40 Ways to Raise a Nonracist Childby Barbara Mathias, Mary Ann French
30 years after the civil rights movement, America is still imbued with the spirit of racism. Despite the best intentions of a generation, children today are still learning the dangerous lessons of prejudice, hate and bigotry. Ultimately, the only way to rid our society of the evil of racism is to teach our children, while they're still impressionable, that color is not an indication of a person's worth. Unfortunately, many parents are at a loss as to how to do this effectively. 40 Ways to Raise a Nonracist Child is the perfect aid for these parents. Divided into five age-related sections, ranging from preschool age to the teenage years, it provides helpful and practical ways parents can teach these important lessons, and contains specific advice addressing the unique concerns of both white parents and parents of color. With topics ranging from how to select toys for toddlers to how to talk with teenagers about what they see on the evening news, 40 Ways to Raise a Nonracist Child is a book all concerned parents will want to have on their shelves.
- HarperCollins Publishers
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Read an Excerpt
Perhaps it's obvious--as much of the advice on these pages may seem at first glance--that our mission as parents is to prepare our children to take our places in this world.
But somehow it's easy to forget that they soon will be our peers--let alone our survivors.
We have a mammoth ability to shape them now. Tomorrow, they will be our equals in both size and strength, which they will use in ways that are brute or kind, according to how we have raised them. What will they see through the lens we provide? What kind of America will they dream at the end of our day?
Some of the most thoughtful and effective parents we interviewed for this book are not exceedingly religious but talk in nearly sacred terms about their approach to parenting. They are deeply committed to guiding principles that vary in emphasis but that all could be considered "golden rules." Their goals are both simple and all-consuming. They aim to raise up children who are fit for society. At the same time, they strive to make that society more fit for all. They begin by devising guidelines, within which they then endeavor to live. Sound easy? Self-evident?
Deborah, a Cincinnati mother of three girls--ages two, five and seven--and her husband decided early on to concentrate on teaching their children to respect all races equally. The family--which is Jewish--has lost immediate relatives to Hitler's concentration camps, forbears to a Russian czar's pogrom, as well as ancestors to slavery in Pharaoh's Egypt.
"I try to use every opportunity that comes along to teach my children to treat other people as they would like to be treated," Deborahsays. "I tell them, 'Remember, you were once slaves'--the line from Passover--and 'Remember Hitler. Remember that you never want anything like that to happen to anybody else in this world.'"
It's tough, though. Deborah says her children were confused recently as they watched her nearly destroy a friendship with Janet, another mother in their middle-class neighborhood, who is black. The damage was done during a discussion the two women had about Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan and the historic Million Man March he organized in Washington, D.C. Deborah wanted Janet to denounce and disavow Farrakhan, whom many believe to be anti-Semitic.
Janet, however, needed Deborah to understand that Farrakhan was not her focus. Instead, she was thrilled by the sight of hundreds of thousands of African American men converging in the nation's capital to pledge a stronger commitment to themselves and to their families.
After leaving Janet's house in a huff, Deborah tried to explain to her children--who were more accustomed to their mother preaching tolerance than excommunicating friends--how and why some of her principles supersede all others. It wasn't easy. Deborah now doubts whether she was completely fair with Janet and isn't sure she ever made her reasoning clear to her girls. She does know, however, that she acted and spoke from her heart. She also misses her friend and is searching for a way to bridge the gap with Janet without feeling she's betraying her people--a move she says will please her daughters no end.
Deborah's children may be too young now to understand the intricate ways in which their mother's beliefs overlap and sometimes conflict, but she is teaching them a larger lesson by acting honestly and not hiding the hurt that sometimes results. In fact, Deborah may already have taught them enough to accept--even when she can't--that life is messy, and that loyalties can compete without necessarily nullifying principle.
We Americans often struggle when it comes to selecting and sticking to a philosophy of child rearing. We're not known for the strength of our planning. By and large, we're not into saving either. When the inevitable rainy day comes, we tend to count more on our knack for spur-of-the-moment solutions. That has been the source of many of our nation's triumphs as well as its downfalls.
We delight in our flexibility. We are undaunted as we attempt to juggle an impossible number of demands. We fumble regularly, and things of substance slip our grip. Then we vow to take up the challenge anew the next day. And we believe everything will work out. Somehow.
Many of the ways we offer here to help raise your child righteously in our racist world are rooted in systems of beliefs and convictions. Such strategies for living life fairly come in many forms, both sacred and secular, but most of them have similarly humane foundations. Adopt one, follow it, and you're likely to find yourself stumbling less as a parent. You may still lose your way occasionally, but you'll have a compass to get back on course. And getting back to the obvious, it will be easier to guide and inspire your children to follow you if you're true to your principles.
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Without the helpful suggestions detailed in this book, my toddler would have surely become a racist.