Raising White Kids in a Multicultural World
Welcome to the July 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Learning About Diversity
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how they teach their children to embrace and respect the variety of people and cultures that surround us. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.
Where do white children fit into a colorful world?
Please note: The comments below apply to the situation of whites in the US. Circumstances in other countries may be quite different.
The world is changing, mostly for the better. Whereas just a generation ago minorities in this country had to fight for even the most basic civil rights, today diversity is celebrated in (most) official channels. While often this is just lip service, values have definitely shifted towards inclusion and pluralism.
As wonderful as this change is, sometimes it can leave people feeling a bit confused. The old order was oppressive and cancerous, but people knew what was expected of them. The move towards diversity is a cause for celebration, but after the party’s over, where do we all fit in?
White reactions to multiculturalism tend to come in two extremes: 1) anger/defensiveness and 2) shame/embarrassment. Some are angry because they feel as though they are being made to pay for the sins of other whites – past or present – while other have become hyper-sensitive to offending others and so feel awkward and unsure of themselves in diverse circles.
Though very different, I see these are two sides to the same coin. When it comes down to it, many whites aren’t sure if they are welcome in a brave new multicultural world.
So how do we raise white children who are self-confident, contributing members in a multicultural society? There are two important lessons I want to pass on to my sons:
1. White is just another ethnicity.
One of the insidious ways that racism has worked in our culture is that white was seen as normal, and every other group was “ethnic.” Kinky hair or dark skin, for example, were ethnic, but red hair or pale skin were just normal. Remember when there was a “Flesh” color (since renamed “Peach”) in the crayons box?
I am part of several multicultural groups, and other whites who are interested in them frequently wonder if it is okay for them to join. Why is this so? For years we have been trained to think that unless we are married to someone from another culture or have lived abroad, whites aren’t really multicultural.
Yet whites have a distinct culture just as much as any other group. Just think of grunge, microbreweries, NASCAR, the Bachelor, moonpies, or tater tot casserole.
(For a really funny take on this, check out the website Stuff White People Like – #78 on the list is having multilingual children!)
All kidding aside, this is an important issue because if white people don’t see ourselves as ethnic, that means we are just normal, which makes everyone else…not normal. So claiming our ethnicity isn’t just a way to ride the multicultural wave, it is a social statement about the importance and normalcy of all cultures.
2. Being white is nothing to be ashamed of.
This seems like common sense when said out loud, but in certain circles there is always a bit of shame or at least mild embarrassment about being white. Sometimes this is because of our history and sometimes just because it seems so uninteresting. As for the uninteresting part, see above.
As for the history, we can’t talk about being white in the US without addressing the deep, deep roots racism has here. Whites are often unsure of how to celebrate their heritage without seeming to celebrate the negative side of their history.
This is an issue I have thought about a great deal. After all, many (but not all!) of my ancestors were those kind of whites: the kind that owned slaves (if they could afford it), the kind that fought on the wrong side of the Civil War, the kind that scared their kids with stories of a bogeyman named Old John Dark.
I will never forget a talk on racism I attended when I was a teenager. The speaker – an African American – was talking about how all people have a role to play in ending racism. At one point he asked all those whose ancestors had been slaves to stand up. Then he asked all of those whose ancestors had owned slaves to stand up. (Keep in mind that this was in North Carolina, so most in the audience fell in one of the two categories – and a few in both!). It was embarrassing to stand up but in a strange way also a relief to acknowledge this family past in such a public way.
The speaker then spoke directly to the whites in the audience. All these years later I don’t recall his exact words, but it was along these lines: “There is nothing to be ashamed of in your past. You did not own the slaves. But you can use your past now to help bring about change.”
What was he talking about? Real change won’t happen until whites stand up for racial unity, just as gender equality can’t happen without men who will fight for women’s rights.
And what a powerful statement to have a descendent of slave owners fight for racial equality. What a way to claim our past and use it for something positive, instead of being defensive or embarrassed about it.
Of course, many many white people in this country do not have a similar family history, and even those of us that do it is usually not so cut and dry. Some of my ancestors were against slavery, and one great-grandfather was the only man in his church not to belong to the Ku Klux Klan. My point is that even for those of us with negative aspects to our family history should talk about them openly as a way to say look how far we have come.
Unity in Diversity
So what does all this mean for how I am raising my boys? They are still very young, so the deeper discussions will come later. For now, I try to teach them about my heritage as a white Southerner just as we learn about my husband’s Costa Rican heritage. We will do our Southern activities alongside the Costa Rican ones, and I will cook recipes I learned from my family as well as recipes I learned from my husband’s. And one day, I hope, this will all lead to their awareness that these two cultures – indeed, all cultures – are both special and normal at the same time.
