As a parent, I have found it daunting to teach my children about race. Until the recent events in America, I didn’t see the urgency in doing it because I have been comfortable knowing that it is not something I have to confront on a daily basis (sounds a lot like privilege). And I really have been hoping that neither I nor my children would be confronted by racism at all.
The thing is, as a Black parent in Botswana I don’t even think I would know what constitutes teaching my child to be anti-‐racist. However, I have always been of the opinion that in order to prepare my children for the future we ought to be more inclusive and diverse in our circle of influence.
That is why my husband and I have been deliberate about what school our children would attend. We looked for what we thought not only offers quality education but a place of cultural diversity and is racially inclusive.
In matters of race, the biggest issue I have had to tackle over and over with my daughter has been that of self-acceptance. Particularly with hair. Who knew that hair would lead to a race discussion? I noticed that as soon as my daughter started school with children of other races, she has often remarked on how straight and beautiful their hair is. She wants their straight, long hair, a ponytail and golden hair.
We have had to have the conversation about why our hair won’t sway in the wind. Why it seems to defy gravity. Our hair is poofy. It grows long but not straight. It coils and springs and shrinks. Before school, she had always thought her hair was beautiful-‐ “Like Mummy’s”. Now I see the ever-‐present discontent. I don’t blame her. She consumes a lot of media that over-‐represents this kind of beauty…even toy stores are decked with blue-‐eyed, straight-haired dolls. She feels her kind of looks don’t have a place in society.
What We Did About It
1. My husband got the book “Hair Love” by Matthew A. Cherry. We read that to our daughter with hopes that she would appreciate that an Afro is also beautiful in its own way. Our hair is a part of who we are.
We haven’t gone as far to label people as Black or White but we are teaching her that people from different parts of the world look different and that in our community we live with people from different parts of the world.
2. We got her a giant world map puzzle to teach her where Africa is and where Botswana is. She is learning that people who originate from different parts of the world have different features like their hair, their skin color and their eyes.
3. One of the great reads we bought recently was ‘Sulwe” by Lipita Nyong’o. It has helped us teach our daughter about loving the skin we’re in. It helps that our family skin tone ranges from the darkest to lightest shade. But from there we also learned how our true beauty really lies within.
4. She now plays with black dolls with poofy hair like hers and gives them Tswana names too. Her collection is a good mix of coily and straight-‐haired dolls now.
It is an on-‐going conversation. She is only five and we go with what she is able to grasp at any given time when the opportunity to teach arises.
What Else Can We Do As A Community?
I think we need to be more deliberate in being inclusive in our community. I am talking about actually spending time with people who are different from us outside places that force us to be, like work or school.
We need to organize those play-‐dates and do car pools together. It is a step further from reading books about other people or playing with dolls of this or that race.
I think children would do better as they see us as parents stepping out of our comfort zones to be inclusive in our circles and as we let them play in more diverse groups too.
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Thank you so much Kabo for such a reflected piece. I can totally relate. My daughter is 8 and we live in a predominantly white country but she & her brother go to an international school. This was also a conscious decision so they can grow up being inclusive of all races. I have to say her afro hair is her biggest insecurity. She wants it long and sleek like her mates. Teaching her she’s beautiful with afro hair & getting her to accept herself is an on going challenge. Thanx to the tips on those books, I’ll get them for her.
Thank you for a really great article, which will hopefully start many more conversations. I feel that this is a conversation that must be on-going, and never end, no matter how old our children are, as there will always be new situations, new questions, new assumptions that our children are exposed to. We are a white family, with friends of different ethnicities, and my daughter is a minority in her class. But that is not enough, not by a long way. Because that does not help her understand the way of the world, the privileges that she has been born with, the responsibilities that she has, and the compassion I hope she will develop. We can’t just assume that they will learn what we want them to learn, think the way we want them to think, and behave the way we want them to behave. We can’t just role model, and hope that’s enough. We need to engage with our children on a daily basis, creating a safe space for them to explore and discuss these issues, and help them to develop a set of values that will support and guide them to be part of the change that we want to see in the world.