Conversation As Parents: Part 2
Parenting Conversation Differences Between Black and White Families
Growing up from the age of 14 years, I was raised by my mother, a Black women and my Step father, a white man. My biological father who was Black was still alive at this age but lived across the world in Kenya, while we lived in Sweden. I had a brother and a sister, both whom were also black and my step brother (white) who would visit every other weekend. We grew up blissfully unaware of just difference our lives as black and white adults would be as grown-ups. While I am grateful for that short period of innocence in my life, a little head up would have also been very useful.
You see, as a teenager recently having moved back to Sweden at a time that was not racially diverse, I felt and was indeed treated different because of my skin colour. I started to notice this more after joining high school at the age of 15. I recall being asked to play a card game called ‘nigger’ where the looser of the game would be teased by being called nigger. Surprisingly, most of my non-black friends could not understand how insulting it was and that we black teens wanted nothing to do with the game. This is kind of mindset towards black people was something I experienced way too often in my teens and beyond. Sometimes it was right out and blatant, other times it was hidden but with no room for doubt about what I was experiencing.
While there are countless times I experienced racism growing up in Sweden, there is one that particularly still stands out for me. I worked for a nursery as a summer job at the age of 16 helping as an assistant nursery teacher/helper. After asking a group of 4 year old boys to clear the tables to prepare for lunch, one of them replied- "No f**king Nigger is going to tell me what to do!"
Following the George Floyd murder, and the murder of many more black women, men and teens before him, the black community of parents know and understand certain truths about raising black children in Europe, America or any other ‘white’ country. We know that there are conversations that we need to have with our children about what it means to be black in these communities. What it means to be seen and stereotyped in a certain, often negative way, simply because of the colour of their skin. We also teach them how they need to behave and react to certain situations to avoid further escalations with the police.
Here’s a list of things I will be teaching my black son and daughter to help them navigate in our society today:
1. As teenagers, I will make sure they are aware of their legal rights when stopped by police officers. I will teach them to comply, keep their hands out of their pockets and stay polite, but make no mistake, they will also be aware of what constitutes their legal rights. What they must comply to and what they do not have to comply to if they wish not to. This isn’t about teaching them to be difficult or uncooperative, it’s teaching to be smart about surviving a juridical system that discriminates against them because of their skin colour.
2. I will teach them to love themselves and all their Black features and the skin they are in. This may sound obvious to some white parents, but when most images of beauty are presented in white skin and other white features, it’s not hard to see that girls who don’t resemble those features would doubt their own beauty.
3. That they will likely have to work harder than their white counterparts to get to the same place in their careers. While it’s not right, knowing this will equip them with a mindset of persistence, determination, and prepare them for a world that can be unjust.
4. I will teach them about white privilege. Now I believe ALL parents should be teaching their children about this. If we truly want to deal with the issues of white privilege, it’s important that white people also fight it by standing up against it and calling it out when they see. It is also important for my black children to understand that sadly and wrongfully so, they will not have the same privileges as their white friends. This has nothing to do with socio-economic differences, but rather simply by their colour.
While this is not an extensive list of this conversation, I hope it gives people an idea of how it differs to raise a black and white child in Western culture. I hope it raises understanding between communities and helps create a platform where we can help each other break down these differences faced by our children, independent of our own race.
I write the above knowing that I have experienced all of these things myself as a teen and an adult. While I work towards trying to make a change in our society for racial equality and ending social, economic and judicial injustice in whatever way I can, I know that it takes effort from all of us. So as a white parent raising white children, I ask you to educate yourselves and your children on the differences faced. After all, these changes need to come from all of us and our children will grow up to either be a part of the problem or a part of the solutions needed.