It’s your responsibility to address race with your kids — full stop
Writer Mathangi Subramanian was on a playground with her child last week, when two little blonde girls wouldn’t let her daughter play with them because she doesn’t have blonde hair. The girls’ parents were in earshot and heard the whole thing. They did not intervene.
Still processing this, but two days ago, two blonde girls at the playground told my daughter she couldn't play with them because she doesn't have blonde hair.
The girls' parents did not intervene.
You better believe I did.
— Dr. Mathangi Subramanian (@mathangiwrites) April 18, 2019
Since the girls’ parents didn’t intervene, Subramanian clearly had to. “I wanted the parents to intervene, but I understand why they didn’t,” she tells Scary Mommy. “My intervention was clumsy at best – I told the girls that the playground is for everyone, no matter who they are, and that they have to share the space.”
On the walk home, my three-year-old and I had a heart-to-heart about race and exclusion. It wasn't our first time. The first time was when she was two, and she came home from preschool saying that her skin was black, and we talked about how dark skin is beautiful.— Dr. Mathangi Subramanian (@mathangiwrites) April 18, 2019
“It’s hard to know what to say in a situation like this,” Subramanian explains. “I think that there needs to be more resources for White parents to learn how to talk about race. At the same time, I think it’s up to White parents to both seek out and demand those resources. I knew how to talk to my daughter on the way home because my mother talked about race to me, so I had a model. We need more models for White parents.”
Here is the point: parents of color talk about race with our kids all the time. We have no choice. It's there, everywhere, and we can't avoid it.— Dr. Mathangi Subramanian (@mathangiwrites) April 18, 2019
I told the blonde kids at the playground that they can't exclude people. I did it calmly and politely, while their parents watched.
But those parents should have intervened. They should've said something. My daughter was watching. Their daughters were watching.— Dr. Mathangi Subramanian (@mathangiwrites) April 18, 2019
White parents: TALK TO YOUR KIDS ABOUT RACE. I know it's uncomfortable. But the rest of us do it all the time. We need you to do it too.
The fact of the matter is that race is not an easy thing to address, because most white people make it incredibly hard. As a writer who deals with issues of race, I’ve seen first hand just how defensive white people become when race is addressed. People of color are constantly gaslit, questioned, and their experiences minimized. What if the parents didn’t hear? They’re just little girls! Stop making such a big deal about this! Everything isn’t about race!
“White people need to stop gaslighting people of color about race,” Subramanian says. “My family immediately believed me, but I know that not everyone would have. People of color know the difference between bullying and racist bullying, just like queer people should be trusted when they see homophobia, trans people should be trusted to recognize transphobia, and so on.” Subramanian has just published the novel A People’s History Of Heaven, which also deals with issues of race: “I had just finished writing and promoting a book about mothers who stand up for their kids, no matter what, and it made me especially aware of my role in giving my daughter the strength and strategies she needs to survive inequality.”
We cannot expect kids to be inclusive, if we ourselves are not. It’s not enough to “not see color” – in fact, please never say that again. “Not seeing” is the problem. We need to acknowledge that racism is rampant and aim to DO something about it. Do you expose your children to other cultures? Do you celebrate them? Are all their dolls white? What about all the media they’re exposed to? These are just very small things to consider in a larger context of the world. “But I’m not racist!” just isn’t good enough anymore. We all need to be inclusive, fight for inclusivity, and not need a pat on the back every time we do it.
As for Subramanian, people have been reaching out to her since her tweets went viral to show their support.
My family & I are so overwhelmed and grateful for everyone's support. Here's kiddo today at the park with my husband, being her resilient self. This girl is not about to let racism steal her joy. I'm not either. pic.twitter.com/m1ncAv3ZZr— Dr. Mathangi Subramanian (@mathangiwrites) April 20, 2019
The fact is, if people look at you and see a white person, you benefit from white privilege. If you benefit from white privilege and are raising kids who will also be benefiting from it, it is your responsibility to teach them about race. And don’t get defensive about it — just start! I’m a white mother to black children, and I know I’m constantly making mistakes. That doesn’t stop me from trying to learn as much as I can to be the best ally I can for my kids and the rest of humanity.
As Maya Angelou said, “forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn’t know before you learned it.” And just start trying to create a better world for ALL of our kids. Here are some resources: