One day in the car, my stepson randomly asked why all black people are poor. His father replied, “Are Grammy and Grampy poor? Or any of your uncles or aunts? Or their neighbors?” He said no and seemed a bit confused. I think he then said, “but everyone else”.
We asked where he got that idea, and he didn’t know, to which we simply explained not everyone who’s black is poor. My stepson only knew the black side of his family. His mother and her circle of friends were diverse, he had many bi-racial friends and went to a pretty diverse school. He spent at least 1-2 nights a week with his grandparents, who were middle class and lived in a large, middle-class black neighborhood.
It was a wake-up call to us that he needed a more active education on race, the “rainbow of colors” approach doesn’t work, and that even at 5, he was getting strong social messages that black people were inferior. We began talking more about the black perspective and dissecting racist messages we’d see on TV. We really stepped it up to an intellectual level when he reached junior high and high school, introducing major writers and thinkers and watching relevant documentaries. But those teen years were still very complicated for him, identity-wise.
I now have an 18m old and am shocked at how many mothers of bi-racial children (both black and white), when asked how they are going to approach race with their child, tell me they “just want them to have diverse friends”. They also seem resistant to discussing it further when I wonder if it may be more complicated than that. (having gone through the teens already with a bi-racial child, I know it is).
Many thanks to Amy, a 38 yr-old Caucasian woman in Brooklyn.