White Parents Do Something With Your White Guilt: Teach Your Kids About Black History Month

Wednesday, February 1, 2017



White parents talk about raising empathetic and tolerant kids, but the harsh reality is, it too often stops there. Most don’t actually actively do anything to help their kids learn about Black History month or the contributions of black people.

I’ll never forget my first experience and exposure to the great black thinkers of the 19th and 20th century. It was in my African-American studies class, sophomore year of college at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte. It was the second year of what I call – my culture shock.

I grew up in New York in a fairly liberal and progressive environment. I had a very diverse, tolerant and culturally exposed upbringing. I always felt completely comfortable around my black, Spanish, Asian friends. If you were my friend, you were family.

But in the South it was clear that there were lines and you were supposed to pick sides. At times, I felt pretty uncomfortable about my whiteness because I felt so damn guilty about it. I had hella "white guilt." In my initial years at a Southern college I observed white people in the South being overtly racist and downright hateful. They gave zero fucks. They didn't even try to cover that shit up. They were emboldened by the fact that so many other white people felt the same way as them. I was disheartened and embarrassed by it.

I did not want my fellow classmates in my African-American studies class (most of whom were black) to assume that I was some stereotypical, racist and Southern white woman. I wanted to scream out that I wasn't like the rest of those racist ass Southern white people. I wanted to tell them they were safe with me and that I'd never hurt them. I wanted them to trust me. I wanted to be their friend and their ally. And just like any other white person with white guilt I wanted to show them I wasn't racist. 

I remember listening to two white dorm mates crying that their parents forbid them from dating their black boyfriends. Seeing the hurt, pain and confusion on these girls’ faces, and the pain it caused their boyfriends was awful. Sure, a college relationship might not last forever, might not even be marriage material – but that doesn’t negate the hurt that all of these people were feeling. The non-acceptance. The hate.

At that moment, I thought, my daughter or son will always be encouraged to love whomever they want – whatever color, gender, creed or tribe. Don’t care. This is WRONG.

My jaw dropped many times hearing other stories of utter and blatant discrimination from fellow black students. I couldn’t wrap my head around the hate. I was in disbelief that racism was still “a thing” down South.

But, it soon became very clear to me that racism was still very much an issue in the South.

The color line, couldn’t be ignored.

The horrible actions of racist white people, both past and present, made me feel ashamed in my African-American studies class. I felt the heavy and urgent impulse to launch into thousands of apologies. I felt terrific guilt for generations of disgusting, and vile behavior towards black people. In my New York progressive bubble, I was mostly shielded from the ugliness of racism. Even if someone was racist they didn't come right out and say it. In the South, that was not the case. They were racist, and they were proud of it. I felt the gravity of black struggles for the first time ever. But I needed to be more than guilty. I needed to do more than just show the world I wasn't racist, because let's be honest - that's a pretty self-serving way to live. It helps my own emotions greatly, but it hardly helps the real problem at hand. 

You have to do more than tell and show the world that you don't identify as a racist. 

You have to do some serious introspection and identify any and all problematic thoughts or behaviors you may have that may have (even if they are in fact, kinda racist). This takes total self-awareness, honesty, and commitment. 
People who feel white guilt need to do more than spout off on social media about racism (don't get me wrong, I think anti-racism activism on social media is a positive thing, it's just not enough to scream it into the abyss). They need to really listen, even when they get called out for showing racist behaviors. White guilt folks tend to get real defensive when someone calls them out for having racist moments. They flip. I'm not racist! How could I be racist?! 

People who say they're "woke" or "woke AF" should be reading black writers, admiring and paying for art done by black artists, and soaking up black culture not because consuming it is entertaining, but because they empathize with it. Unity and change doesn't come from a front, facade, or lip service, it comes from communal action and collective emotion.

In my college African-American studies class the barriers came down. This was where our voices, reading the texts aloud, became one. This was where WE ALL bonded. We read lines of heartbreaking poetry and prose. We collectively cried as the raw emotions in the literature took over the class. The words of despair, of suffering, of struggles, of survival and of hope – you can’t help but to be deeply moved by the black experience no matter what color you are. That class was a safe space for us all to be affected, moved and shifted to a new and higher understanding.

