Raising Race Conscious Children In Color Blind Society

Lori Taliaferro Riddick and her team run the blog and workshops on "Raising race conscious children."

As a nation, we have adopted the color blind narrative, and many people find it very awkward to talk about race as a topic at home. However, a team of mothers has been pushing against this narrative. They believe that children should be given the freedom to explore race topics and parents should be able to introduce them into conversations at home. Lori Riddick is a member of this team. Together with other team members, they run workshops and a blog that explores how to talk to children about race.

blackmattersus.com
Could you please tell us a little about yourself and what it is you do?
Lori Riddick
I’m part of the team that works on the raising race conscious children blog and on the workshop. Basically, we’re educators who, when we became mothers, really wanted to explore the case of talking about race and topics that we had thought about a lot when we were teaching – which when we became parents, became important for us to look at through a different lens – with our children.
blackmattersus.com
Why did you decide to study race consciousness and why with children in particular?
Lori Riddick
One of the things that was really important to us, first as educators and as mothers, was to be able to acknowledge the challenges of race. If you think about children’s literature, you spend a lot of time naming the color of a box, or a truck or a tree. When we don’t talk about race with children, then we give them a couple of different messages because then it seems like there’s something wrong with asking questions about it, and we also let them make up their own minds about why there’s a difference that we’re not naming. So for us it became really important to push against the color blind narrative that is inquired of our country and we’re willing to say, “No, race and color do exist, those differences are important to discuss and talk about.” And we create the space for our children and other children to ask questions when they have them about the world that they live in.
blackmattersus.com
So which families are your messages directed to? White families, Black families or multiracial families?
Lori Riddick
Sachi, who started the blog, identifies as white. So for her, she studied it initially with an eye towards white families as a beginning of this exploration of talking about race and pushing against the color blind narrative. My family is multiracial, I grew up in an interracial family, and I identify as black, so as a member of the team who is blogging and helping to run workshops, it’s really important to me that it is for all families, so that it’s equal for families of color who have more practice talking about race. For them, it’s about bearing in mind what they want to talk about with their children as they’re young and what the positive stories are that they can talk about around color and race difference and the power of creating a movement. So one other thing we talk about quite often is helping children find the space to be able to feel like they could be activists for positive change.
blackmattersus.com
Growing up, did you personally experience any acts of racism that inspired you to do this work?
Lori Riddick
I would say that I experienced a lot of ignorance that was based on white privilege. So there were assumptions made about me in terms of if I had really earned my place in a school, whether or not people of color were equal to white people. Also, I remember being called derogatory names at certain points when I was in different parts of the country with my family. For me in particular, my driving interest in this conversation is partially because I grew up in a very intentionally integrated neighborhood where there wasn’t a very strong color blind narrative. So even though people intentionally wanted to integrate and live next to Black families, and have White families, Jewish families and Christian families live close to one another, there were still these lines of division. And even though people would not cross the street when they saw a Black person, the question is, “Was it okay to see somebody who wasn’t the same race as you and was it okay to ask questions about differences?” Because I grew up in this area where people wouldn’t really talk about race, I had a lot of questions that I decided to either to take up for myself or make up my own answers to. I really wish I had the opportunity to ask my questions. It didn’t even feel like I even could form the questions to ask. Part of it was wanting my children to grow up being able to say, “I’m wondering about the world, and about what it means to be a black person in this place.” And I want them to have the freedom and the space to ask this question.
blackmattersus.com
What is the main idea of the training that you do to raise this kind of awareness in children of color? What methods do you use?
Lori Riddick
The training is general for parents, so it’s not specifically for parents of color, although, we are launching a new workshop theory that is specifically for parents who have children of a different race than their own. We’re targeting parents who might have adopted a child or have an interracial child. Through the general training, we really want parents to have a chance to practice what it’s like to have these conversations, because it feels kind of unnatural to have a conversation about race for many people. So we set out really looking at children’s literature, images and advertising that children might be exposed to, and we give people strategies and ask them to practice using those strategies, first imagining that they’re talking to an imaginary child. The idea too is that as the adult, they can also be able to raise these conversations, so we give a lot of questions to the blog around, “How do I respond to incidences in the news or incidences of police violence?” We really recommend that families begin these conversations much earlier. We also recommend that families begin these conversations collectively, not in the moment of crisis or in a moment of challenge. So in the comfort of your home, as you’re reading a book, you can begin to say, “Oh, I know that there are people that have brown skin, and there are families that look different from ours.” Beginning those conversations even at a very simple level can build the schemer for more complicated conversations later on.
blackmattersus.com
We understand that you have a seven-year-old son. When did you start talking to him about race consciousness?
Lori Riddick
