Does it do more harm than good to prepare kids for discrimination?

by Anti-Racist Parent columnist Tiffany Pridgen

Lately I’ve been thinking about what it means to “raise black children,” specifically when the children in question are multiracial. Apparently because they are part black they have to be treated with special consideration as they’ll face special prejudices.

It’s not a subject I typically devote a lot of brain energy to because I tend to see things in black and white (no pun intended), however recent conversations on the message board of a mother’s group I belong to had me scratching my head. I avoid discourse about race when the audience listening is mostly black because I catch a lot of shit about my inability to fully relate because I’m of the high yellow persuasion. You know the deal – my fairness has afforded me opportunities not presented to my browner sisters. Yeah. I’m not convinced.

How can people who have uniracial children [black] portend how my multiracial child’s social experiences will play out? I don’t need to be told that we should gird our loins and prepare our children for a lifetime of injustice and prejudice. I especially dislike being told that not addressing it on the hope that they’ll not encounter any guff out in the real world is naive. I’m fully aware that years from now if/when my son brings home a white girl who hasn’t been prepared for the fact that, tada, he has a black mom, chances are good her eyes will go all wide and she’ll need to reboot her brain to overcome the shock that my boy ain’t pure.

What the hell do people expect us to do? Should I start telling my son early on not to trust white people and that he’ll have to work X% harder than his peers? What if I had been the white parent? If I were to discuss this topic with my husband right now he would look at me as if I had shit for brains. Why would we tell our child to be wary of how people will treat him and then plop him on his white grandparents’ sofa each holiday with the expectation that he’ll find them to be exceptions to the rule?

As of right now our plan is to inform him that jackassery is an equal-opportunity personality trait–that he should hope for the best in people and if they turn out to be turds, oh well.

I know I had to work harder to be taken seriously and to not continuously have my intelligence questioned. Even in college I had a suspicion that my professors (including the black ones) thought I was there because the school needed to fill a quota. I didn’t have that suspicion because the dark-skinned grandmother who raised me had warned me about this sort of treatment, but because I had a good knowledge of history (and geography as I live in a formerly Confederate state) and the common sense to apply it where necessary.

I just can’t imagine that there should be any formal curriculum in place for parents to go by to prepare their multiracial children for social prejudice. Although, if you’d like we can work on one here. Hmm, let’s see — in Kindergarten parents should start telling their part-black children that they’re “black” and not pink/yellow/beige/tan when working with them on colors and trying to find a Crayola that matches their own hue when drawing themselves (no shit – I was having my hair done several weeks ago and another client was helping the stylist’s daughter color. When she asked her what color she should make herself [trick question] the little girl [age 4] said “brown.” Rightfully so. The woman then went on to explain, “Oh, no, no, no, you’re black.” The little girl scratched her head in confusion and the client went on to explain “Your skin is brown, but your race is black.” Um, okay. What was the point of that conversation, then? Did she really feel an itching need to put that in the girl’s head as if she didn’t have any self-awareness whatsoever?). In first grade they should continue the one-drop-rule lesson and explain that only Zebras can be both black and white simultaneously when looking at pictures of zoo animals. Etc.

I really feel like parents do more harm than good emphasizing their children’s perpetual exclusion from the mainstream. I just can’t fathom sitting my son down for a serious discussion and saying, “Son, I hate to tell you this, but because your mom is black, you’ll need to prepare yourself for a life of social injustice and constant discrimination.” I would be just as successful saying, “Listen, kid. Some people are assholes–don’t take it personally.” Being non-white isn’t a handicap we have to make special accommodations for. Everyone, with the exception of wealthy white men, will meet some form of discrimination in varying degrees. Some people have to be better fighters than others.

Some folks contend that it’s not about that — that black-multiracial children should be aware of their culture. I say what culture? Are we supposed to be celebrating the blackness that is the entire continent of Africa as I don’t know what tribes my ancestors specifically originated from? I would imagine that to be rather disrespectful from the perspective of an actual African just as it would be for someone to suggest that all Asians are Chinese and should enjoy shrimp fried rice. Is it African-American culture we’re supposed to be indoctrinating him in? I don’t know what that is, either. I wear pastel shorts with Sperrys and have problems swaying, clapping, and singing simultaneously on beat (the church youth choir was happy to see me go, I’m sure).

We’re going to raise our son to be a polite, respectful, Southern gentleman. We’re not going to feed him warnings about what he may potentially face because I truly believe we’d be setting him up to living a fearful life. We’ll let him discover on his own which personal lessons to commit to memory and if he wants to talk about it, we’ll be ready to help him parse through it all.

Tiffany Pridgen is the mistress of a blog where she recounts daily the joys and frustrations of being a modern momma. She lives in Durham, NC with her son and husband.

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