As we begin another celebration of Black History month I am reminded of a quote from one of the greatest American thinkers, W.E.B Du Bois, “The problem of the 20th century, is the problem of the color line.”


This quote is prophetic. The color line was a problem in the 20th century, but sadly, it continues in the 21st century too.

W.E.B. Du Bois wrote the Souls of Black Folk in 1903. More than a hundred years later, we are still grappling with the color line. Seems absurd, right? Surely, throughout the course of over 100 years, we would’ve come much further than we have in terms of race relations.

One of the barriers (among many) we have in this country, in addressing racial tensions and inequality is the utter lack of effort. Many have this idea that if it's not impacting them, then why should they care? I'll answer that for you: Humanity. Empathy. That's why you should care. That's why you make the effort. Efforts can and should be made by people who have a great deal of power in changing and progressing the minds of the next generation.

Parents possess this power.

We can all sit here and complain about racism, inequality and discrimination, but if we do nothing about it – we’re part of the problem. If you are not committed to talking about racism and discrimination with your children on a very consistent basis, you are not doing enough.

I know not everyone is drawn towards activism. I get it. I’m not saying you have to be protesting in the streets to do your part.

I also understand that some view race as a social construct – a dysfunctional one at that. And it is. We’re all part of the human race. But, that doesn’t change the fact that people with different skin colors, religions and cultures are discriminated against.

Maybe you have no interest whatsoever in Black History, or any history for that matter. We all have different things we’re interested in, or passionate about. I get that too.

But let me level with you, there is nothing more irritating, and stagnating than a person, or group of people, with lazy and disingenuous convictions.

If you’re going to say, “I want my kids to be more empathetic.” Or “I want my kids to be more tolerant of other cultures, religions and races,” take action. You have a great responsibility. There are things you should be doing on a daily basis.

This requires thoughtful action. ACTION, being the key word.

It starts at home.

Your desires and wishes for your children and future generations need to be more than lip service. Tolerance and celebration of other cultures should be an active and consistent theme in your life if your goal is to raise tolerant children.

Teaching your children about the heritage, great contributions and accomplishments of black people in America can be the first step towards molding more open-minded human beings. It can be the first step towards unifying the human race.

You have the control and ability to shape your child’s mind, and mold them into empathetic and compassionate people. You can start the cultural shift, where implicit bias will no longer exist.
I’m not saying go the color-blind route. Differentiating cultures is important. But, negatively dividing is harmful and damaging.

During car rides to school drop-off, or to soccer practice you can play blues music. And you don’t even have to play a lesser-known artist – an easy artists to start with is Ray Charles. Start with his sound. His music, and give your kids nuggets of information about Ray Charles.

For dinner, you can cook (or order takeout) soul food. Offer your children an array of collard greens, sweet potato biscuits, fried chicken or fish, black-eyed peas and corn bread. 

Play Mancala with your children. It’s an African counting game that you can buy virtually anywhere. My sister and I played it for hours as children.

For bedtime stories, read the poems of Langston Hughes, or Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream Speech. My personal favorite book for little ones is What a Wonderful World, by Bob Thiele and George David Weiss – that recites Louis Armstrong’s famous song with colorful illustrations. My kids beg to hear the song on YouTube after we read it.

If you have a nearby museum or cultural center that celebrates the accomplishments of black people – visit with your kids in tow. It could be art contributions, political, social – whatever – bring your kids – no matter how old they are. If your kids see how important it is to you to actively learn about black people and black history – they will know that it’s important in their lives.

I make a commitment to expose my children, and celebrate multiple cultures with my children. It’s never an after-thought. 

Part of it is just innate in me, for which I’m grateful to not be a garbage human (well, at least on this front). But the rest, I plan. I mindfully interject cultural lessons and celebration opportunities consistently into our lives.
Children need to understand how discrimination manifests and how to stop it for themselves and for the next generation. Not talking about racism and the history of racism with your children is unacceptable — it proliferates the problem. Parents of every race and ethnicity need to make a commitment to talk about racism and discrimination regularly — even if it makes them uncomfortable.

If we commit to talking about racism, we can raise children who notice differences and celebrate them. 

During Black History Month, and during all other days of the year.

Love, empathy and tolerance can ripple effect through the generations if we, the parents, build the foundation and start the flow.

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