In a time where we have to discuss this separator of people called “race”, we tend to forget how it impacts the little minds that we are raising. As a woman of color raising a young black man, I have found it extremely challenging when school is in session to address this issue. For the past 6 years, my son has almost always attended a daycare or an educational institution where there were little to no children of color. Although the lack of diversity bothered me, I never wanted it to affect my son. It wasn’t until Romeo was 4 years old that he started to realize that he wasn’t like everyone else. He came home one day asking, “Mom, why do people call me black when my skin is brown? And… why are they always asking to touch my curly hair?” I honestly laughed nervously because he was now experiencing what I knew would come.
It was time to have “The Talk”.
In order for Romeo and I to survive the circumstance of being the only child of color in the classroom year after year… I have found it extremely valuable to have four important “talks” to ensure my son continues to be successful in his academics.
1. Talk with your Child. First and foremost, sit down with your youngin’ and have a candid conversation about who they are, their culture, and how beautiful it is that they are different. I use affirmations that I write on Romeo’s mirror every day to encourage him to be proud of the person staring back at him. He understands that his skin tone is darker due to a “material” called melanin in the skin that protects from the too much sun. He doesn’t believe that he is less than anyone else because he is the only one in the class with more melanin. I encourage you to have this conversation in the most authentic way possible to keep your child confident, loving themselves for their differences, and not feeling inferior in any way.
2. Talk with the Educators. Schedule time to talk with the teacher of the class and even the principal of the school to be sure they are culturally aware of what your child may be feeling. Educators are informed with cultural sensitivity training but you are in the position to advocate and ensure that best practices are being followed. For instance, one of my son’s teachers celebrated Christopher Columbus Day and my son knowing his heritage said “How did he find America, when Native Americans were already here?” The teacher saw this as disruptive behavior but I had to advocate that this was an extremely confusing and inaccurate lesson to teach not only to my son but to his classmates as well. Speaking up about something so small as celebrating certain holidays and traditions can help create change and ensure that your child is being educated in an environment that embraces diversity.
3. Talk with Parents. Become a member of the PTA and any other community groups that allow you to connect with parents of your child’s classmates. Set up playdates to break any stereotypes and implicit bias they may have about you, your child, or your situation. Connecting with Romeo’s classmates’ parents has created opportunities to educate as well as build meaningful relationships that cross racial and cultural barriers that have positively impacted the parents and my family.
4. Talk with your Village. Your church, your neighbors, your family and your friends will all be able to help keep you and your child encouraged. Although Romeo sees people that don’t look like him all day; people that may not understand certain words or phrases he uses due to cultural differences; and people that may be infatuated with how he dresses or how he wears his hair; Romeo will always remember home is a safe place. You can create that haven of where your child can truly be themselves free of judgement by making sure your village is informed, aware, and supportive of your child and this circumstance.
I have found the four conversations above to be important. Each talk has helped Romeo and I complete each year of school successfully while learning about others as well as educating about diversity and its importance. I hope it encourages you not to back down when lack of diversity exists but to become aware and face the beast head on!
As always… Be Strong Mama! You got this!
Read more of Georgina’s contributions to allmomdoes here.