More fundamentally, I will teach them that being a world citizen means being proud of where you come from, as just one more beautiful flower in a colorful garden. There is nothing to fear from diversity as long as it is celebrated within the context of our underlying unity.
I believe strongly that white culture – the good and the bad – can be acknowledged and used to help bring about unity and understanding. For me this is not a political issue. It is a matter of the heart. I want my boys to be proud of who they are, but in a way that doesn’t belittle who someone else is. What a wonderful, multicultural world that will be.
In reality all are members of one human family—children of one Heavenly Father. Humanity may be likened unto the vari-colored flowers of one garden. There is unity in diversity. Each sets off and enhances the other’s beauty.
(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Divine Philosophy, p. 25-26)
Visit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
(This list will be updated by afternoon July 9 with all the carnival links.)
- A gift for my daugther — Amanda, a special education teacher for students with multiple exceptionalities, discusses at My Life in a Nutshell how she will enrich her daughter’s life by educating her the amazing gifts her students will bring to the world.
- The Beauty in Our Differences — Meegs at A New Day writes about her discussions with her daughter about how accepting ourselves and those around us, with all our beautiful differences and similarities, makes the world a better place.
- Accepting Acceptance and Tolerating Tolerance — Destany at They Are All of Me examines the origins of and reasons behind present day social conformity.
- Differences — sustainablemum discusses what she feels to be the important skills for embracing diversity in her family home.
- Turning Japanese — Erin Yuki at And Now, for Something Completely Different shares how she teaches her kiddos about Japanese culture, and offers ideas about “semi immersion” language learning.
- Celebrating Diversity at the International House Cottages — Mommy at Playing for Peace discovers the cultures of the world with her family at local cultural festivals
- Learning About Diversity by Honoring Your Child’s Multiple Heritages — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama looks at the importance of truly knowing your roots and heritage and how to help children honor their multiple heritages.
- People. PEOPLE! — Kellie at Our Mindful Life is trying to teach her children to use language that reflects respect for others, even when their language doesn’t seem to them to be disrespectful.
- Call Me Clarice, I Don’t Care – A True Message in Diversity — Lisa at The Squishable Baby knows that learning to understand others produces empathetic children and empathetic families.
- Diversity of Families — Family can be much more then a blood relation. Jana at Jananas on why friends are so important for her little family of three.
- Diverse Thoughts Tamed by Mutual Respect — Amy at Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work thinks that diversity is indispensable to our vitality, but that all of our many differences require a different sort of perspective, one led by compassion and mutual respect.
- Just Shut Up! — At Old New Legacy, Becky gives a few poignant examples in her life when listening, communication and friendship have helped her become more accepting of diversity.
- The World is our Oyster — Mercedes at Project Procrastinot is thankful for the experiences that an expat lifestyle will provide for herself as well as for her children.
- Children’s black & white views (no pun intended … kind of) — Lauren at Hobo Mama wonders how to guide her kids past a childish me vs. them view of the world without shutting down useful conversation.
- Raising White Kids in a Multicultural World — Leanna at All Done Monkey offers her two cents on how to raise white children to be self-confident, contributing members of a colorful world. Unity in diversity, anyone?
- Ramadan Star and Moon Craft — Celebrate Ramadan with this star and moon craft from Stephanie at InCultureParent, made out of recycled materials, including your kid’s art!
- Race Matters: Discussing History, Discrimination, and Prejudice with Children — At Living Peacefully with Children, Mandy discusses how her family deals with the discrimination against others and how she and her husband are raising children who are making a difference.
- The Difference is Me – Living as the Rainbow Generation — Terri at Child of the Nature Isle, guest posting at Natural Parents Network, is used to being the odd-one-out, but walking an alternative path with children means digging deeper, answering lots of questions and opening to more love.
- My daughter will only know same-sex marriage as normal — Doña at Nurtured Mama realizes that the recent Supreme Court rulings on same-sex marriage will change the way she talks to her daughter about her own past.
- Montessori-Inspired Respect for Diversity — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now tells about her multicultural family and shares Montessori-inspired ideas for encouraging respect for diversity.
- EveryDay Diversity — Ana at Panda & Ananaso makes diversity a part of everyday living, focusing on raising of compassionate and respectful child.
- Diversity as Part of Life — Even though Laura at Authentic Parenting thought she had diversity covered, she found out that some things are hard to control.
- Inequity and Privilege — Jona is unpacking questions raised by a summit addressing inequity in breastfeeding support at Life, Intertwined.
- 3 Ways to Teach Young Children About Diversity — Charise at I Thought I Knew Mama recognizes her family’s place of privilege and shares how she is teaching her little ones about diversity in their suburban community.
