“Aren’t we past this?” fumed one parent I talked with this morning.
She happened to be African American and, despite the fact that she supports President Obama, her elation was tempered by a campaign and aftermath that included covert and overt racial and ethnic generalizations.
In her case, her daughter has had to fend off schoolyard comments about how “blacks just voted for Obama because he’s black.”
There were plenty of other examples. Another parent showed me a tweet from a friend in Ohio who complained that the election wasn’t decided by “real” Americans.
We may have reelected the nation’s first black president, but few of us can walk away from the 2012 campaign thinking we’re a “post-racial” society.
The good news is that parents, especially, might be able to speed up our progress on this front. It might, however, entail leaving our comfort zones.
“Contrary to popular belief, teaching children to be color-blind is not an effective strategy for teaching children to value multiculturalism and diversity or for eliminating racial prejudice,” said Mia Smith Bynum, an associate professor at the University of Maryland who studies racial socialization, or how parents communicate ideas on race and racial issues to their children.
She and I spoke a while back not about the presidential race but about the Trayvon Martin case. I talked with her again this morning and she agreed her comments equally apply in this non-post-racial post-election period.
Here’s what she said:
I think some parents are fearful that by acknowledging the existence of racial stereotypes, they are actually endorsing them. This is not actually true. As children get older, they learn about race as a way to classify people in the U.S. just by virtue of growing up here.
Racial stereotypes are pervasive in American culture. Even children become aware of them by the time they reach the latter school-age years (e.g., 8- to 10 years old). It’s very difficult to escape them. Children start asking questions out of basic curiosity. It is important that parents address the stereotypes directly when they come up in casual conversation or in reaction to news events.
Parents should remain calm and treat these topics like any other parenting topic. If parents are anxious or uncomfortable, they will unintentionally teach the child not to ask these questions in the future. They should explain in age-appropriate language that members of certain racial groups often get labeled in negative ways, but that these labels are false labels. Parents should then explain to children their values with respect to rejecting these stereotypes ...
Parents have to make their values explicit to children or children may simply adopt them without being consciously aware of it.
Bynum also suggested following up conversations with a trip to the library to seek out books that celebrate cultural diversity and ones that honestly depict the more difficult aspects of our country’s history.
“It has been my experience that when young people are given the knowledge to connect the dots between cultural or racial stereotypes and past events, it makes getting to know people from different backgrounds easier,” Bynum said. “I’ve also seen it prepare young adults for more meaningful, honest discussions about race at the college level. These skills will help them be better employees, colleagues, bosses and co-workers in the contemporary, globalized workplace.”
What are your thoughts on how the campaign and election affected conversation about race and ethnicity? Have you talked to your children about it?