This week I’m chatting with brand new parents Danny & Courtney Tobin about their thoughts and insights about being new parents in 2020 to their Black son. They share advice for white parents about how to raise anti-racist kids.
Courtney Thomas Tobin is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at the UCLA School of Public Health. She has a PhD in Sociology and studies issues of race-based stress, coping, and mental health among Black Americans.
Danny Tobin is the Camp Director at R.M. Pyles Boys Camp. A non-profit summer camp that promotes long-term positive behavioral change for low-income, disadvantaged boys by providing a multi-year wilderness camp experience supplemented by year-round mentoring the builds life skills and instills the values of hard work, education, and positive choices. I met Danny through my favorite professional association, WAIC (Western Association of Independent Camps). Danny graciously offered to chat with camp professionals wanting to discuss race so I took him up on his offer!
It’s important to teach our kids about peoples’ differences instead of teaching “colorblindness.”
The books we have in our homes and the movies and shows we watch should have people of all races represented.
Using current events is a great way to bring up the topic of race with our kids.
Racism is not something that only happened in the past. It’s imperative that we are teaching our kids (at home and in school) about what it looks like currently, in addition to in the past.
Danny: We’re not recognizing that we are different and we need to be able to coincide in the world with differences.
Danny: If you have a little girl who wants a Barbie, well get them that white Barbie, but at the same time, get them that Brown Barbie and create that environment where they are getting used to seeing people of color.
Courtney: I think a lot of parents shy away from pointing out differences, or they don’t mention that, but again, like you said, that colorblindness or just blindness to differences doesn’t really help, especially when they get a little older and then the conversation does focus around race because they’ve never had those conversations before.
Courtney: We know from lots of research out there, like you mentioned, kids notice different colors, skin and things, you know, very, very early, like by the age of two. And they use those differences in those observations to make decisions about people and their behaviors. And so without having a context for understanding that different color skin doesn’t mean that one is bad or one is good or things like that. Without having that context, kids will just come up with all kinds of things and nine times out of ten, it’s not necessarily going to be good. And so it’s really, I think, important to just as parents make sure our kids have the messages that we want and have those positive messages.
Danny: It’s not even about being racist. It’s just looking at something that’s different and not understanding it.
Courtney: I think having diverse representation is just as, or if not even more important for white kids, because so many kids have never seen people of color before. And so you may not be able to change necessarily the composition of your community or your school, but if you had books or movies that have these positive images, which it’s 2020, it’s a lot easier to find than I think in years prior. But, I think if folks are really intentional about having that representation for their kids you might be able to avoid some of those kind of awkward situations because it’s not like a situation where there’s so many examples out there about little preschoolers saying, ‘Why is your skin like that?’ Or like things because they just don’t know, or they don’t understand that people look different.
Courtney: I think using current events as a way to start the conversation is a really great way because the kids see there’s protests, there’s all these things happening. And so that could be a good opening to say, ‘What have you heard about this? Or what do you know?’ because kids will surprise you.
Danny: We do want to protect kids from certain things, but we also want to have real conversations with them and recognize that they can understand and handle a lot more than parents give them credit for. Most people just build a bubble of protection that doesn’t need to be there.
Danny: Parents have a lot to worry about, a lot of things that they’re going to have to talk to their children about, maybe it’s sex education or whatnot, but to really realize that for black families, at a very, very young age, we already have to have a conversation with our children, especially black boys about how to interact with police officers. And to know that you don’t have to have that conversation with your child is definitely a sense of privilege as well.
Audrey: I was talking to a friend who’s a person of color and she was saying that she’s made a lot of efforts her whole life to make everyone comfortable, like going into work settings and just different places just to make it easy for the white people around her. And that really resonated with me that just thinking about that and having more empathy for the extra work that parents have to do, it’s tough.
Danny: Something that I think is also really important, and this is more maybe on an education in the school-wide system level, is that we focus on it as not being something that happened in the past. I know growing up for me in my school setting, it was, ‘Let’s talk about slavery, let’s talk about civil rights…’ all things that happened in the past, that don’t exist anymore. Well obviously they do exist still and so we need to be cognizant about how, it’s not just something that happened in the past, but let’s talk about how that has shaped the current events as well.
Audrey: Let’s stay in touch and keep this conversation going because it’s such an important one.
Audrey: The camp community and the education community working together can really make a difference.