Jasen from Kids and Race just released a video discussing how to use books to talk to kids about race. What books should I buy? How do I talk about race and difference with my children?
His comment about Thomas the Tank Engine and that all of the people in that book are white truly struck me. That is weird and a great teaching moment! Watch the video below:
Guest post from Kids and Race, an organization that empowers adults and children to take responsibility for dismantling racism through honest conversations and loving action.
Note from Laura: Recently, my three year old has started pointing out people of color at the park, store, etc. He calls them “brown mommies” or “brown daddies”. This greatly troubled my husband and I. We contacted Jasen Frelot who is the Executive Director of Kids and Race and asked him if he would be willing to write a guest blog post on how to talk to kids about race. He did us one better! Below is a discussion between parents of three different races from the Kids and Race team—Jasen (Black), his wife, Operations Manager Hannah Hong Frelot (Asian American), Grantwriter and Blog Editor Katy Strange (white), and her husband Ryan Strange (white) about race, parenting, and identity. Thank you Jasen, Hannah, Katy, and Ryan!
What is your name and racial or ethnic background?
I’m Jasen Frelot and I’m Black.
I’m Hannah Hong Frelot and I am Asian American, Taiwanese American.
I’m Katharine Strange and I’m white.
I’m Ryan Strange and I’m white.
How did your parents talk to you about race?
HHF: My parents didn’t talk to me about race writ large. They talked to me about my ethnic identity because of they have a very strong belief in Taiwanese independence, because of the political history of Taiwan, they’re very very strong in transferring their Taiwanese-ness through culture and language so I knew I was Taiwanese for a long time. I didn’t really know I was Asian until some people from Taiwanese church sent around an email chain that said “15 signs that you’re Asian,” and one of them was like ‘save the shampoo bottles from hotel.’ I didn’t know until that email that I was Asian, somewhere between age 10-13 that I developed the idea of a pan-asian-american experience.
JF: My parents didn’t really talk to me about race either. My mom certainly wanted me to be proud of being Black. I remember when I was seven during the Watts riots I told my mom I didn’t want to be Black. My mom and my teacher went on this spree of telling me how beautiful my skin was and what not. My dad really wanted me to assimilate, and to fit in. Part of it is he passes for white, he’s very light-skinned with curly hair; when people see him they don’t know his racial identity. Because he could pass, he kind of assumed that I could pass too. With my mom, she was always much more grounded in her Blackness and helped me to be grounded in mine.
KS: My parents never explicitly talked about race. I was an army brat and we moved around and we mostly lived in very white areas. When I was five to seven we lived in a suburb of DC, and it was the first time I ever went to school with people of color. I remember my first racial memory was we watched a video of Martin Luther King Jr. in school when we were seven or eight.
JF: Was that the first time you heard of him?
KS: Yeah, seven or eight years old, second grade may have been the first time I heard about Dr. King.
HHF: [agreeing] I might have been seven when I first heard about Dr. King. We should definitely note that Jasen’s jaw dropped a little bit when he found out how long it took us to learn about Dr. King.
KS: It’s interesting because my parents grew up in the South when Dr. King was around. My parents never explicitly talked to me about race. I understood by 7 or 8 that it was impolite to talk about. As a teenager I thought it was racist to even notice that someone was a different race, I thought I was supposed to be ‘color blind’ although that’s impossible. So all conversations around race I’ve had with my parents have been since becoming an adult. We watched the movie “The Help” and my parents were like yeah, my mom was a ‘poor’ white person but they had a black maid who came in and took care of the kids and ironed and cleaned and stuff.
HHF: I didn’t know you could do that as a poor white.
KS: Yeah, as a poor white you’d get an even poorer Black person to come raise your kids sometimes.
JF: What? Oh man, sounds good to be white. I wish somebody would come and help me raise my kids.
HHF: Did they have a wet nurse?
KS: Not a wet nurse, no.
How will you talk to your kids differently about race and why?
