More On Color

I have been wanting to come back to this topic for a while now, but since my first go-round with it cost me a couple virtual relationships and apparently painted me as a closet racist, I have been shy to return to it.

Halfway through the school year, the fifth graders completed a huge project for their Heritage Day celebration. Each child had to choose a country that had something to do with their bloodlines and research it. Their findings were to be presented on tri-fold display boards accompanied by a speech the child wrote and would deliver to whoever stopped to view their project. Family and friends were invited to the cafeteria for a show and to eat foods we all brought representing our child’s country. As the kids entered the cafeteria waving the flags of their countries the song, Coming to America by Neil Diamond blared over the loudspeakers. I was horrified. Afterward, I shared my concerns with my son’s teacher. I asked her if they had considered that not everyone came to America willingly; that not everyone came here to be free? She looked a little sheepish and told me they had not covered slavery yet. I suggested that they find a different song for next year.

My children go to a predominantly white school. There is only one person of color who works there and she is a TA (there are also only two men who work there, a custodian and a gym teacher.) My children’s doctors are all white. Their bus driver is white. My son’s competitive soccer team at least has Latino coaches, but that’s it. I can’t think of one person of authority in my children’s lives who is black. (This is not true for me though as I have had bosses, doctors, police officers, school teachers, college professors, and other authority figures of color in my life.) But while I am not feeling good about this overall, I would not go looking for new dentist based on skin color. I will write a letter to our school board and superintendent letting them know that it would be nice if they hired with diversity in mind, and why that matters to me and how that will benefit our children.

Despite the lack of diversity in our school, my son has friends who do not look like him. After his moving up ceremony I asked him to go get his best friends for group shot:


One thing I learned in my quest for figuring out if White Privilege  is more prevalent and predictable than just Privilege  is that those boys all have a pretty much equal chance at success. That is what social scientist, Annette Lareau, author of Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life. determined after studying several New York City families who had huge discrepancies in income and resources. She learned that income and class had a lot to do with parenting styles, or perhaps it is the other way around, and that parenting styles have a lot to do with the future success of child. While she carefully points out the positives and negatives of both the concerted cultivation and the natural growth parenting methods, what she makes most clear is how the system is set up to better accommodate and reward children raised under concerted cultivation. As you probably already imagined, it takes money and know-how to participate in concerted cultivation parenting, but what you probably would not guess or even believe is that black children raised that way have a better shot than white children raised under natural growth at becoming professionals and staying in or entering the middle class.

Turns out though, it has more to do with than just plenty of money (which is what I thought creates privilege.) It has a lot to do with teaching your children how to view themselves as equals and able to speak to adults in authority; how to advocate for themselves, and how to ask  for privileges. Parents who practice natural growth parenting were especially weak themselves in questioning authoritative figures (asking a doctor why she is prescribing a particular medication for example) and tended to accept a professional opinion as the way it is  (the teacher said it so it must be true.)

It is all tumbling around in my head. I can already see where I am teaching my children through concerted cultivation to speak for themselves, to view themselves as an equal part of a mutually respectful relationship between teacher/child, doctor/patient, etc. What is missing though are the opportunities for them to participate in this relationship development with people of color.

I also still really have no good ideas for how to talk to my sons about color. Yeah, I read the articles and blog posts on it, and no, I did not find them particularly helpful. I don’t want to plant ideas in the Gecko’s head about his friends; that they have been historically victimized and oppressed, and are still not treated equally due to long-held stereotypes. Why not? Because I don’t know how to do it without lessening who they are now and how he looks up to them exactly as he sees them now. And, secondly, because his friends (according to Lareau) have about the same shot as him at succeeding in life (that’s broad, isn’t it?) so how would I explain that in terms of color?

So I think for now, I am going to continue to talk with them about poverty & lack of opportunity, and how that affects growing children; both black and white.


  1. Lisa says

    I recently read a book titled “Waking Up White,” and found it extremely eye-opening about white privilege, which I believe very much still exists. Yes, there is class privilege, which I’m also extremely conscious of, but white privilege is a whole other layer. I grew up if not in poverty, then certainly at the lower end of middle class. I grew up in a broken family where alcoholism, mental illness and abuse were the norm, and where we moved every year and so I was the new kid in school (usually in the middle of the school year) year after year. Even with all of that working against me, though, at least I was white. Being black under those circumstances would have created even more obstacles for me – I absolutely believe that. Yes, black, Hispanic, and other minority kids can and do succeed in life, but they have obstacles to overcome that white kids just don’t have. Racism is alive and well, it’s just perhaps not at blatant and out in the open as it once was.

