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Parenting Children of Minority Races PDF Print E-mail
To be successful parenting a child of a different race you must accept that race makes a difference. Really and truly you may never "get it" but you can be more sensitive to it. When you are in the majority your can't imagine how it feels to be different, odd, a minority. Imagine how you are reading a book and the race of the main character is not mentioned... you assume he must be white. If you were asked to describe yourself, what would you say? Would you include your race? Adults of other races will include their race. It is something they deal with every day. It matters.

Your child must be prepared or they will pay the price. You cannot assume they will pass for white and never have to face racial issues. A Native child growing up in Winnipeg, adopted trans-racially, will be treated differently in the playground when he is not with his parents. A Chinese child will be expected to excel at math or computers, or they may be asked by class mates to teach them to eat with chopsticks! A male Arab boarding a plane will be closely observed. In Calgary, in 1999, two black males sitting outside a bank with the car running on a cold winter day were waiting for a friend to cash a pay cheque. The police had them get out of the car and put their hands agonist the wall and frisked them. Would that happened if they were white? Children need to know this might happen. They need to know that they may be evaluated on the basis of their race. If you accept this and begin to prepare your child, he or she will not take it personally.

Seven-year-old Jane is the only black girl in her school. She came home from school one day saying, "Everyone thinks I'm so cute, the older girls ask if they can touch my hair." I told her it wasn't because she was cute, but because she was racially different, and they wanted to know how her hair felt. Another time a new girl at school kept staring at Jane. "She looks at me funny, like I'm weird." How would you answer that one.

Children who aren't brought up to expect racism are really thrown by it. You need to teach your child that life is not always fair. Not every child will be treated equally, not every child will be treated fairly. Sometimes how you look effects how you are treated.

Learn as a parent to listen. Talk less and listen more. Show a black preschooler the video, "Prince of Egypt." Talk about the Hebrews being slaves because they had different beliefs. Ask your child how they think the slaves felt. Help your child to develop thoughts and ideas about slavery before they learn of black slavery so it will not seem so personal. Talk about the heroine in "Shrek," how did the people react when she looked different? How do you think that made her feel? Set up situations where you can talk about feelings and about being different in small ways so that when the larger situations arrive, your child is prepared.

A child's self-esteem is initially created by what others tell them. As they become older and more capable they are able to feel good about themselves and have a self-image that is built around the good they see in themselves. Eventually, how they feel about themselves becomes more important than what others think of them. Your child needs to feel good about who they are (and this includes their race) to develop the skills they will need to deal with racism. Children often assume things we don't talk about are bad. Talk about differences, talk about race. Tell your daughter you love her eyes, or her flat nose.

This is similar to the way families are trained to deal with adoption in children. Families are told to cuddle their new baby and tell them "we are so glad we adopted you" even before the child understands the words. As the child grows in understanding more information is added, at the level of their understanding. Hopefully the child develops a sense that adoption is a good think. Then one day in Grade 2 some kid yells at them in the playground, "I don't like you, no one likes you, even your own mother didn't like you, she gave you away, your adopted." A child who is prepared and knows adoption is a good word will think "that child is stupid, adoption is a good thing" and is not devastated. Children can be teased for many things... at swimming lessons, at the park, at a friend's birthday party. It's your job as a parent to prepare your child for the inevitables in childhood and teasing is one and racism is another. They need to know teasing is wrong and so is racism.

Always be sensitive to racial issues. After a bath say to your black child, "Your beautiful black skin needs lotion." Always be aware of race, and how it affects your child.

Dad, in a generous mood took Jane to the Disney Store for a Halloween costume. He bought Snow White. Jane came home from Halloween in tears and hid the costume. I asked her about it later. Jane is black. She told me, "Grandma, I can never be Snow White!" We talked about pretending to be animals, and witches, and I even said, "Maybe someone in your class would pretend to be black and wear beautiful braids like yours." A long sad face looked back at me. "I'm in grade 2. No one in Grade 2 ever wanted to be black," and then, "any ways, some kids at school won't play with me cause I'm black."

Listen, listen, listen, and always be thinking how race is impacting your child. Jane recovered. We had two younger cousins visit and we dressed her up as Snow Black and she gave them apples and candies from her basket and appeared from a hidden closet door and it made a special day for her. She asked me later if there was anyone in the world I would like to be and I said "Oprah." She smiled. In grade 3 she proudly announced... "Grandma, this year it's ok to be black."

One adoptive mom was at the playground in Surrey with her four-year-old on his trike. She watched, horrified, as an older child stood over the front wheel of the trike, pointing and shouting within inches of her son's face, "You're Chinese, your Chinese" while her son cried, "No I'm not, no I'm not." As fast as she moved she could not take away what had happened. If you and I cannot prevent such incidents the least we can do is prepare our children.

If you are committed to raising a child of another race, don't assume because race does not matter to you that it does not matter to the child and the community. Listen lots, talk about differences and prepare your child for a world that may not be fair and tell them the truth... sometimes if you look different it can affect how you are treated.

--Written by Wendy Robinson