15 Commandments on How to Teach Your Children About Racism

Dear Blog,

Hmmm, it has been one of those weeks… One of those months. One of those series of days in my life when I think I am in a twilight zone, and that all the things going on around me are not real. How have you been? I know, it’s been a minute. I am sorry. I have honestly had a lot on my mind. But I am back now, so let’s get this party started.

As parents, we are in the driver’s seat. As if the quarantine and lockdown were not stressful enough, due to the recent happenings mainly here in the United States, we have now come face to face with the reality of our poor, no, sorry state of race relations. Even if you don’t live in the US, you are still required to do what is right by your kids in regard to teaching them about racial biases, prejudice, and systemic racism when necessary.

Do you know that racism and prejudice are mostly rooted in fear? Fear that comes from a lack of understanding? Yes. Ignorance leads to fear, fear leads people to draw the wrong conclusions, and soon those conclusions become their truth. And then they are ruled by a concept based on falsehoods like all Black men are a threat, before you know it, it becomes a system and a “way” of doing things and that’s when the cookie crumbles.

Yeah, I know, having that conversation about race is one that some people have neither ever had, nor want to have (but obviously need to), while others find themselves having the conversation nearly every day in their lives. Well, it has to start, and the time is now. Things must begin to change. The world is actually witnessing just how dangerous being “color blind, or color neutral” can be. An issue Blacks have dealt with for years.

You see, what happened to George Floyd, can literally only happen in Amerikkka, oops, my bad, America. For over 400 years Blacks in America have continued to work more than twice as hard to be recognized half as much. The dehumanization must stop! And those who are silent now, MUST examine their why. Some much-needed soul-searching must be on everyone’s to-do list…now!

Sadly, our children are caught in the cross-fire. The other day I asked the following question on my Facebook page: What would happen if we put 10 children in a room for 10 minutes? The answers were interesting. The kids will start playing with each other right away. But if you performed the same experiment with grown-ups, they will either say nothing, or team up according to some categories, preconceptions, and even misconceptions about each other.

So, inspired by a Facebook post that a friend of mine tagged me on, I decided to write to you today, with my thoughts on how parents should approach the elephant in the room: The talk about race, with their young’uns. Enjoy! And do leave me a comment to let me know what you think.

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1/ Thou shalt first become comfortable with having uncomfortable conversations with thyself, before ever trying to have them with any other person. Yes, at this point in our earthly lives, we must as a matter of urgency get into that space of vulnerability and face our fears and insecurities. Dig deep to figure out why we are uncomfortable and get past that point with intention and focus.

2/ Thou shalt educate thyself properly, and gather all the facts that thou might need, and yet not have, before embarking on any such discussions with thy children. Children are smart, they will see through your charade. They are already learning about it or hearing about it, so you might as well be their guide. I know that talking about race can be sensitive, and yes, even a bit messy, but the other option is not an option, so just buckle up and do it.

3/ Thou shalt ensure that thy abode is racist-free. Remember, information can be conveyed by thoughts, words or deeds, and thy kids will absorb them all from thee. Yes, you might be racist, your words might be racist, or your actions might be racist and you might not even be aware of it, but your kids will, and then it might be too late for them to unlearn the bad lessons.

4/ Thou shalt first find out from thy kids what they already know about racism (if age applicable) before proceeding with the teaching. A simple question and answer session will suffice. There is no point in building a house upon a faulty foundation. First, dig up the old one, find out what the kids know, reteach them the correct information, and then proceed with teaching them new things.

5/ Thou shalt expose thy kids to other cultures, by visiting their museums, their churches, or attending civic events organized by them. There is no better way to get immersed in African American, Jewish, Native American, or Hispanic history than by visiting their museums, civic centers, places of worship, or one of the many events these cultural communities often hold in a city near you. The time is now! Summer is on its way, so, put on your masks and get going!

6/ Thou shalt endeavor to cook, order-in, or learn about foods of other ethnicities. This is a must! Humans are social beings, we love to eat during celebrations. So, when next you go to visit your Nigerian friend perhaps (wink wink), ask about fufu ati efo riro, jollof rice with “shikin”, fried plantains (dodo), isiewu  (goat head delicacy), ofensala (fish pepper soup), or nkwobi (cow foot delicacy) to name a few. These are seriously tasty mouth-watering meals that you can only learn about by having an open mind. Take it from me, they are all #delish!

