15 commandments for teaching your kids about racism

1. Thou shalt first become comfortable with having uncomfortable conversations with thyself, before ever trying to have them with any other person.

At this point in our earthly lives, we must — as a matter of urgency — get into that space of vulnerability and face our fears and insecurities. Dig deep to figure out why we are uncomfortable and get past that point with intention and focus.

2. Thou shalt educate thyself properly and gather all the facts that thou might need before embarking on any such discussions with thy children.

Children are smart; they will see through your charade. They are already learning about it or hearing about it, so you might as well be their guide. I know that talking about race can be sensitive, and even a bit messy, but the other option is not an option. So just buckle up and do it.

3. Thou shalt ensure that thy abode is racist-free. Remember, information can be conveyed by thoughts, words, or deeds, and thy kids will absorb them all from thee.

Yes, you might be racist, your words might be racist, or your actions might be racist. You might not even be aware of it — but your kids will, and then it might be too late for them to unlearn the bad lessons.

4. Thou shalt first find out from thy kids what they already know about racism (if age appropriate) before proceeding with the teaching.

A simple question and answer session will suffice. There is no point in building a house upon a faulty foundation. First, dig up the old one, find out what the kids know, reteach them the correct information, and then proceed with teaching them new things.

5. Thou shalt expose thy kids to other cultures, by visiting their museums, their churches, or attending civic events organized by them.

There is no better way to get immersed in African American, Jewish, Native American, or Hispanic history than by visiting their museums, civic centers, places of worship, or one of the many events these cultural communities often hold in a city near you. The time is now! Summer is here, so, put on your masks and get going!

6. Thou shalt endeavor to cook, order in, or learn about foods of other ethnicities.

This is a must! Humans are social beings. We love to eat during celebrations. So, when you go to visit your Nigerian friend perhaps (wink, wink), ask about fufu ati efo riro, jollof rice with “shikin,” fried plantains (dodo), isiewu (goat head delicacy), ofensala (fish pepper soup) or nkwobi (cow foot delicacy) to name a few. These are seriously tasty mouth-watering meals that you can only learn about by having an open mind. Take it from me; they are all delish!

7. Thou shalt listen to music and learn dance moves from other cultures … yes, thou must!

I told you to have an open mind. While I wouldn’t necessarily ask you to learn the acrobatic nkpokiti, or breakdancing, it is certainly time to expand from your line dancing days to something else that is fun and exposes a whole new world to you. Your kids will love the moves, the melody, and the novelty, plus they can brag about their new skills to their friends. This could also be a bonding exercise for y’all.

8. Thou shalt encourage thy kids to make friends with, and visit homes of kids of other races, and have them visit your home in return.

Get to know their parents and learn a thing or two about their history and upbringing. Extend a hand of friendship. Offer to take their kids to a game, pick them up from school, or even buy them dinner. Get out of your comfort zone a bit. Live just a little bit more; you might even like it.

9. Thou must become acutely aware of the microaggression some things you do or say can cause to people of other races.

Like calling me the nurse or “miss,” when my name tag clearly says MD or asking me where I went to medical school, or wondering how my English is so good, or not trying at all to pronounce my name after I have told you how to say it — more than once! And do try to let your guard down when I am in the room. I don’t bite.

10. Thou shalt police thyself, thy relatives and thy kids with purpose, intention, and mindfulness.

Yes, you must ensure that you are not perpetuating intolerance, hate, or prejudice in any way. You know your family members who are racist. Everyone does. You must be bold, take action, and police them. Speak up. We are tired of being tired of being tired. You must have “the talk” with your family and friends. And if they choose to be silent, I suggest you re-evaluate your relationship with them.

11. Thou shalt endeavor to learn a foreign language, preferably a language in Africa. Thou shalt also teach said language to thy kids.

Yes, spread your wings, fly far away to the land of communication and understanding. To the land of open-mindedness and love. Because learning a new language will help you understand. And when you understand, there will be no fear. When there is no fear, there is no racism.

12. Thou shalt visit the predominantly Black part of the city or town thou liveth in … with thy kids in tow.

Get to see what life is like over there. You might begin to gain a bit of empathy, compassion, understanding, and maybe even respect. Your daughters want to date our sons, and that’s a fact. You might as well get to know where she will be hanging out all summer, and get ready to have soul food at the wedding.

13. Thou shalt teach thy child to recognize bullying behavior and speak up when other kids are being bullied, especially on account of their race.

Bullying is a catalyst for suicide, and it is a serious problem in our schools. Teach them to find the kids who are ostracized and sit with them on the school bus, at the cafeteria, or play with them at recess.

That will go a long way towards ending the current epidemic of youth suicide, especially among Black kids.

14. Thou shalt not make a mockery or joke about any person who is different from thee on account of their race, and neither should thy kids.

Yes, don’t discuss their skin tone, their kinky hair, their body type, or any other physical attribute that pertains to their race, except in a good light, or if they let you. I don’t really care much for people touching my hair to know what it “feels like,” that’s an intrusion.

15. Thou shalt ensure that all the above are adhered to, and from time to time, check in with thy kids to assess for progress.

Yes, you must also continue to work on yourself and on your family members. There is much work to be done. Policing the police is not enough; we must also police ourselves, our thought processes and mindsets lest we remain imprisoned by them.

“The only way to really talk about race and racism is by activating a growth mindset.”
– Amber Colemen-Mortely

I say: “The only way to talk about it is to freakin’ talk about it.”

Uchenna Umeh is a pediatrician and can be reached at Teen Alive and on Facebook and YouTube.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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