In response to just about any story about how to raise anti-racist children or about the pain Black parents feel having “the talk” with their young children before they feel ready often comes the familiar refrain: “I’m teaching my children that we don’t see color.”
Or, “In my family, we don’t ‘see race.’”
Or, “In my home, we’re ‘colorblind.’”
Experts have known and said for years that this “colorblind” ideology doesn’t work. Yet it persists, often among white families who believe that by saying they don’t notice race they are embracing diversity.
But as poet Nayyirah Waheed has written: “Never trust anyone who says they do not see color. This means to them, you are invisible.”
Here’s why parents need to stop raising their kids to “not see color” once and for all.
First and foremost, we all see color.
With the exception of people who have actual color blindness — and even then, it’s rare to have no color vision whatsoever — we all see the color of people’s skin. Babies see the color of people’s skin: Their brains can pick up racial differences by the time they’re 6 months old, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
And kids want to talk about what they see! By the time they’re 3 or 4 years old, many kids bring up racial differences they see, Rebecca Bigler, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas, Austin, previously told HuffPost.
“We are different. Shying away from that can inadvertently teach kids that you’re uncomfortable talking about that difference — because you think that difference is bad.”
So let them! Encourage it! We are different. Shying away from that fact can inadvertently teach kids that you’re uncomfortable talking about that difference — because you think that difference is bad.
“In response to children’s statements, use the opportunity to explain the racial differences that your child has noticed ― including what such differences do and do not mean ― and state your own personal views on the trait,” Bigler said.
White kids see their own whiteness, too.
When white parents tell their children, “We don’t see color,” it discourages them from acknowledging their own whiteness. But that is an important thing for white families to do.
“When we’re talking about race, we’re not just talking about people of color. We’re talking about whiteness and exposing that whiteness still dominates and tells a story — that is not true — about whiteness being better [and] about whiteness being normal,” Sachi Feris, a blogger who writes at Raising Race Conscious Children, previously told HuffPost.
White parents can move through their lives without ever really having frank conversations with their kids about race, racism and white privilege. But that doesn’t mean they should.
“It’s helpful for white families to see that minimizing the legacy of racism in our society by avoiding ugly truths does children a disservice,” said the Child Mind Institute, a New York-based nonprofit mental health services provider.
Remember that families of color cannot avoid conversations about racism because it is a part of daily life for them. “Black parents can’t wait, even if they wanted to,” said Kenya Hameed, a clinical neuropsychologist at the Child Mind Institute, in a blog post. The fact that white parents have that option is really at the heart of what white privilege is all about.
Direct conversations are how change happens.
The experts unanimously agree that if parents want to raise race-conscious children, having open conversations with them early and often — as in, daily — is essential.
“Talk to your children and acknowledge that racial differences and bias exist,” the AAP advised parents.
“Children can come to harmful conclusions about race when it’s not discussed openly,” the Child Mind Institute added.
“Instead of shying away from racial difference as a topic of conversation, lean the heck in. Point out different skin tones you see when you’re in the park with your preschooler...then point out how wonderful those differences are.”
Instead of shying away from racial difference as a topic of conversation, lean the heck in. Point out different skin tones you see when you’re in the park with your preschooler, the AAP recommended. Then make note of how wonderful those differences are.
With your grade schooler, point out examples of racial bias when you spot them in a book they’re reading or a TV show they’re watching. Talk about the lack of diversity in the popular culture kids surround themselves with. If you have a diverse network and live in a diverse area — great, talk about it! If you don’t, talk about that, too!
One reason why parents discourage their children from seeing color is that they’re uneasy about talking about racial bias themselves. Don’t worry if you don’t have all the answers. No one does. Also, “Let’s learn about that together!” is always a great response.
The good news? Experts are really hopeful that by moving away from the colorblind ideology — and by proactively working with kids to create a broader culture of genuine inclusiveness — big changes can and will be made.
“Children are remarkable,” Howard Stevenson, a professor of urban education at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, previously told HuffPost. “Once they get ahold of strategies that allow them to have a voice that allows them to speak and not feel shame about what is going on, they are empowered to make change.”