- Teaching diversity: tales from public school — A former public high school teacher and current public school parent, Jessica at Crunchy-Chewy Mama values living in a diverse community.
- 30 Ideas to Encourage Learning about Diversity While Traveling — Traveling with kids can bring any subject alive. Dionna at Code Name: Mama has come up with a variety of ways you can incorporate diversity education into your family travels (regardless of whether you homeschool). From couch surfing to transformative reading, celebrate diversity on your next trip!
- Diversity, huh? — Jorje of Momma Jorje doesn’t do anything BIG to teach about diversity; it’s more about the little things.
- Chosen and Loved — From Laura at Pug in the Kitchen: Color doesn’t matter. Ethnicity doesn’t matter. Love matters.
- The One With The Bright Skin — Stefanie at Very Very Fine tries to recover from a graceless response to her son’s apparent prejudice.
I really liked this post and the very important and positive message that you conveyed in it, especially the way that you talked about tolerance and inclusivity.
Thank you, Jonathan! That was my ultimate goal, to talk about how all children can feel loved and valued.
It’s funny how perspectives can be different, isn’t it? I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Different people – different perspectives.
Nice post Leanna!
I think it’s essential for the parents to teach children to respect and celebrate differences. Differences are all around us – and it’s not necessarily a black and white issue – you know? Differences are what make us unique. I try to be very careful not to teach them to be victims – but love who they are – where they come from – and what they do.
Discrimination is rampant unfortunately. I think it’s the human condition – to make one feel worse so that that you yourself feels elevated. I see it in education, skin color, and in economic status – especially. In my opinion, it’s about teaching them to love one another – rather than focus on the irrelevant issues that seem to impact our daily lives.
You know, to tell you the truth, I wasn’t convinced that I should participate in this carnival. I thought about it for weeks – and had waffled back and forth. I finally decided to participate – reluctantly. I’m still very reluctant – but growth comes out of doing things – as reluctant as one may be.
Lisa, thank you for your comment! I agree that diversity isn’t just about color, and sometimes that’s not even the most important difference anymore. And I love that you are teaching your children to love who they are and celebrate who others are as well, even (or especially) when it’s different. As you say, it all comes down to love.
I am curious why you were so reluctant to participate in this carnival. Because it focused on diversity instead of on what brings us together? Interested in your thoughts!
This is lovely. I do hope my children feel at home in a multicultural world. I also like your call: “Real change won’t happen until whites stand up for racial unity.” Right on.
Thank you, Lauren! This is something I believe very strongly!
Well said. We are a proud Celtic (Irish and Welsh, mostly) household, and love to celebrate our history, while embracing the amazing things everyone’s cultures add to the world. We’ve come so far, but we still have a ways to go. I often wonder what the world will look like when my daughter is an adult.
Love that! It is wonderful to think how much further we will have come by then!
This is great, Leanna. So many things that I mull over frequently. The world my children are growing up in is so much different from the one I was raised in. Some of that is because times have changed, and some of it is geography. Growing up, everyone around me was white, but where we live now, I frequently look around when we’re out and realize that my children and I are the only white people around. I love that being surrounded by such a diverse community will feel so very normal to them. For me, though, it gives context to the reality of white privilege, and of the great divide between people of different socio economic statuses. Really seeing the ugliness of these systems of oppression play out in front of me for the first time can make it hard to find things to celebrate in my own heritage, but I do think that loving who we are is crucial if we hope to learn to love others.
Melissa, thank you for addressing something crucial that I really didn’t discuss much above, which is white privilege and the role it still plays in systems of oppression today. The interplay between this and socio economic forces is complex but very real. As my kids get older this is something I’d like to address more with them, though to be honest I am enjoying the fact that they are young enough we can just focus on the fun stuff for now.
Very interesting but of course I’m not American and I don’t live in the USA, so my opinion it’s not quite objective about this mater.
Actually, I think that gives you a very interesting perspective to offer! Thanks for stopping by!
As a multi-racial person who does not have the same color skin I identify with, I’ve had to struggle with discrimination from all sides my whole life. It was only after becoming a Baha’i that I found a universal, inclusive identity that I could feel comfortable with. It is also helpful to remind children that everyone is related, and all American white people have some other race in their genes.
So true, Candace! Just to underline your point, I actually am part Cherokee, though several generations back 🙂
Wow! Great points and well written. I’m guilty of losing sight that Americans have their own diverse traditions and experiences even if they haven’t left the country. I belong to the camp of thinking you need to leave the country to be diverse (I’m married to a German man who ironically doesn’t act like a stereotypical German at all!) Needless to say, there’s a lot going on within diversity. Thanks for writing down your thoughts and experiences for us.