We started talking about it probably when he was about 6-months-old and we started reading books together. As we were reading picture books, we named different colors of people that we saw. My mother, as I mentioned was white, so we talked about how grandma had lighter skin and we had brown skin and how members of our family had different skin colors. It was an important conversation for us to begin really early because I wanted him to understand that even though we might not resemble our family members in some ways, we still belonged together.
blackmattersus.com
And has he ever complained to you about racial discrimination?
Lori Riddick
He hasn’t necessarily talked about racial discrimination using those words. I think he asked questions about whether or not people perceive him negatively because he’s not white. And I think he feels comfortable exploring those questions and talking about them. We have talked about some other things that have happened, from Ferguson to some of the recent events with police and so I think he has an awareness that sometimes people of color are treated unfairly by authority figures. It’s not that he personally would say that he was discriminated against. I think he’s aware that there are racist acts in the world.
blackmattersus.com
From your last blog, you say that he asked you what racism was. Do you think after your explanation, he grasps the whole idea?
Lori Riddick
I think that racism is multifaceted and what he was really asking was whether that incident could be classified as racism. So he’s trying to understand. Even as adults, we grapple with this too. Is it a moment of inquisitive and unconscious fire? Is it a moment of intentional racism? Is it a moment of prejudice? I think it’s something that he’s beginning to wrestle with and I’d say that I don’t know if I’ve always had the complete understanding of where it falls on that continuum of racism versus prejudice versus bias. In my opinion, he’s beginning to wrestle with that as well.
blackmattersus.com
So how do you explain topics like the KKK to a child?
Lori Riddick
Again, I think it’s really important to build a conversation. The idea isn’t to build a sense of fear or powerlessness, so I wouldn’t want him to get into a conversation around the KKK. In talking about events in history, we try to talk about how there are groups of people that have no political power and who sometimes use violence as a last resort to try and dominate other groups of people. These groups that hate one another are outgrowths of that sense of powerlessness. As the basis of this discussion, we always try to understand the perspective of other groups of people, even people who might hate us. We try to understand what their motivation might be for their behavior. I think for the KKK, interestingly enough, he read about it when he was reading about the South in the historical context. He asked a lot of questions like: Is it still an organization that exists, what does it mean today and what does it mean to me? My goal in general is to let him take the lead in these conversations, not to frighten him and give him this sense of hopelessness.
blackmattersus.com
Also, from your last blog, you talked about worrying about your child coming home safe. How do you think one can explain to a child that he has be careful because he’s Black? I’m sure he has a lot of friends who are white, who don’t have to be as careful as he should be.
Lori Riddick
This is also an ongoing conversation. One of the things we use as an entry point at the workshop and which I use in talking with my children is to talk about fairness and unfairness. He’s aware that sometimes people of color are treated unfairly, and he’s also aware that as a person of color, that might often happen to him. The conversation with him about being careful and being aware of his surroundings is really an outgrowth of that conversation. So it didn’t just start like one day he woke up and I said he should be careful outside because he’s black. It really has been an ongoing conversation about how people sometimes are not nice and kind to each other and make assumptions of one another, and as a person of color, he has to be aware of what that means for him in certain phases.
blackmattersus.com
You told him not to protest. Do you think it’s fair that Black people shouldn’t be able to talk back to the police and ask questions?
Lori Riddick
Do I think it’s fair? No! But as an adult, I also know that we don’t always get to live in a world where things are fair. Looking at the way justice is served and how punishment occurs, at who is allowed to have minor infractions that don’t impact their lives and people who have minor infractions that derail their future, I don’t think that any of that is fair. But I think that right now that’s where we are for a lot of cases. If you go to a college campus, there are kids there that are drinking underage, that might be smoking pot, all these things are illegal, but the consequences for them are probably minor. Compare that to those of somebody who might be stuck on the street having a similar infraction. The consequences could be very serious. As a country, we have to look and say whether or not we’re being fair, and I think we’re not. I think that our standards are different, and that it’s a social justice issue. I don’t think it’s fair and it’s because the children aren’t capable. I think it’s because the adults have lower expectations of what the kids can achieve.
blackmattersus.com
Do you think it’s important to protest?
Lori Riddick
I do think it’s important to protest and as a mother, my primary interest is that my child survives, but that he also be able to advocate for a world that is more fair and just. As a person of color, that doesn’t mean he should remain silent, but it does mean that he doesn’t have the privilege to do that in any sort of way. He has to be thoughtful about how he does it and where he does it. I think if we’ve learnt anything in the last couple of years and certainly the last couple of weeks, black people in particular are not very safe in this country.
blackmattersus.com
On your webpage there’s an article about the protests and sculptures of Raphael Zollinger. Why, in your opinion, do you think people are protesting?
Lori Riddick
I think that there are lots of reasons for protests. As a country, we were able to tell ourselves for a long time stories about how racism was over and how things are better now, but there’s a lot of evidence that that’s not true. Part of the reasons for the protests is the cognitive dissonance between where we thought we were in terms of racial relations and where we find ourselves. And I don’t think that necessarily people of color always thought or felt that the world was better than it was. Now there’s just a lot of evidence that there is active racism in terms of how authority figures are handling and addressing people of color in traffic stops and in the way they’re handling cases. There’s sort of a grueling amount of outrage, sadness and anger at how far we are from the ideals of our country.

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