Black History Month has just ended. Our work has not.
February 1st began a month-long celebration of the achievements of African Americans throughout our history. It is a time to create awareness of African American accomplishments and admire the joy in African American culture. We should also use this month to reflect on the uglier side of racial history that is often watered down or missing from textbooks. And White people have a responsibility to join in.
As a white mama to four biracial children with my African American husband, I have a front-row seat to see that tough conversations about race happen at an early age. In fact, by age three, each of my daughters differentiated my skin tone from their father’s and his relatives’. This has led to a lot of questions from my daughters and some tough conversations at the kitchen table. My husband and I are raising children who are not colorblind so we will always encourage honest conversations about race, equality, and racism. In order to have those conversations, I need to first be informed.
My privilege as a White mom means that I have the responsibility to educate myself and my children about these topics while never having to face the same prejudices as people of color.
It is not enough to just post a Martin Luther King, Jr. quote annually, I need to position myself as an ally to support and stand up for people of color. What does that look like? In my opinion, the first steps are to learn and listen to the history of African Americans and then to be intentional in how race is discussed and how African American culture is enjoyed by me and my family. And I encourage other white parents to make the same effort.
By raising socially aware children, we have the power to ensure that this next generation of children is better equipped to dismantle prejudices that still exist throughout our country. Black History Month gives us a great excuse to start, by breaking the cycle of not talking about race. Now, keep going.
Here are five practical things that White parents can do now:
1. Buy books, movies, games, and other toys that have black characters. Representation matters and, the more that children are exposed to differences, whether in appearances or culture, the more that they will learn and appreciate those differences. I am intentional with what I buy for my own children because not only do I want them to be able to identify Black inventors, civil rights activists, and politicians; but I also want them to see Black teachers, doctors, schoolchildren, etc. in their everyday imaginative play.
2. Have the tough conversation about the history of race in this country with your child. Don’t leave this for them to learn in school or somewhere else. Answer their questions honestly and know that this shouldn’t be a one and done conversation.
3. Learn alongside your child. Children imitate the adults around them. If you make learning about the contributions of African Americans a priority, they will, too. There are so many resources out there to do just that. My daughters and I love reading and researching prominent African American figures. Because my girls are very young, we started with Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History (we love and recommend anything by Vashti Harrison) so that the information is perfectly sized for them. After reading each passage, we spend time researching the subject. That can look like finding more facts, listening to music or speeches, or just finding additional pictures of these bold women.
4. Visit museums, community events, or Black-owned businesses. We have so much locally to take advantage of! If you didn’t make it to one of Milwaukee Public Library’s Black History Month events, there are still opportunities to educate your children. Visit Sherman Phoenix for food and culture.
5. Don’t stop on March 1st! Commit to educating and intentionally exposing yourself and your children to the rich history of African American culture, both past and present, 365 days a year.
Please share how you celebrated Black History Month and will continue with its lessons throughout this year!