    I would be curious to hear your thoughts on this book.

  2. Cayte says

    Po Brosnan’s “NurtureShock” has tons of great ideas for for talking to kids about color, race, the role it played in history, etc.

    In terms of talking to my kids about “class” (in the Annette Landreau parenting styles sense) was to approach it from a situational vs generational standpoint– and, yes, absolutely, it’s about a WHOLE lot more than simply money. The former is a whole lot ‘easier’ to overcome and is mostly ‘fixable’ without outside intervention, the latter, hoo-boy, is a not.

    Situational poverty is most of western Europe in the wake of WWII — the Marshall Plan worked in large part because the citizens of the countries that received it had the capacity (i.e. to build roads, be teachers, do everything else necessary to rebuild) AND were willing to submit to a central government. They’d had horrific governments for a relatively short period pf time, so were willing to accept that a piece of paper (deed) gave meant you owned your house; that if you put money in the bank, it would still be there two or ten years later and, collectively, to let a far-from-perfect justice system mete out punishment, i.e. you do not get to take matters into your own hands. It’s a huge, HUGE leap of faith.

    Generational poverty is Haiti, DRC and Afghanistan. You’re dealing with citizens that have ZERO reason to trust ANY government and who (VERY sensibly, based on 200+ years of history) flat-out refuse to submit to a central government. Or to trust the justice system. Or to believe that piece of paper (deed) means they own their house. What looks like self-defeating, irresponsible behavior to, um, an American in 2014… makes sense in the context in which those folks are living, e.g. a Haitian citizen who puts ZERO faith in the Haitian justice system.

    It’s the grand irony that it’s the countries that need the MOST fixing are the ones folks are LEAST able to fix… heck, or even not make WAY worse with the very best of intentions.

    A lot of the time, situational poverty is, say, a once-middle-class-now-penniless, non-English speaking family with college-educated parents arriving in the US as broke refugees — the odds are pretty good that they’ll be back in the middle class within a few years. If nothing else, these folks (my fam included; we arrived as refugees 30 years ago) have seen a different life.

    Generational poverty is like being from a teeny-tiny, economically depressed ex-coal mining town in Appalachia or Hurt Village in Memphis… any kid born into is starting about 400 feet BEHIND the starting line. And haven’t seen or known, or possibly even known of anybody who has seen a different life. *Sigh*.


    A side note: diversity often lurks in the unlikeliest of places… including State College, PA, where I went to college (an uber-white town in the middle of nowhere). I love love love salsa dancing , the International Students Union did a couple of salsa nights a month and that’s pretty much where I met all my friends and roomies (well, after a first year in the dorms).

  3. meriah says

    I agree; it’s more than colour.

    You know, at UC Berkeley, Asian students are no longer viewed or accepted as a minority; it’s not to do with the fact that they are not accepted as a minority within CA as a whole (- they are), but it’s that there are so many people of Asian descent in the University system, they are a majority.

    That speaks to the way the parents raise the kids and EXPECT them to go through university, etc.

    I think it’s a fascinating conversation, how to talk about race when there isn’t much diversity. One thing that I think is really interesting about where we live now is that it seems that the children of this area grow up, travel abroad and bring back partners from other countries and other skin colours. Something about the mindset here makes that a good, attractive thing. I am curious as to why: is it the rural area? Open-mindedness? Because they are incredibly open with disability too (- adult with down syndrome in the school, teaching kids sign?! YES)

    • Cayte says

      Yes — EXPECTATIONS are important. Kids have a habit of living up (or down to them).

      I’ve been a foster parent for the past year, to my daughter’s longtime BFF, a sweetheart of a kid who’d been unofficially living with us for three weeks here, five weeks there since middle school (both girls are rising sophomores). My and my husband’s expectations for BFF are exactly the same as for our biokids.

      My husband and I complete the mandatory MAPP training to become foster parents and the woman who taught the class suggested we sign ourselves up for an ‘foster parents of older kids’ support group, so we did. Hubby quit following week 2, I quit after week 4. The support group may as well have been called “Lower Your Standards Because Foster Kids Are Too Traumatized for Consequences” — and my guess is much of the horrific teenage behavior is due to a failure to so much as attempt to hold the kids accountable.

      Every so often BFF yells that she hates me (or Hubby) and that it’s totally unfair that we’ve grounded her for [getting home 2 hrs past curfew without calling to let us know] or [whatever stupid teenage thing she did]. Every so often, my biokids to do. Yes, BFF’s had to endure so much stuff no kid should have to face — but letting her get away with murder due to ‘trauma’ does nobody, least of all her, any favors.

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