When I bought my house in a moderately priced New York suburb 10 years ago, one of the big draws was the small town feel, but one thing I could not understand was the lack of diversity. Strangely, the situation has persisted in the neighborhood and the schools—so much so that my son’s curiosity is piqued when an African-American child shows up in his classroom. As a parent this weighs on my mind.
Recently, a house was up for sale not far from mine, and when I heard that it had sold to a young family, I was thrilled.
A few days later, a good friend told me that she was talking about the house with a neighbor, and the neighbor had said to her, in a low whisper of conspiratorial distress, “There was a black family looking at it.” My friend, ever the quick-thinker, put her hands on her heart and said, in mock horror, “Oh no! Not a black family!”
I was impressed with my friend’s handling of the situation. Her use of humor helped diffuse the negativity and get her message across without being preachy or putting my neighbor on the defensive. Although temporarily silenced by my friend’s reply, I hope my neighbor gave some serious thought to the message my friend conveyed.
To me, the situation underscored what a tremendous responsibility we have as parents. In pockets of the country where cultural diversity and racial tolerance are not always prevalent, raising culturally aware and sensitive children is a challenge.
What my friend taught me is that, while we cannot change demographics, we can change attitudes. As parents we need to teach our children that there is more to the world than their own backyard, and they cannot just blindly follow the thinking of the neighbors. We need to give them the tools for handling such situations when they find themselves in them.
Like my friend, we need to take action when faced with racism, and let our children see us doing it. Better still, if we can do it with tact and a smile, perhaps those receiving our message will really think about it and accept it for what it is, a clear message that racism is not acceptable to us.