“I was raised not to see color.”
“I am colorblind.”
“I don’t care what color you are, I just don’t like (something related to black culture)…”
“I’m not racist … I have two dear black friends…”
If I earned a dollar every time I’ve heard those statements, I would be a rich mother! In some situations, I would actually try to understand the person’s perspective. Perhaps it was because they seemed to be loving people with huge hearts and open and they were prone to giving people the benefit of the doubt. Maybe, I tried to hear them out because they had not expressed or behaved with racial prejudice towards me. They just seemed to struggle to comprehend my reality when I brought up an episode from my “Living While Black” series.
More often, however, these statements were usually made after someone told a racist joke or made a disparaging statement about a person of color. Those were followed by this: “I’m not talking about you, Natalie. You’re not like them.” Or, worse: “Don’t worry, Natalie knows it’s just a joke. She’s cool.” Both statements would render me mute as a young person; I was being included but in the worse way. Did I want to be accepted by the cool kids or did I want to stand up against racial bias and prejudice? I quickly determined that I would rather be disliked for doing the right thing than to be accepted by an”in-group” with racist views.
Fast-forward a number of years; I am now a mom to two amazingly cute boys. And, they are nearing the age of recognition: they are noticing that there are unnecessary and harmful differences that the world may make between them and someone from a monoracial, majority cultural background. There may also be times when the world may be somewhat more accepting of [the whiteness in] them than someone from a monoracial, minority cultural background. And they will need to know how to navigate in a world that still doesn’t have its crap together. We, as their parents, have to find ways to foster resilience and self-assurance in them so that they can be productive, color-conscious contributors to society.
What does it mean to be Color Conscious?
Color consciousness is the understanding that although our Creator made us unique yet equal, our political and social powers do not consider us so. Thus, there are inequities that exist which hinder groups of people from experiencing true justice in its many forms. For some, just the acknowledgment of this harsh reality can create anxiety as it shines the light on systemic discrimination that they are exempt from. However, we understand that it is a truth we cannot ignore. So, how can we foster healthy color consciousness in our kids?
Open Your Eyes
Have you ever stepped outside and look up to find a beautiful rainbow? Was your response, “Oh, I can’t see that rainbow! I’m colorblind!”? I truly doubt it! We soak it all in because they are beautiful! And, so are we. Across the color spectrum, from the fairest, palest skin to the deepest, richest shade of black, we were created by Someone with a flair for design. Our skin tone was not an accident! So, why fear it? Instead of avoiding or dismissing it, why don’t we highlight the beauty of diversity for our kids by acknowledging it and celebrating it?
Part of fostering color consciousness is to provide opportunities to explore the diversity of life experiences with our children. The most effective way to do this is by serving our communities. There are plenty of ways to do this: providing gently used clothes to those in need, serving the needs of those experiencing homelessness, hunger, domestic violence or medical challenges. Volunteering at community events that service peoples with physical or mental differences. Teaching kids the value and benefits of contributing to the physical and emotional wellbeing of another person, through action, can significantly impact their understanding of privilege and how to use that privilege for good.
Speak the Truth
Considering the developmental age of your children, be willing to answer questions like, “Why is that man standing on the side of the road with the sign, Mom?” with simple truths. In many cases, it isn’t that our children are ‘too young to know about that’ but that we avoid introducing those realities to them for fear that they may ask, “Why don’t we help him?” However, if we want to raise color-conscious kids in today’s world, we have to be willing to explore questions like these. We have to speak the truth gently but persistently so that our children can foster emotional intelligence so desperately needed during times like these.
We can continue to close our eyes tightly and hope that it all goes away or we can look around and see the beauty around us. And, instead of saying, “Oh, I’m colorblind! I don’t see color,” we can look into each other’s eyes and say, “I see you and you are beautiful.”