We sat down and had a great conversation with a father in Durham who told us all about his approach to talking to his children about race which seems best described as “seize the moment.” Check out the gems this father shared with us below!
Generally, how do you talk to your kids about race? For Hank, every opportunity is a learning opportunity. Whenever a race-centric issue comes up in the media, he sees it as a time to discuss race with his children. He is particularly careful to gain their perspective saying :
“It is important for me to understand how they are processing the information without me initially creating a bias by identifying how I feel about a story or situation.”
Learning where the kids are at in their thinking makes navigating the issue a bit clearer.
What questions about race have your children asked that you weren’t prepared for?
Hank is generally prepared for the questions his kids ask but had a pretty particularly challenging moment when his children were small. Eavesdropping on a conversation, he learned that they were a bit confused about racial identity. Hank’s wife and children are all fair skinned. In listening to the children talk, it became apparent to Hank that his children thought of all people as black or white—based entirely on skin tone. They thought of themselves as “white” and their dad as “brown”. It was a sticky moment. Says Hank:
“I wanted them to have black pride, but not create any ideology that would disrupt the diversity that was their world in elementary school […]I wanted that to be very clear to them, however, I wanted them to be able to get out of my car at school that morning and still have the same friends they had the day before. ”
He used the opportunity to explain the legacy and complexity of the history of race in the United States and where the family would have fit in, despite their skin color.
What do you think is most important for your kids to know about race /Why do you think it’s necessary that your child find confidence in being Black?
Hank thinks it’s most important for his kids to know that there is a legacy of excellence and success in Black communities. Early on he decided that he “wanted his children to have pride in themselves and the African-American race and to be able to have confidence in their place in the world”. At home, it is important to Hank that his kids are exposed to Black literature and film filled with positive images of Black people.
For Hank, his children’s confidence in their Blackness is important because:
“If they are not confident in who they are, they risk the danger of having someone else define who they are. […] I do not want them to replace white supremacy thinking with black supremacy thinking. I want them to look at themselves as a part of a diverse and broad society. An important part. They will need that confidence to succeed in a challenging world.“
What would you tell other parents to convince them to have conversations about building their child’s racial identity or racial confidence?
Hank says that raising smart, racially proud children benefits not only your children, but society as a whole. He is convinced that:
“ when you build your child’s racial identity and racial confidence it makes them better and nicer people. I do not want my children to be bullies or be bullied. I think these conversations contribute to those outcomes.”
Tell us about a moment when you know you made the right decisions about having the tough conversation with your child about race?
Hank talked about tragedies over the last few years including the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and others. He used these cases to assess his children’s feelings about race and racism in America. He knows that it’s right to talk about these things because he learns as much about the younger generation’s perspective and has the opportunity to share something with his kids. Children are impressionable and surveying his own keeps Hank, “on his toes and forces [him] to be sharp in how he communicates with them.”