KS: I will talk to my kids about how white isn’t the default or the right way to do things. White people are influenced by our ethnicity and culture as much as other races and ethnicities. Our family has some traditions that are German. I will also talk about recognizing and using our power and privilege wisely–using it to lift up other people who don’t have as much power and privilege as us.
JF: Hannah, your parents did a pretty good job making sure you had pride in your Taiwanese identity.
HF: It was only in context of white people being confused by this pride or by schoolground teasing making me feel ashamed about being Asian that I learned it was ideal to be white, or act white, to fit in.
What are some challenges of raising mixed-race or monoracial that you anticipate?
JF: I’m conflicted because I’m happy my kids aren’t going to have an explicitly Black experience. But i’m also sad that they won’t have a Black experience. I’m happy that my kids have access to tradition through Hannah’s family, I’m happy that we found tradition by becoming Lutherans. I lament that a lot of Black families don’t have tradition–our traditions have been taken away from us, our histories have been taken away from us, through generational trauma and abuse. So I’m happy that we found tradition for our family even if it means losing what it means to be Black. Having tradition around is really important to me.
HF: I really want both sides of their culture, and not devalue either side. And be able to switch between either as needed. I don’t know if it’s going to happen, but that is my hope.
KS: With monocultural kids, the challenge is just to be intentional. Because if i were to be a typical white middle class mom…
HF (interrupting): We probably wouldn’t be friends..
KS (agreeing): We wouldn’t be friends, yeah, I would be hoarding privilege for my kids. I would sending them to the “best” schools which would be a white school. I would be making sure I lived in the most expensive house in the whitest neighborhood I could find. I would not be exposing them to other races and cultures.
HF: I feel like all those things would be unconscious. And that the unsaid white rule of being a white parent is like, “Do these things so your kids can rule.”
KS: Yeah. It’s all these things like “My kid won’t get into college (read: Harvard) if my kid doesn’t go to school with the best test scores; my kid won’t go to school with all white middle class kids, maybe Asian kids as long as their parents are rich.” The challenge of sending my kid to a school is that 4% white is just to know that even though our kid’s school doesn’t have the best test scores, he’s going to be getting a better education because he’s going to know with people of a lot of different cultures, he’s going to know how to interact in different cultures, and he’s going to develop empathy for people with different life experiences with them. The challenge is also to be able to recognize and call out friends and relatives who make racist comments about sending our kids going to school with people of color.
HF: Has that happened?
KS: Yeah. From when we started looking for a house until I started The Good Schools Project Blog, it was a lot of “this is what your kid is going to learn by going to school with kids of color.” It was bizarrely racist and even super outdated.
HF: What, like, basketball?! This is good, you’re our insight into the white experience.
KS: A close family member told us our kid was going to learn to “sag their pants and stand on the street corner.” And I’m like, “Kids don’t even wear saggy pants anymore! That’s not even a thing!”
KS: And the “well-meaning” white people say things like, “Oh your kid is going to be so bored because of all the ESL kids–the teacher has to explain things five times.” Or “because your kid went to preschool, and he’s white or smart or whatever, I don’t know, he is going to be bored because the other kids will hold them back in their class.” And none of that has been the case. Even a stranger at the library was telling me this.
KS: This is not out of the ordinary. In white culture, conventional wisdom is send your kids to the whitest school and live in the whitest neighborhood. People never stop to question this. Part of the responsibility and challenge of being part of the monoculture is recognizing your privilege. Even though white people have problems, we also have privilege as white people.
JF: What was your motivation for moving to the south end?
KS: I’ve felt very strongly that I wanted my kids to attend a diverse school. I would have also moved to Columbia City, which is the super white part of South Seattle. Either way, they will go to a more diverse school than I did growing up. I will say what we have noticed is that moving from the wealthy/white neighborhood to the poorer/people of color neighborhood, that it’s much more chill when I take the kids to the park. In Greenwood, the white/wealthier parents tend to hover over their kids and have this attitude of paranoia around children that people in our neighborhood don’t have.
JF: The parents act like the child is a precious stone that needs to be protected.
