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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Why Parents Must Lean In, Tune In and TALK…

It’s simple, but not easy. telling parents to Lean In, Tune In, and Talk to their children, especially their teens. Most teens are dealing with enough outside pressures already in today’s world, many are riddled with anxiety for various reasons, and a nurturing, protective home is what is most needed for them.

In my next week’s podcast episode (dedicated to this same topic), I begin by discussing the case of the 9yr old Australian boy with Achondroplasia who was recently bullied to the point of suicidality (and to the horror of every parent on the internet). The child was in so much anguish that he can be heard asking his mom to give him a knife that he might stab himself with it. As bad as the case is, there are rumors circulating that it is #fakenews, and that he is really an adult. This type of behavior is so inappropriate, because not only is the child already traumatized, news like that further retraumatizes him, making me wonder if indeed people are aware of just how bad this bullying problem is. Image may contain: Uchenna Umeh, smiling, possible text that says 'SUICIDE PAGES PUDCAST WITH DR. LULU'

I am speaking directly to parents and family members, school teachers, and guardians, neighbors and the entire village it takes to raise a child to become more aware, more intentional, more mindful of their communication with their teens, especially those who have been traumatized.

Teenagers (and today’s kids) already have a whole lot they are dealing with, from cyberbullying to dating violence to excessive homework to unrealistic expectations, to the falsehood of the internet, to yelling parents and misunderstandings at home. The school playgrounds and gyms are not safe, and neither are the school buses. There appear to be overwhelming opportunities for trauma to our kids, and nothing is being done about it. Imagine the news last week of a 6yr old Florida Black girl who was arrested and placed in handcuffs at school? Just how traumatic is that? And how much more trauma can one generation take? If, or when such a kid kills him/herself, we will all be too eager to send our “thoughts and prayers” and asking me why?

In my pediatric practice where I only attend to at-risk youth, it is a daily occurrence for me to see a teen or two that have a major breakdown in communication with their parents. I once had a 16yr old teen who ran away. Her mom brought her to me for evaluation. Mom was understandably frustrated and stated that she works two jobs and long hours to provide for the family, and her daughter should be more grateful. The little girl responded with “I miss my mom”. “She works for long hours and is never home, and from the moment she walks in the door, she is yelling at us-kids until she goes to bed”.

Yelling specifically, has extremely negative effects on our kids as well as us. It is possibly worse than using the belt, because it is often demeaning and associated with cussing and abusive words. As a mother and as a pediatrician (who has had my fair share of working long hours as well as yelling at my kids), and who now knows better about the negative outcomes of yelling, I am on a mission to educate other parents about these ill-effects. They range from: anxiety to depression, to negative outlooks in life, bad behavior choices, low self-worth, and low self-esteem, learning disabilities, running away, and even suicidal ideations. Worst of all, not only do these kids become yelling kids (and possibly bullies), they also become yelling parents and end up perpetuating the behavior…

Miscommunication between parents and their teens is so commonplace that it is the main reason I must continue my work in an effort to help diminish the culture of self-harm and possibly, impact the suicide prevalence which can occur as a result of perceived invisibility and loneliness by teens at home. I help bridge the gap, and help them reconnect, but, I can only do so much. I need everyone to join in. To lean in. To tune in, and TALK to our kids. Start today, put those phones and devices away…FRFR. Image may contain: 16 people, including Tasha Izzard, Uchenna Umeh and Tasha Ann, people smiling

“The act of leaning in is powerful. It is both a physical pose of accessibility and one of perceived attention by your child. It shows intention, and to some extent, vulnerability and “surrender” if you may. To Lean In, to me, means one is leading with the heart first, your body posture is attentive and inviting (picture the opposite posture – leaning back). This is NOT to be confused with the feminist movement (by author and FB COO Sheryl Sandberg).

This is purely a physical act that also leads to an emotional connection.

 Leaning in, tuning in to the right radio frequency of your child or teen, and talking with them, is something that I have discovered works well with my patients and my own teen. When you physically lean in-to your child, you enter a closer space, you show undivided attention, your ears are closer, your hands are automatically “freer”, your heart is open, and the connection is established. Your child sees and notes that your body language is welcoming to them, you are accessible and present in the moment.

It is a powerful pose.

It swings the proverbial doors of communication open, and your teen feels welcome to come in. It tells them without a doubt that they matter, their ideas matter, and their lives in turn also matter. I must mention that it comes with practice, but it is worth all of the time and effort spent on it because it gives life to a positive and nurturing relationship. After all, wouldn’t every parent’s dream be for their kids to tell them first before they ever decide to hurt themselves? If so, then we must plant the seeds early, and nurture them when the going is good, so our kids can willingly come to us at the first signs of trouble”. Dr. Lulu

Positive relationships have been cited as one of the strongest determinants for children to thrive. Children who have been traumatized need this vital relationship that much Image result for positive relationship quotesmore. The prevalence of suicides in teens in recent times is an example of how much work is needed by us, the adults in establishing and maintaining these relationships, and effective communication is the key. Studies have shown that the presence of ONE SINGLE POSITIVE RELATIONSHIP WITH AN ADULT can help eliminate behavior problems, foster healthy growth and potentially reduce childhood trauma or ACEs which have a high correlation with suicide/suicidal behavior. I also happen to have an online communication course…cooking 🙂

Encourage your kids/teens to reach out to you by leaving that door WIDE open for communication. Share in their little and not-so-little wins. Laugh out loud when they crack jokes. Give them a hug, a pat on the back, ruffle their hair and praise from to time. Indulge in their whacked-out sense of humor and remember they may only welcome you in for a brief minute, so enjoy it. Tell stories from your teen years, and listen to their own escapades, but avoid a judgemental tone at all costs. A quick trip to your teen years will remind you of your own yearning for validation from your parents, and that should help.

In ending, I will say, continue the good work if you are already connecting or connected emotionally with your kids and teens. Keep allowing healthy dialogues in. Institute daily pulse checks to get them to focus more on the positives and small wins on a daily bases. Check out my online class: parenting without yelling if you can, or grab an autographed copy of either of my books: my parenting book or my teen suicide book (which is the featured book of the month for the San Antonio Book Club this March) if you are looking for something fun and engaging to do this Spring or later this Summer. Join me and my friends on Facebook for my daily QODs where I engage other teen parents to share and learn from each other, or join my Facebook teen parenting group for more fun on raising teens!

Remember, your kids (teens or not) love you, trust you, and want nothing more than to please you, feel loved and validated by you. As a parent, you hold the key to making this a reality. So, go forth and be the best-darned parent you can be, and I shall see you somewhere on the internet 🙂 Don’t forget to say hello!

Ciao!

BB

“One of the best feelings in the world is to know that your presence and your absence, both mean something to someone…”   Anonymous