Raising Diversity-Conscious Kids

Unless you have been living under the proverbial “rock” over the past 72 hours, you have no doubt heard about Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling and his lifetime ban from the NBA for making racist remarks in his home (and his girlfriend recording them…but that’s another story!). As far as American sports figures in the news, this story ranks right up there with OJ’s Explorer chase or Magic Johnson’s HIV disclosure; even non-sports buffs like me hear about it, weigh in on it, and end up talking about it at the dinner table. Questions like, Sterling told his girlfriend not to be seen with a Black man? Whaaa? Wait, he has a girlfriend? And a wife? Yep, Yep, and Yep. We grab onto the salacious details and spin them every which way in our minds, trying to make sense of the fact that an 80 year-old man has a 30-something girlfriend, an estranged wife, racist attitudes circa 1930s, and is owner of a professional team in a sport dominated by African American men. He also has a history of de facto discrimination in his business and real estate ventures. Some have argued that what Sterling, or anyone, says in the privacy of his/her own home should be just that–private. Private or not, there is something about hearing the words “I don’t like Black people” in the 21st century, in the United States, that causes the collective hairs on the back of our neck to stand up.

Courtesy of Bing Images and WikiSpace.
Photo Courtesy of Bing Images and WikiSpace.

So, why write about this on a moms blog? I’m writing about this on a moms blog because, as we talked about this news at the dinner table, I couldn’t help but look over at my 5 year-old daughter and think of the awesome responsibility we have as parents to raise diversity-conscious kids. Diversity consciousness means being aware of all the ways we are different and that differences are a value-added part of our relationships with others. The idea of building our children’s–and our own–diversity consciousness may be different than what many of us learned as kids. I’m a White, able-bodied, educated mom who was raised in a predominantly White town. I was raised, as many children are, to be color-blind. The color-blind ideology says that ‘we are all the same,’ and can easily be extended as a way to approach all kinds of “isms”: racism, classism, ableism, sexism, heterosexism. Upon first glance, this seems a genuinely good and pure truth to teach our children. It is the foundation upon which we teach our kids to be kind to others, to be fair, to follow the Golden Rule.

aissa parkUnfortunately, it can also lay a foundation upon which children who are members of a majority group learn to be unaware of their own privilege, and to become unconscious about the experiences of those who have been oppressed as a result of their diverse identities. If we are all the same, we must all be treated the same, right? If I teach my daughter not to see difference, not to talk about it, she is more likely to grow up thinking that diversity means the “others” and therefore is not part of her consciousness. She will not understand the daily experiences of a child who is a member of a racial minority. The child with an intellectual disability. The child whose family is in poverty. The child whose parents don’t look like “everyone else’s.” Most important, if my daughter believes everyone is the same, she is more likely to grow up unaware of the persistent inequality that exists all around her. She will be less likely to stand up for those who experience oppression in her neighborhood, in her school, in her world. If I’ve taught her the Golden Rule and that everyone is the same, she’ll likely not become a bully or a bigot, but she also won’t become an ally, and the cyle will continue.

I think it’s time for 21st century moms to set aside the comfy old diversity-blind attitudes and tell our children instead, “look at this person, this individual person, and see her for who she is.” We must also tell our children, “Look at what is happening. What can you do?” We have to be willing to unpack stories like the NBA banning Sterling for life or all of the other examples of inequality that we can see or hear about on any given day. It’s no easy task; our kids are assaulted with racist, ableist, sexist, heterosexist, classist messages at every turn. Confronting those messages is hard work. There is no app for that. But I think it’s worth it, for all of our children.

 

 

Sherri is a transplant from Oregon who came to be a Hawkeye in 2006 and stayed for the sweet corn...and for the Iowa boy she met along the way! She and her husband (Kyle) have a 9 year-old daughter, Aissa. Sherri earned her Ph.D. in Higher Education and Student Affairs at The University of Iowa and works for Ruffalo Noel Levitz as an Enrollment Marketing Consultant for colleges and universities. When she's not working, you can find her with her family, enjoying Iowa City and cheering on the Hawkeyes.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Bringing an international student into your life for a semester or an academic year is a great way to teach your children at a young age about diversity. International Student Exchange is currently looking for host families or individuals interested in sharing our American culture with an international high school teen. Monthly support and supervision are provided for both family and student. Call (319) 848-5771 or visit http://www.iseusa.com. ISE is a non-profit bringing the world together for over 30 years.

  2. This is a terrific post!!!

    I would love a followup on specific ways we can work with our little ones to make Iowa City a more just place.

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