Thank you, Becky! Yes, I think it’s easy to forget about the diverse heritages here within our country. Thank you for stopping by!
I think we need to stop making all colors “different” and just see people for what they are… “people”
I don’t judge someone by the color of their hair or eyes, so why judge by the color of their skin, white, black or any shade inbetween.
I think this is a good article, but I also think the more and more and more we talk about it, they talk about, someone else talks about it just fuels the divide that much more. Unity will come when people stop seeing the divide and just start seeing people as one race….the human race.
Being African, German, Chinese, etc. is part of being human. Ignoring ethnic differences isn’t any better than artificially dividing people because of ethnic differences. You don’t learn to embrace difference by pretending it doesn’t exist. Dionne Farris has a great song verse that I think sums it up perfectly:
Before I am black
Before I am woman
Before I am short
Before I am young
Before I am African
I am human
Because I am black
Because I am woman
Because I am short
Because I am young
Because I am African
I am human”
Beautiful! Thank you for sharing!
Lindsey, yes, “the human race”! It’s funny, isn’t it? It’s hard to get that balance between talking enough and talking too much. As you say, sometimes we just need to focus on what we have in common and what brings us together, although often just because something isn’t spoken doesn’t mean it isn’t thought or felt.
Very interesting perspective, Leanna. One also that I think needs exploring and discussing in other demographics.
Thank you, Vanessa! I would love to explore this topic further and hear other perspectives.
I grew up with a lot of white shame. Now, after living in Africa for the past 7 years, I’ve lost most of that 🙂 I’ve become much more matter of fact about skin color. Definitely like the change in perspective
Laura, what an amazing experience!
Wow – beautifully written and thought provoking. This line strikes such a chord with me: “There is nothing to fear from diversity as long as it is celebrated within the context of our underlying unity.” Yes. It’s the only way we can move forward into this beautiful new world where we can celebrate and appreciate our differences while respecting those around us.
Thank you, Carol!
As a white woman raising a white son and daughter, this is definitely something I’ve fretted about. I agree with Vanessa that I’d love to be a part of this discussion with a larger group.
Thanks, Dionna! I think this is definitely a topic worth discussing more.
This is a powerful post. I admit that I’ve never fretted about being white or raising a white child – probably because I was born and raised in Europe where white was still “normal” when I was growing up. I sometimes wonder if our children are “race-blind” by default and it’s our attitudes that make them either accept or fear a person of a different origin. I certainly hope that growing in a very multi-cultural area will help our daughter to not judge people by the color of their skin. It’s interesting about feeling shame or anger about something our ancestors did. I am Jewish and my husband is German. It’s not even a century ago his ancestors were trying to kill of my ancestors. Yet – here we are today, happily married with a beautiful German-Russian-Jewish-American girl 🙂
Natalie, what a beautiful story about you and your husband! Also shows the power of love to overcome our prejudices. And that’s wonderful that you are raising your daughter in such a multicultural area. I am sure that will have a huge influence on her. I think you are right that kids pick up on our attitudes about how to treat others. I know my son does notice color just like he notices other details of a person’s features, but he doesn’t attach any importance to it. We are the ones that give it meaning, and kids learn what we teach them.
“if white people don’t see ourselves as ethnic, that means we are just normal, which makes everyone else…not normal. So claiming our ethnicity isn’t just a way to ride the multicultural wave, it is a social statement about the importance and normalcy of all cultures” Yes, yes and yes!! You take on such a loaded issue so wisely and beautifully. I am sharing this post!
Interesting take! I like how you encourage understanding both the good and bad behind one’s culture. I think that the idea that whites are not cultural comes from the fact that many whites don’t know or don’t recognize their background, whether it’s English or French or Polish or whatever. But I think it’s also good to recognize heritage on a more local level, like you’ve done with the Southern background.
That is a great point! The reason I connect more with the local level heritage is that my family is so far removed from Wales, England and Germany (where we are mostly from). It has been several centuries since any of my ancestors came to the US, so I relate more to traditions from here than anywhere else.
I really appreciate this post. I am an African American mother of a little boy and a little girl and hearing the verdict of the Zimmerman trial has really put a strain on my faith in the US at large. Thank you very much for restoring to me some semblance of hope.
I am honored that this post helps give some small consolation to you. I have also been thinking back on this post following the verdict. Hopefully we can all find some way of coming together to create a society where all our children are safe and valued. Thank you so much for your visit.
I love this post Leanna – really beautifully written and something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.
Thank you, Jody! Yes, you must have a very unique perspective on this!
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