7/ Thou shalt listen to music and learn dance moves from other cultures…yes, thou must! 🙂 I told you to have an open mind. While I wouldn’t necessarily ask you to learn the acrobatic nkpokiti, or break-dancing, it is certainly time to expand from your line dancing days to something else that is fun and exposes a whole new world to you. Your kids will love the moves, the melody, and the novelty, and they can brag about their new skills to their friends. This could also be a form of a bonding exercise for y’all.

8/ Thou shalt encourage thy kids to make friends with, and visit homes of kids of other races, and have them visit your home in return. Get to know their parents, and learn a thing or two about their history and upbringing. Extend a hand of friendship. Offer to take their kids to a game, pick them up from school or even buy them dinner. Get out of your comfort zone a bit. Live just a little bit, you might even like it 😉

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9/ Thou must become acutely aware of the microaggression some things you do or say can cause to people of other races. Like calling me the nurse or “miss”, when my name tag clearly says MD or asking me where I went to medical school, or wondering how my English is so good, or not trying at all to pronounce my name after I have told you how to say it…more than once! And do try to let your guard down when I am in the room. I don’t bite. Oh, and…STOP touching my hair, this is not Ripley’s Believe it Or Not!

10/ Thou shalt police thyself, thy relatives, and thy kids with purpose, intention, and mindfulness. Yes, you must ensure that you are not perpetuating intolerance, hate, or prejudice in any way. You know your family members who are racist. Everyone does. You must be bold, take action, and police them. Speak up. We are tired of being tired of being tired. You must have “the talk” with your family and friends. And if they choose to be silent, I suggest you re-evaluate your relationship with them.

11/ Thou shalt endeavor to learn a foreign language, preferably a language in Africa. Thou shalt also teach said language to thy kids. Yes, spread your wings, fly far away to the land of communication and understanding. To the land of open-mindedness and love. Because learning a new language will help you understand, and when you understand there will be no fear, and when there is no fear, there is no racism.

12/ Thou shalt visit the predominantly Black part of the city or town thou lives in…with thy kids in tow. Get to see what life is like over there. You might begin to gain a bit of empathy, compassion, understanding, and maybe even respect. Your daughters want to date our sons, and that’s a fact. You might as well get to know where she will be hanging out, and get ready to have soul food at the wedding 🙂

13/ Thou shalt teach thy child to recognize bullying behavior and speak up when other kids are being bullied, especially on account of their race. Bullying is a catalyst for suicide, and it is a serious problem in our schools (stay tuned for my next book out in a few weeks, it tackles bullying head-on). Teach them to find the kids who are ostracised and sit with them on the school bus, at the cafeteria, or play with them at recess. That will go a long way towards ending the current epidemic of youth suicide.

14/ Thou shalt not make a mockery or joke about any person who is different from you on account of their race, and neither should your kids. Yes, don’t discuss their skin tone, their kinky hair, their body type or any other physical attribute that pertains to their race, except in a good light. Or if they let you. I don’t really care much for people touching my hair to know what it “feels like”, that’s actually an intrusion.

15/ Thou shalt ensure that all the above are adhered to, and from time to time, check in with your kids to assess for progress. Yes, you must also continue to work on yourself and on your family members like Karen, Becky, Amy, Stephanie, Derek, Gregory, and Travis. There is much work to be done. Policing the police is not enough, we must also police ourselves, our thought processes, and mindsets lest we remain imprisoned by them.

“The only way, to really talk about race and racism, is by activating a growth mindset.” ~Amber Colemen-Mortely

I say “The only way to talk about it, is to freakin’ talk about it”

Cheers!

BB

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wordsbyblackbutterfly

My name is Uchenna Umeh (oochaynnah oomay). I am a pediatrician, a wife, a mom, a disabled veteran, a "doc-preneur" in the making, an exercise enthusiast, 2-time bestselling author, global speaker on youth suicide, parent coach and teen advocate.

4 thoughts on “15 Commandments on How to Teach Your Children About Racism”

  1. I love this article. You said it, it’s the elephant in the room and the only way to talk about it is to talk about it. When we become open to sharing our thoughts, then we’re able to learn. Most people have been silent because of either hurt, confusion, or ignorance. It’s time to rid the silence and “Let’s talk about it!”

    Like

  2. This is a fantastic post! I was admittedly hoping that preschool would do some of this work for me as recently as two weeks ago, and banking on the fact that family attitudes and actions would do the rest in setting up my kids to be compassionate and non-racist individuals. MESSAGE RECEIVED; THIS IS WOEFULLY INSUFFICIENT. As a pediatrician and a mother- I will do better, I will do more. Thank you so much for this post- I hope it will help all I share it with and I look forward to reading more of your fantastic writing!

    Liked by 1 person

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