Speaking as a black man, it is very true that there are quite a few societal disadvantages to being black in America and many learn very early on what these disadvantages are. Many of these disadvantages are deeply-rooted in society in just about every aspect, so surely it won’t go away overnight or over the next few generations.
However, there is ONE disadvantage that probably hurts a black child much more than any other: When his or her own parents raise them to believe they are the “victims” of society.
As influential as society is and can be, in my opinion, the parents always have the final say. I know that seems hard to believe when we see how many kids end up lost and troubled in this cruel world, even with great parents. I can’t speak as an expert on many of these other issues, but I CAN speak on being raised as a black boy growing up in the city of Baltimore.
My mother was single for much of my childhood and she raised four of us. Despite our differences as I grew up, one thing I will always appreciate is that she NEVER raised us to buy into the “victim” mindset. Even though it was all around us and even though my mother and I didn’t get along the greatest, that is still something I carry with me today at 36. That is precisely the reason I say that parents have the final say. No matter how much you may not get along, there are certain influences a parent has that I truly believe not even society is strong enough to affect.
Racism and the many other black stereotypes is one of them.
Here is why I say that and why I feel it’s very important that parents don’t beat it into their children to believe they are victims of these negative stereotypes.
Racism, despite how cut and dry many try to make it, really isn’t as simple as some make it seem. Even though racism has ONE definition, many interpret it different ways. This is what makes it not seem as simple, if that makes any sense.
Some feel that racism doesn’t exist. Some feel it does. Some feel that it’s only white people who can be racist. Some believe anyone can be racist. Then there are the behaviors as to what constitute as racism.
If a white person favors another white person over someone black, they are believed to be racist. If a black person loses a job to white person, the person making the decision is believed to be racist. Never mind qualifications or the other factors involved; just the fact that the black person came out on the short end leads many to believe that race was a primary factor. If a white person treats another person poorly who happens to be black, then racism is automatically thrown out there. Even if this person treats everyone that way, it doesn’t matter. I often say that there are a lot of equal opportunity assholes out there. The person happening to be black likely has no part in the equation whatsoever.
But back to you as a parent. With all this uncertainty and differing opinions about racism and the other negative black stereotypes, your child is going to look to the only constant that has existed in his or her very short life up to that point.
They’re already looking to you for guidance in everything else. Even in the things they don’t want to hear from you or think they already know, they’re still looking to you for the right direction. So when it comes to something they really aren’t sure of, contrary to popular belief, they will not begin following society right away. Oh sure, eventually they will, once someone comes along who is strong enough to influence them in that way and if you aren’t giving them much. But that won’t come until later.
Right now, it’s your world. You have the power.
It is perfectly fine to let your black child(ren) know the cruelness of society and some of the things they can expect later on in life. However, if you aren’t careful, you’re going to teach them that they are victims and that will hurt their confidence faster than anything else.
So how do I suggest you do this? First off, understand the true definition of racism. Racism is defined as:
“the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races”
Nowhere in that definition does it state that this limited to any one race. That’s because it’s not. This is where I believe you should start with them. Help them to understand exactly what racism is, without attaching race to one side or the other. In other words, it doesn’t have to be “white people” who feel they’re superior to blacks or other races, because by definition, any race can do this. This is not denial or delusion; this is allowing your children to be able to identify racism by definition rather than letting a person’s race define it for them.
Yes, there are racist white people out there. There are also racist blacks. Rather than making racism limited to certain races, let your child know that yes, it will happen, but don’t look for it to come from only white people, or even “all” or “most.” Again, enforce the definition.
I’ve been told many times as a child that “white people don’t like us” or the word racism was just thrown around so carelessly. I was warned to watch out for “them.” The same things that would drive us up the wall if they were said about us, and we’re saying it about them. I eventually understood that bad apples will exist everywhere. Help your child understand the “bad apples” concept rather than teaching them to generalize.
When I mentioned that this negative thinking hurts their confidence, here is what I mean. If you were to constantly beat into your child that “white people don’t like” them because of their race, they are going to be cautious of just about every white person they come across. It could be anything; they’re in gym class and a white person chooses another white person over them to be on their basketball team. Race is likely the furthest thing on that white kid’s mind, but as for your black son or daughter, along with anything else that may have been implanted into their minds, it won’t necessarily be that the other kid is choosing someone else because they’re best friends or that they happen to be better at basketball. By then, the belief will be that the other kid was chosen simply because they were white and they were NOT because they’re black.
Let’s take if your child (or even as a young adult) walked into a room that primarily contained white people. Now, with the mindset that whites “don’t like” him or her, imagine the feeling they’ll have once they enter. Is every white person in that room racist? Of course not. Is it possible that any number of them could be? Absolutely. But your son or daughter won’t be focusing on that, because they’ve been taught by their parent(s) to be cautious of practically ALL of them.
However, if they enter that room with the definition of racism in mind, then it won’t matter that all white people are in there. They will be alert when they start noticing the behaviors. Even if there were other black people in the room, they’ll still be looking for the behaviors.
Ladies, think of it this way also. You teach your daughter that “men are pigs” or “men who act like this/that are pigs.” She walks into a room full of men. Believing that “men are pigs” means she won’t have much confidence as she stands in that room, believing that pretty much every man will be bad for her. However, teaching her to watch for behaviors and/or characteristics will cause her to (hopefully) not generalize.
Also, with everything going today with the police, please keep in mind not teach your black child(ren) to generalize here also. It’s really sad to me that entire police forces or even the police as a whole are being lumped in with the few bad apples. My goodness, I figured if ANYONE understood how bad it feels to be lumped in with the bad apples, it would be us as black people. So please, do not teach them to do the same.
Parents, will your black child be a victim of racism? Very likely. This isn’t to say that it will never happen, nor is it limited to only black children. But remember that your words when it comes to this will make the biggest difference in their lives, whether it seems that way right now or not.
Take it from me; it WILL make a difference.
It will not take long before they will feel just how nasty racism can be, along with being negativity profiled in any other way. But please, don’t instill it into their heads that something is wrong with them because of it. Don’t raise them to feel that they are going to be at a disadvantage in just about every situation they encounter. Will it happen at times? Of course. But if they’re hearing this from their parents and it’s beat into their heads that way, you’re killing their confidence long before they have a chance to build it up.
Whenever I go back home to Baltimore or pretty much in any predominantly black area, one thing I notice very often is that we tend to walk around with our heads down. It could mean a lot of things, but often it has to do with a lack of confidence. This is very sad to me, because I often wonder, not how much society has made them feel that way, but how much their own parents have contributed to that lack of confidence.
You can teach them just how cruel society can be in terms of their race. In fact, you absolutely have to. But please, remember that your words will mean more to them than anything society says ever will. Society can say anything they want about the negative stereotypes toward black people. But with society’s instability, again, they will be looking to their only constant for the right answer.
For their sakes, for now and the rest of their lives, please be sure to give that to them.