. Hearing from mothers of color is very powerful, and Kara’s position as a professional diversity coach gives her the wisdom and experience to explore these issues in a way that is respectful of everyone and doesn’t shame anyone for their lack of past experience.

    I thought the idea of exploring what it means to be “white” was interesting, because it’s a concept that keeps changing. My great grandparents would NOT have been considered “white” when they arrived in this country in the early 1900s. My grandparents and parents were also on the receiving end of a lot of discrimination and disrespect from “white” people. Yet, to most people today, I would be considered white, except to hardcore white supremacists. There’s no question that my son will be perceived as a “white” child.

    To me, growing up, my ideas about being “other” were more about religion, ethnicity, and language, not about skin color per se. Growing up as a religious and cultural minority in a very diverse area, I had the experience of not understanding the language spoken by many of my classmates, not looking like them, not believing in the same religion as them. But it wasn’t about race for me, it was about not being Japanese or Korean, or Christian. I never had the experience of being made conscious of my skin color probably until college, and even then it wasn’t at the forefront for me. It *was* awkward to not be Christian when most of America is Christian, but we lived in a fairly tolerant area that tried to accommodate all holidays and leave out the most religious references in holiday music. My parents were always very on guard about that. They didn’t want me being forced to avow Christian beliefs when our family had worked so hard to survive as Jews.

    As a person of Jewish descent, I was very conscious of the fact that most of my family was killed for being Jews. I was taught in religious school that many people, especially “Arabs”, continued to hate Jews and would like nothing more than to kill us. It was a revelation to go to college and have my Hebrew teacher be an Israeli of Yemeni descent, to find out that there were Jews who were also “Arabs”. I instinctively knew that the ideas I had been taught in religious school couldn’t be true, but I understood that my teachers had served in the army and had first hand experience fighting people who were indeed being preached to that it was holy to kill Jews. That sentiment is still out there, but we get anti-Semitism now. It’s not socially acceptable anymore, mostly. Though as racism and anti-immigrant sentiment seeps out into the open, anti-Semitism tends to come right along with it.

    Today I teach in a Jewish school, which includes students of European and Middle Eastern backgrounds. Every Jewish child of European ancestry has family experiences of great-great grandparents or great-grandparents killed, imprisoned, and exiled for being Jewish. We are the descendants of refugees. But with each passing generation, the link isn’t as visually obvious. If my students were to cut their hair or wear different clothes, many (not all) would pass as white Christians.

    So where does this leave us now? We’re not people of color, but it doesn’t feel adequate to be classified as “white” either. That lumps us in with many other groups of people in America and Europe who were on opposite sides from us. In a way it’s a perfect “f*** you” to the Spanish Inquisition, the Holocaust executioners, the enforcers of the Pale of Settlement, to have their descendants and our descendants considered to be the same race. They’d find nothing more horrifying. On the other hand, I am genetically distinct from these groups – in fact I can trace my genetic line back to the 1st century Rome, when a Roman man interbred with a Jewish woman (probably a slave, or perhaps an exile) and crossed into Europe to live in ghettos and segregated towns until my teenage great grandmother boarded a ship to escape from violence against Jews. It’s really weird for me to be visually lumped in with people as if we have a common ancestry when we totally don’t. And I have to admit, I really take exception when people start talking about how all white people are responsible for things like slavery and Jim Crow when my ancestors were being persecuted at that exact time.

    I would say I realized I was “white” when I started my first teaching job and noticed that most of the students and assistants were people of color, but the head teachers and administrators were all “white”. Many of the assistants were also older than me, in fact just about everybody was since I was just out of college and had no experience at all. I was hired just on the basis of knowing someone who recommended me for the job, and having a college degree from a well known school. I had a lot of experience with children, but not with special needs, and I was uncomfortable at first even before I realized that I was one of the only non-people-of-color there. It felt awkward and wrong to me. They really couldn’t find *any* head teachers or administrators of color? I tried to tell myself it was the combination of not paying enough – I was living with my parents, so I had the luxury of not caring about that – and requiring a college degree. But it looked freaking racist! I felt like I had something extra to prove to my assistants, and I deferred to them probably more than I would have if there had been more of a range of backgrounds. I was super conscious of being a young white woman supervising older women of color. The awkwardness went away somewhat as we got to know each other, and it was a huge relief when they hired a white assistant so that it didn’t look like every single assistant was a person of color. I still think it was the wrong message for the kids. They needed to see a range of people in charge. I tried to make that happen in my own classroom but I don’t know how successful it was.

    I was also told flat out by an assistant that some of the students wouldn’t respond to me because I was white, but that was not true at all. She may have told herself that to make herself feel better about not having the connection with the kids that she really wanted. I never found that the students cared about my skin color. I did have one parent who preferred to talk to my assistant in Haitian rather than to me, but I chalked it up to them speaking the same language and feeling more comfortable with someone who shared the culture. Maybe that’s my white privilege talking – I can brush it off as not being about race, whether it was or it wasn’t. Being as I was there to serve the family and the child, I didn’t feel like it was something to take personally.

    I worry about the weight of topics like race on our kids when they’re too young to put it into context. It’s a luxury to have a choice about when to introduce the topic to my child, rather than have society force that upon us. I loved Kara’s suggestions of how to meet kids where they are and make it real for them, coming from a place of respect and appreciation. The school where I did my student teaching was just in the news for having a controversial diversity curriculum where, according to the news story, white kids were going home and telling their parents they were ashamed of being white. I don’t think any parent, of any skin color or background, should have to feel like they’re sending their kids to school to be taught to be ashamed or devalue themselves in ANY way. It does not have to be a zero sum game where white kids feel good, so therefore kids of color have to feel bad. Or the other way around. We should be uplifting all of our children and ensuring that they feel valued, seen for who they are, and included in our school curricula throughout the year and not just during a token month. That’s something I have worked on a lot as a teacher.

    So this turned out to be a book – sorry for the length & rambling. I was just very inspired by the episode and I’m sure others were too.

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