Wednesday, August 12, 2009

What we believe: Love isn't enough

[Note from Tami: Over on Anti-Racist Parent, I have been writing a series of posts, called "What We Believe," clarifying the blog's position on race and parenting. This is the latest.]
 
written by Tami; originally published at Anti-Racist Parent
 
A friend of mine, mom to a tween girl, was fretting at her daughter's burgeoning hormones. Her 12-year-old had recently, to her shock and dismay, expressed a desire to be "sexy." As her daughter grows, my friend is becoming more and more aware of the sexualized images that abound. No matter how hard a parent tries, it seems kids get the message to grow up way too fast. My friend was certain that an age-appropriate talk about sexuality was in order. What did I think?
 
I, of course, told my friend such a talk should not happen. Talking about sex only creates problems and ideas where none exist. No sense borrowing trouble. My friend's daughter is a good kid--smart, popular and kind. There's no way she would absorb the message that women are only valued for their beauty and sexuality. I reminded my friend that, in her youth, she made good decisions about intimacy...mostly. And hey, my friend and her husband are educated professionals and live in a great neighborhood with top-flight schools. Even if she never has "the sex talk" with her daughter, good breeding will out against peer and societal pressure. Besides, my friend and her husband love their only child very deeply and that is all the innoculation against bad behavior a kid needs. I suggested to my friend that she and her husband try pretending not to see sexuality. Just don't speak of it at all, all the better to teach their child that the subject is sensitive and should be avoided. When it's time for her daughter to actually have sex, she'll "get it" on her own.
 
Now, of course, you know I'm messing with ya'll. No conversation like the above ever happened. The idea that parents needn't address important issues like sexuality...that class or education or location or parental history or merely loving a child is enough to keep her safe from negative influences is patently absurd.
 
Most parents agree that child rearing involves proactive efforts to educate, instill strong values and prepare children for life's challenges. We talk to our children about the things they should and should not do. We talk about sex--maybe not always well, but we generally talk about it. We talk about the importance of education, how it paves the way for future success. We talk about alcohol and drug use. We talk about faith or lack of faith. We talk about safety--teaching little ones to stop, drop and roll, and to avoid strangers. We don't leave these important things to chance, because the stakes are too high.
 
If love alone won't keep a toddler from touching a hot stove or stop a teen from engaging in unprotected sex, why, then, do so many of us think love is all you need to keep a child from absorbing prevalent biases against people of color or being damaged by them?
 
I hear versions of the above arguments all the time.
 
My kid is a good kid; he could never be prejudiced.
 
We live in a good community. Yeah, it's all white, but race isn't an issue. My interracially adopted child will have no problem fitting in. No need to make race a big deal.
 
My partner and I never say anything bad about people of other races, so, where would my daughter pick up negative views about people of color?
 
My family doesn't even see race!
 
In a society that preferences and normalizes whiteness and marginalizes and otherizes other races, racially unbiased beliefs don't develop through osmosis. Acknowlegment of racial privilege doesn't just happen. And children of color aren't simply born with armor against prejudice and racism.
 
An anti-racist parent is a proactive parent, who includes race in the canon of important values that must be actively enforced in age-appropriate ways throughout a child's life.
 
That is what we believe.
 

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