KS: Yeah, it’s going to be a different experience in some positive and negative ways for kids in this neighborhood, but the attitude is more, “these kids can handle themselves and we don’t need to…”
HF: Coddle them.
KS: Yeah, I do like that. I think that a problem with a lot of wealthy/white parents: not only are their kids the most privileged kids on earth, but they feel their kids “just need to be protected,” and all the privilege needs to be hoarded for their child–it’s ridiculous–this mindset of scarcity: they don’t have enough? You have more than everybody else, and you still want more for your kid! And we as a society have decided this is the way to be a good parent. To get every single thing you can for your kid even if it means taking it away from another person’s kid–
HF: Oh God…
KS: I don’t like this attitude at all.
HF: Do you think that’s a white parenting norm?
KS: Maybe a privileged parenting norm.
JF: I don’t know, I have to tell myself not to hover.
What advice do you have for parents raising kids with your same racial identity?
JF: My advice for Black parents is to teach your kids to be proud of who they are and to find ways to ground your kids in Blackness, and to let them know that it’s going to be hard, but that they’re tough and they can handle it. And that you expect them to be excellent. I know so many Black parents do this already, but really driving that home: I expect you to be excellent, I expect you to be great, and to encourage the kid to really live into that. Because white people are not going to expect you to be excellent. The only ones who are going to expect excellence from us are us.
HF: There’s been this huge explosion of awareness with the whole “tiger mom” book about I guess Asian-American parenting, and I think it’s really damaging for Asian kids. Having come from an environment similar to that, a subdued version of that, I would say it stunts a kid’s ability to be adventurous, to really thrive in creativity. I found solace in creativity so I would be okay with some facets of tiger parenting so long as a kid is not punished for creative thinking or coloring outside of the box, metaphorically. With my kids I want them to be academically rigorous, but not so much so that they become mentally unwell with the pressure. I want them to be grounded in their Asian identity, and comfortable with bringing that–their whole self, to whatever space they’re in, whether that’s their Black identity, their Asian identity, or their mixed identity. Jasen and I have been talking a lot about resilience too. The ultimate parenting challenge is to protect your kid from harm but to also build a sense of resilience: “You can handle this, you’ve got this,” not to rush and fix everything, or to rush and make sure they never experience any struggle. In this sense, I think that is why compared to a Euro- or many- generations American perspective Asian parenting style comes off as harsh: the parents are trying to build resilience in their children, which kind of works, but maybe is taken to an extreme.
RS: My advice would be to relax a little bit. I feel like most people I know are really stressed about parenting, and a lot of that stress comes from ourselves, versus the actual needs of the kids. They’re more capable of taking care of themselves than we give them credit for.
KS: I agree with that, and I would also say that parents of white kids need to foster gratitude and foster recognition of their kids’ privilege. And saying to their kids, examining themselves, and saying “we have this power, you know, whatever privilege that we have, how are we going to use this to make the world a better, fairer place?” And to not raise their kids to see themselves as victims. Which is why they should go to the Kids and Race Part 2: Power and Privilege workshop!
JF: And that’s why they should read The Good Schools Project!
Guest bloggers Hannah, Jasen, and Katharine work with Kids and Race, an organization that empowers adults and children to take responsibility for dismantling racism through honest conversations and loving action. Ryan is Katharine’s partner who was watching the kids and making jello with them as this dialogue took place and jumped in occasionally. You can find out more at talkingrace.org. To book an event, training, or workshop with Kids and Race, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay up-to-date with events and articles at facebook.com/kidsandrace.
Katharine Strange, Kids and Race Grant Writer, social justice blogger, and mom of two. www.katharinestrange.com and https://www.katharinestrange.com/the-good-schools-project/
Hannah Hong Frelot, Kids and Race Operations Manager, is a multicultural education and art advisor. She advocates for mothers, mental health, and people of color in her work and writing.
Jasen Frelot, Kids and Race Executive Director, is a speaker, activist and educator. His work has been featured on podcasts and publications such as NPR, The Seattle Times, ParentMap Magazine, and national news outlets.