“I Don’t See Color”: White Caregivers Raising BIPOC Children
In previous generations, the phrase “I don’t see color” was a mark of being progressive. Parents would use the phrase to explain why the differences of another person were not important when cultivating relationships. By telling children the color of a person does not matter, it also allows for parents and caregivers to avoid having the discussion about race and racism with children; a conversation that some caregivers feel children should not be exposed to. But what happens when racism is something that your child may experience long before they reach the age to have “that type of conversation”? What happens when they may be experiencing subtle racism or prejudice that you may not be aware of because it is not blatantly racist?
For BIPOC (which stands for Black, Indigenous, People of Color) children being raised by non-minority parents, this is a real reality. It could be a passing comment made by a classmate, a harsh tone used by someone in their community, or an unintentionally prejudice comment made by a loved one. Children, especially BIPOC children, do not benefit from the ideological phrase “I don’t see color” because they will be confronted with people and a society that do judge them because of the color of their skin both intentionally and unintentionally. When you are a white caregiver raising a BIPOC child, their experience may be vastly different compared to yours and that thought causes a lot of responses for the non-BIPOC parent.
In an article published in The Washington Post, science and parenting writer Melinda Wenner Moyer shares: “One of the biggest misconceptions white parents have is that their children don’t notice race unless it is pointed out to them. The underlying assumption is that children only become racist if they are taught to be. In fact, research clearly shows the opposite: Kids develop racial prejudice unless their parents or teachers directly engage with them about it.” You may feel many different emotions about racism and racial prejudice, ranging from skepticism all the way to anger; but no matter where you fall on that spectrum, the important thing to know is that you have the amazing position of being able to bring awareness to your child’s racial identity in a safe and loving environment. Here are some important things to keep in mind as a caregiver raising a BIPOC child:
1. Do your own research on racism in America. It’s important!
You may be skeptical about the existence of racism in America today. You might feel it was something in the past and to keep harping on it only leads to “being a victim”. You might be on the other side of the spectrum and understand that racism is alive and well in our society. No matter where you fall on the spectrum, it will be important to educate yourself. Read about racism, both in the past and present, from a variety of sources. Check in with yourself about your own views of people of color. A wonderful resource that really challenges thinking is the book “Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor” by Layla Saad.
2. Learn how to care for your child in new ways that are specific to their racial identity.
These ways might be small. Take time to learn how to appropriately care for your child’s hair or learn how to properly care for their skin. Ask yourself “Can I take my child for a Supercuts haircut, or do I need to take them to a place that specializes in their hair texture?” (No shade on Supercuts…it might be the best place for your child). These small considerations will allow you to explore all the different ways that your child’s racial expression makes them unique.
3. Disrupt negative family patterns and be an advocate for your child.
You might be aware of that family member who says something “kind of racist” or makes jokes that are racially tinged. Instead of staying quiet or laughing along with them because it is “not that bad,” be an advocate for your child. Even telling the family member that what they said is not appropriate and should not be said is being an advocate for your child. You may be called a snowflake, soft, can’t take a joke, etc. when setting a boundary, but remember these jokes have messages that can be easily internalized by children, especially BIPOC children.
4. Expose your child to other BIPOC individuals who look like them.
If you live in an urban setting, it may be easier to take time to research events and venues that might celebrate your child’s racial identity. In a more rural setting, where these events and venues may not exist, be more intentional in having books, toys, and media that your child has at their disposal, showing them their racial identity is something to celebrate. Exposing your child to historical figures, superheroes, celebrities, and other influential figures of color also gives them the message that someone who looks like them can do great things.
5. Don’t shy away from hard conversations.
Being able to shy away from conversations about racism and prejudice is a privilege that you may have that BIPOC children do not have. Your child may come to you with a mean comment that was made to them, or they might repeat something racist or prejudice about another racial group that they heard. It is important in those moments to not back down from the hard conversation. You can have a conversation about race and racism at any age; it will be important for you as caregiver to regulate yourself and be intentional about how to have a conversation that is age appropriate. PBS Kids has great resources that assist parents in having these conversations with kids of various ages.
When you remove “I don’t see color” from your view, it allows you to see the full picture of your child. Their racial identity may not be all that they are, but it is part of who they are. Being able to help them explore that part with love and appreciation allows self-confidence to grow and hatred to shrink.
Allen-Michael Lewis, LMFT, A.S. is a Staff Therapist at our Center City Office; he currently sees clients via online therapy. To set-up an appointment, you can reach him at email@example.com 215-382-6680 ext. 4206.