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Kids and race. A conversation worth having.

By: Dr. Shalini Forbis

I was greatly saddened when I heard about the shootings in Charleston. In fact, horrified. It felt so reminiscent of events during the Civil Rights Movement. But, it seems that was probably what was intended by the young man who killed so many people based on something so superficial as the color of their skin.

Clearly, racism and issues of race are deeply embedded within the fabric of U.S. history and will not quietly recede as a distant memory. I believe racism will not go away by ignoring it. In the interests of full disclosure, it is an issue that I think about quite a bit. As a child in the 70’s, I have experienced issues such as having racial slurs yelled at me on playgrounds for wearing ethnic clothing to school. I have heard my dad called an “f—ing nigger” because he was too slow in making a turn. I once had a coach cut one extra person from a sports team in order to not include the one person of color (myself) on the team. Now, I do not believe that these few episodes mean that I can fully understand what is faced by African-Americans on a daily basis but I know how hurtful these and other occurrences were to me.

Many years ago, I married a white man. So, I now have biracial children. We do talk about race in my household. We have found it important to discuss because I want my girls to understand that there are some people that will judge them based on the color of their skin or actually based on the color of my skin. But, as I reflect on the shootings in Charleston, I believe that it is important that ALL families talk about these issues.

Here are some of the discussion points when my husband and I talk to our kids:

1. From a medical perspective, when we judge a person based on their race, we are usually going by their skin color and maybe also facial features. This is highly superficial. Skin color is an adaptation for protection based on where groups of people have lived geographically. Our blood is the same color, our organs are the same.

2. The color of a person’s skin (or their eyes or hair) does not tell you about the nature of their character. It is better to choose your friends based on their values, behavior and how they treat you than based on how they look. There are “good” and “bad” people of all colors, races and ethnic groups.

3. We are all biased. It is part of being human that we are most comfortable with people who look like us. But it is important that we and our children are aware of this internal bias that ALL people have.

4. Get information from your kids. Do they hear friends, adults etc making comments about people of different races or ethnic groups. What kind of comments do the people around them make? Find out what your children think about the comments and then use that as a launching point for a discussion.

After the election of President Obama, I heard the comment that we were living in a post-racial era. This is clearly not so. I do believe that there have been improvements but we still have a long way to go. There was a recent article that I read that discussed the millennial generation and their beliefs on racism. This article suggests that Millenials feel that they, as a group, are very accepting. However, this article finds interesting flaws and suggests that millenials may have some mixconceptions and also just don’t discuss race issues or feel that they will go away by ignoring them.

Ignoring racism, whether of the individual, the institution or society at large will not continue the U.S. on the path towards overcoming this critical issue. As parents, we need to use the ongoing events of the past 2 years as an opportunity to discuss our horrible past history of slavery and racism, where we are now and hopefully help us to create a new generation that continues to move us forward as a people.

If you are interested in getting some feedback on your bias (related to race as well as more generally) Harvard University has an ongoing online project, called “Project Implicit”. From their website “The goal of the organization is to educate the public about hidden biases and to provide a “virtual laboratory” for collecting data on the Internet.” You can access their website and participate in brief tests (the ones I completed are 10 minutes or less). They do provide some feedback to you.

Articles that provide tips and ideas about talking with children about race, racism, etc:

http://www.civilrights.org/publications/reports/talking_to_our_children/

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/04/research-based-advice-on-teaching-children-not-to-be-racist/255736/

http://www.pbs.org/parents/experts/archive/2013/02/how-to-teach-kids-about-race.html

By: Dr. Shalini Forbis

Dr. Forbis is a pediatrician in the Children’s Health Clinic at Dayton Children’s Hospital and a mother to two girls. As part of the award-winning “Dr. Mom Squad,” Dr. Forbis blogs about her experiences as both as doctor and a mom and hopes to share insight to other parents on issues related to both parenting and kids health. Learn more about Dr. Forbis. – See more at: http://blog.childrensdayton.org/do-i-really-need-the-flu-shot/#sthash.zR82DVoK.dpuf

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