Commentary on the Five Myths of Talking About Race With Your Child

I recently read Jaime- Jin Lewis’s article called Five Myths of Talking about Race with Your Child in the RIISE blog. Ms. Lewis is spot on! Every parent and educator of children should read it and practice her tips of addressing the myths. I would like to add two more myths to the list. Perhaps there are others as well. Please send them in to the comment section.

Myth 6: Having Same Race Friendships Are Enough

In working with K-12 educators over the past few years, I have heard parents tell me that they are worried that their children only hang out with friends from their racial group. The children have no interest in building friendships across the color line. These parents recognize that their children are in danger of developing bias that left unchecked will grow into unhealthy beliefs about people of color. See Ms. Lewis’s Myths #1 and #3. The question to ask parents is what interracial friendships do they have? Parents are a model of social interaction for their children. One of the best ways to interrupt same race self- selection that children do is for parents to show them the way through their own multiracial friendships. It simply is not enough to talk about race or the benefits of diversity. Children should experience interracial relationships regularly, the earlier the better.

Myth 7: Sending Children on Mission/Service Projects is Enough

Sending children of any race on cross-cultural/racial mission or service trips can confuse them and may send them on a path of superiority. Over the years, parents would tell me that they were so proud of their children going to an Indian reservation or a country of color because they were learning about diversity and embracing it. Parents knew that valuing diversity is a key step to help reduce prejudice and is an important part of living in 21st century America. The major issue with this strategy is that it can promote privilege, specifically white privilege. The privilege that comes from a young person thinking they are doing good helping human kind but perhaps perpetuating a “missionary” attitude. A missionary attitude can be defined as someone trying to help others from a position of a “do gooder” or place of racial, cultural or religious superiority. The term became cemented into the American lexicon during the mission period of the last century with Christians forcibly Christianizing American Indians. The belief was that the spiritual beliefs of indigenous people were inferior.

Parents can’t count on the religious or service organizations providing a race conscious or culturally competent orientation.  It is recommended that parents sit down with their children and have a heart to heart talk about the purpose of their trip and address race and cultural issues.

Ideally, service should be two way and co-created without any hint that one race, culture or belief system is better than another.

Talking about race to anyone can be challenging but it is critical to start the conversation with our children. Ms. Jin-Lewis’s article is a great place to start. What other myths exist that need to be surfaced and discussed? Please share in the comment section.