White Parents Don’t Talk to Their Kids About Race. Here’s How I Learned to Do It.
On Indigenous Peoples Day, it’s worth some introspection
I didn’t plan it this way, but as the federally designated Columbus Day takes place this year, our family is finishing the last of Louise Erdrich’s Birchbark House series about a 19th century Ojibwe family.
The five books are delightful, as Erdrich — herself a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa — vividly brings to life a young Indigenous girl named Omakayas, whose family has lived on the shores of Lake Superior for generations. We’ve learned about harvesting wild rice and tanning deer hides. We’ve laughed at pet porcupines and worried about near-starvation in the depths of winter.
And because this family’s saga cannot mirror the triumphant, prosperous arc of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s pioneers, we spent many bedtimes talking about colonization, and smallpox, and theft of native lands.
The books were on my mind when researchers at Sesame Workshop and the University of Chicago released a remarkable survey of 6,000 U.S. parents last week. The vast majority of all parents self-reported that they feel comfortable talking about topics like race, gender, and religion. And yet when it comes to discussing race with their children, while 61% of black parents and 56% of Asian parents say they “often” or “sometimes” have these conversations, only 27% of white parents ever do.
Anyone who has spent more than 3.7 seconds around children knows that they are always asking questions.
I have some sympathy for parents who aren’t sure how to start conversations on issues that are often viewed as complicated and delicate. Before having children myself, I’d assumed parenthood would mean looking for the right time and opportunity to bring up tough subjects.
But that’s backward. Anyone who has spent more than 3.7 seconds around children knows that they are always asking questions. “What happens when a black hole dies?” “How old are people on their last birthday?” “If Smurfette is the only girl, where did all the Smurfs come from?”