Why all parents need to talk to their kids about anti-Black racism | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Why all parents need to talk to their kids about anti-Black racism

Sasha Exeter, a Toronto lifestyles influencer, is shown with her daughter Maxwell is this recent undated handout image. Sasha Exeter dreads the day she has to give her two-year-old daughter "the talk" — the same one her parents had with her when she was younger. Like so many Black children, Exeter said she had to learn that "we are not created equal" because people would view her differently based on her skin colour. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Camilla Pucholt *MANDATORY CREDIT*
June 09, 2020 - 9:03 AM

Sasha Exeter was out for a walk with her toddler trying to enjoy the beautiful Toronto weather last month when the two were affronted by ugly racist vitriol.

After asking a man to move his truck off the sidewalk so she could pass with her stroller, Exeter said the driver told her to "go back where I came from" and directed the N-word at her child.

It wasn't the two-year-old's first encounter with racism, and despite her efforts to protect her, Exeter knows it won't be the last.

The 40-year-old lifestyles influencer dreads the day she has to give her daughter, Maxwell, "the talk" — the same one her parents had with her when she was younger.

Like so many Black children, Exeter said she had to learn that "we are not created equal" because people would view her differently based on her skin colour.

"When (Maxwell) becomes old enough, my dream is to not have to have those conversations," said Exeter.

As protests over police violence against people of colour roil the U.S. and Canada, experts say parents have a chance to turn "the talk" into a cross-generational conversation about anti-Black racism.

And for change to happen, they say white people have to stop shielding their children from the subject of race.

Exeter said parents of white children don't have to coach their sons about how to act around police, or remind them they're beautiful because of their skin colour and the texture of their hair, not in spite of it.

But all parents have a responsibility to educate their kids about our shared history, how Black Canadians have shaped it, and its darker chapters, said Exeter.

She hopes this moment of social reckoning over anti-Black racism will serve as a teaching opportunity for white parents to help lay the groundwork for a brighter future.

"If white parents switch the narrative at home and do the right education and are open-minded, there can definitely be more of a shift for our future and for our society, for our kids."

Dr. Sharon Smile, a developmental pediatrician at Toronto's Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, said racism is a "socially transmitted disease" that can lead to mental-health issues, chronic stress and behavioural challenges for those targeted.

In some cases, Smile said, constant racial trauma has been linked to inflammatory reactions that can predispose kids to certain chronic conditions.

She said these negative health outcomes are driven by structural inequities in Canada's educational, legal and health-care systems. This makes racism both a "moral issue and a medical issue," she said.

That's why conversations about race need to start early — some might even consider it prenatal preparation, said Smile.

Rather than sitting a child down for "the talk," Smile encouraged caregivers to engage their kids in an ongoing dialogue about race throughout development.

Research suggests that babies as young as six months old can pick up on differences in skin colour, she said. Before age four, Smile said stereotypes can start to take shape.

She said it's incumbent on parents to cultivate positive attitudes about group- and self-identity both as role models and curators of the media their children consume.

By the time children reach school age, their awareness of racial differences is more acute, said Smile. She recommends parents teach their kids about the diversity of racial groups not through comparison, but mutual appreciation.

This can provide a foundation for adolescents to recognize racism at an age when they are most likely to experience or perpetuate it, said Smile. Teens can also delve into the social and historical context of racial discrimination, and get involved in activism.

Smile notes that every child grows up at their own pace, so it can be hard to find an age-appropriate balance between acknowledging the realities of racism without stoking anxiety.

She said recent protests against systemic discrimination and police brutality could serve as a "teachable moment" for parents to gauge their kids' understanding of anti-Black racism and talk about the role they can play in fighting for justice.

But first, Smile urged parents to be honest with themselves about whether they're prepared to tackle these tough topics, or they could risk passing their prejudices onto the next generation.

"Do you need help to process that information and break it down so that you can then be the vehicle to support your child?" said Smile. "Because this is a lifelong journey, until racism is eradicated."

Carl James, a professor in York University's faculty of education, said schools have a responsibility to help fill in these gaps by ensuring their curricula reflect the diversity of their student population.

"We can't just leave it up to children to make sense of this unless we intervene," James said. "Everyone has to get on board in helping to change that narrative."

James said he's heard from parents who worry that confronting racism could rob their children of their "innocence."

But he said for parents of racialized children, "innocence" isn't an option, because ignorance could put their lives in danger.

He said such fears have fuelled the series of protests in Canada and the U.S. following the release of a video showing a white Minneapolis police officer kneeling on the neck of a Black man, George Floyd, for nearly nine minutes.

James said white parents can no longer afford to preserve their children's "innocence," because ultimately, it comes at a cost to racialized kids who may never realize their full potential.

"Everybody (needs) to be included in the conversation," he said. "If we don't change the conversation, all of us are going to suffer."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 9, 2020.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2020
The Canadian Press

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