My family recently took time to connect with some of our closest friends. We are in a similar stage in life, both raising toddler sons, so we welcome "uninterrupted” adult conversation while our boys engage in play. As a stay-at-home dad, time with other adults is a welcome blessing.
“How do I talk about race with my son?”
Eventually, our conversation turned toward the topics of race, implicit bias, and systemic racism. As a father to two black sons, I am always grateful for friends willing to dive into this conversation with a humble desire to learn and grow. At one point, my friend asked, “How do I talk about race with my son?” What she was really implying was how and WHEN do I engage in this conversation? I think my answer surprised her. “Earlier and more often than we, as white parents, have been trained to think.” As parents, we are are constantly tasked with sifting hard and complex concepts into age appropriate terms. Although, we want to be sensitive to our children’s age and innocence, it isn't an excuse to dismiss hard and painful issues. In raising a white son, race is probably a topic she's rarely discussed. For our son, this conversation occurs almost daily.
My son has already begun to identify these intricacies as a black boy in this cultural moment in time. While my wife and I were watching the news, our son, who was three at the time, said, "Mommy, they're talking about racism like they did on Sesame Street." What our son was really saying was, "Mommy and Daddy, I'm not afraid to talk about this, so neither should you be afraid." The dichotomy of life's lessons, those that uplift and those that challenge, all have a place, even at a young age.
Educating our children on the topic of race begins with us.
The extent to which we can engage in these conversations with our children, families and friends, depends first on our ability to humbly listen and learn. Educating our children on the topic of race begins with us. It begins with identifying the hard truths we would rather neglect for fear that the worst we believe to be true, may reside to a certain degrees within us. We have to avoid a culture of low expectations, and awaken to a true knowledge of the past. To me, this is the importance in honoring Black History Month, simultaneously mourning and celebrating the lives of the black men and women who have gone before me. This month serves to expose the reality of our past while also beckoning us to examine and wrestle with the present.
All of what I've spoken about lies at the core of our mission and vision as a business. In 1964, the same year the American Civil Rights Act was established, Zambia was declaring its independence. We can never say exactly what would have been should we be able to go back and reverse the atrocities of history. What we can do is condemn them and in so doing listen and learn from them. Zambia was colonized. While it didn’t offer the same exploited properties as other African nations like gold, diamonds and coastal ports for easy transportation, it still suffered under the weight of slavery, colonial rule and the oppressive exploitation of this entire region of southern central Africa.
The very fact that Zambia did not receive its independence until October 24, 1964 is evidence of this. It wasn’t even until 1962 that their legislative council had its first African majority. Simultaneously, here in the United States, this same battle was still being fought. On July 2, 1964, the Civil Rights Act was enacted, outlawing “discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, and later sexual orientation and gender identity. It prohibit(ed) unequal application of voter registration requirements, racial segregation in schools and public accommodations, and employment discrimination.”
Let’s pause to reflect on this intersection. This occurred only 57 years ago! Neither of these acts erased the existing atrocious cultures woven into the fabric of each community. What they did do, was take another step toward a more just, and empowering, societal structure both here in the US and in Zambia. In the same way, we also must each begin to take these steps toward understanding the way systemic racism has been woven into our nation since its inception and the way our own identity and current position within society has also been influenced by this painful reality.
"Adults in the United States believe…conversations about race should begin near a child’s fifth birthday even though children begin to be aware of race when they are infants. Previous research has shown that 3-month-old babies prefer faces from certain racial groups, 9-month-olds use race to categorize faces, and 3-year-old children in the U.S. associate some racial groups with negative traits. By age 4, children in the U.S. associate whites with wealth and higher status, and race-based discrimination is already widespread when children start elementary school." - Jessica Sullivan, PhD - Children Notice Race Several Years Before Adults Want to Talk About It
I can attest to this reality in the conversations I have with my sons, conversations they initiate.
Where do we go from here?
So, where do we start? Maybe you are new to this. Maybe you have been taking the time to delve into this for a while now. For all of us, we just keep taking steps toward listening, learning and understanding. The Civil Rights Act and Zambian Declaration of Independence were simply steps following those that had gone before them. Some were small, individual and unseen. Others were on display for all to see. All of them were steps.
I have been taking steps for many years now and have so much further to go. It's been a long, painful journey. I have been regularly sobered by my ignorance, blindness and pride. I have argued vehemently only to realize that I was arguing to preserve my own white privilege. With each step though, there have been those who have aided and guided me. Gently and compassionately, they have instructed me.
Along the way there have been some very poignant resources given to me by these patient guides. I'd to share them with you in the hopes that they may bless, encourage and inspire you as well. In no particular order:
- Between the World and Me - TaNehisi Coates
- The Narrative Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave - Frederick Douglass
- I Am Not Your Negro - Documentary from the unpublished writings of James Baldwin - 2016
- 13th - Documentary exploring the history of racial inequality in the United States, focusing on the fact that the nation's prisons are disproportionately filled with African-Americans
- America’s Original Sin - Jim Wallis
- White Fragility - Robin DiAngelo
- Just Mercy - Legal Drama - 2019 - Based on the book Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
- Equal Justice Initiative Calendar
- Equal Justice initiative Public Education
- One Blood - John Perkins
- One Thousand Wells: How an Audacious Goal Taught Me to Love the World Instead of Save It - Jena Lee Nardella
- When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself - Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett
PS: “I feel paralyzed by the weight of this.” Maybe this is how you feel. I completely understand and can relate.
Yes, it is paralyzing. In many ways it should be. These truths are hard to receive and can feel like a weight too great to bear. Here is where community and partnership come in. Don’t try to embark on this journey alone. You need a welcoming community to dialogue and process alongside. One where you are greeted not with condemnation, but grace and mercy.
As we are moved to act, we just take small and simple steps. Always we should look for opportunities to partner with others. One of my heroes, Frederick Douglass, together with abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, “formed a partnership that would last a decade and forever change the abolitionist movement.” At Zambeezi, it is only alongside our founding Zambian partners, Kuwaha Naturals, we are able to fulfill our mission: to enable communities to thrive by identifying and developing unrealized human potential to free people to pursue their vision of a better world.
It is not something we are doing alone. No, it is a partnership where our shared strengths, values and passions are used in support of one another to see the fulfillment of this vision. As we regularly say: Partnership, not Patronage.
Be strong and courageous. Together.
Director of Marketing