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Race and Parenting: A Personal Journey

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by Casey Phillips, Guest Blogger

When you adopt a child who is a different race than you, it becomes apparent how white your world is. Before we adopted our Black daughter into our white family with three biological sons, most of our books contained almost all white children. Our superhero figures were all white. Any dolls or Fisher-Price Little People were white. All of our close friends were white. The staff at our boys’ school was 99 percent white. Our city council and mayor were white. 
That’s a lot of white for our Black daughter to live in.
I knew if we were going to raise a Black daughter in a white family, we’d need to learn more. So, I did what I do best: I started reading books. The thing I like about books is that you read and process at your own speed, unlike the rapid pace of social media. In my process of reading and listening to stories of Black people and other people of color, I found that I really did miss the point a lot. Learning about race also confirmed stories I had heard in the past. There were stories about Black friends being followed around stores or being pulled over for no apparent reason.
I heard stories of Black people being denied for some reason or called something or talked over or dismissed, on and on. I even had one Black friend who spent hours in an emergency waiting room to be seen as she was miscarrying. Other people who came in the ER after her – and were white – were seen before her. Finally, I had to stop and think… at least some of these stories had to be true, right? How could there be such consistency of experiences but with a wide range of Black people I’ve come to know in my lifetime?
This all led me to understand the importance of talking about race with all my kids. I started by selecting more picture books about race issues and books with kids of color doing normal, everyday things. I purposely picked out books written by people of color. It was a way for our daughter to see people who look like her and our sons to see people who look like their sister. It also gave us a path to talk about how Black people were treated in the past (slavery, Rosa Parks, or Jesse Owens) and to talk about how Black people are treated now (their friends, inner city schools, Michelle Obama, Trayvon Martin). We talked about experiences of other people of color such as Native Americans too.
Our family’s next step was financially supporting local Black businesses, restaurants, and organizations like Uzazi Village. We now talk about the lack of diversity in movies and books. We talk about our kids’ school board, teachers and staff, police department, and how there are people of color missing. I ask, “How will this change how the classroom is run, how laws are decided, or who is being represented? What message does that send to us as kids and parents and adults and citizens?” I don’t always answer. I ask and listen.
We are all in different places within our journey of understanding race, justice issues, parenting, spirituality, etc. We have to start where we are and give grace to others and to ourselves when we mess up. And we also have to give ourselves and our kids the opportunity to have these talks and to think about hard issues. Talking about race starts with us as adults. It can start small with books and movies and grow big into protests and letters to our congresspeople.
But most importantly it starts with listening and reflecting – listening to people of color we know, on social media, in books or on TV. Talking about race means listening to our kids too – seeing the world they see and listening to what is going on at their schools or with their friends. Maybe we don’t have the answer right away, but we can discover it together as a family. Ultimately, talking about race is really about listening and creating opportunities to hear and support people who do not look like ourselves.

Adult Resources:

  1. The National Museum of African American History and Culture has launched Talking About Race, “a new online portal designed to help individuals, families, and communities talk about racism, racial identity, and the way these forces shape every aspect of American culture.” This is a free resource. There are sections for educators, parents/caregivers, and community members: https://nmaahc.si.edu/learn/talking-about-race
  2. Willa’s Books in KCMO may have the books below, but you have to call/email.
  3. The Origin of Others by Toni Morrison 
  4. Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria by Beverly Daniel Tatum
  5. The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
  6. 13th  (documentary) 
  7. The New Jim Crow (book) by Michelle Alexander
  8. Just Mercy (film)
  9. Just Mercy (book) by Bryan Stevenson
  10. Talking Race with Young Children (podcast)

Youth/Children Resources:

  1. March series (graphic novels) by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, & Nate Powell
  2. An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People by Roxane Dunbar-Ortiz (There is an adult version of this one too, but it’s a nice read together.)
  3. Picture Books (of Black kids doing everyday things – he has lists starting from 2016)
  4. Children’s Books List (on race issues)

Bio:

casey-phillipsCasey Phillips has been a resident of Independence, Mo., for 15 years. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Library and Information Science (MLIS) at the University of Missouri School of Information Science.

Casey has been a stay-at-home mom for the past 11 years. She was a licensed foster parent for years and advocates for children and the marginalized in her community.

She is a current member of the Community of Concerned Citizens of Independence and of the Diversity and Inclusion Taskforce in Independence, Mo. When she is not taking care of her children, husband, mother, or pets, she is immersed in a book.

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