Being a Parent of a Child of Colour: Part 2

In the second part of the series on "Being a Parent of a Child of Colour," guest blogger Renira Vellos talks about the role of parents in translating the experiences with race and diversity to their children.

Part 2: Relating the experiences of a person of colour

As an educational researcher, I can quote studies on schools that show how minority students, those who are Black or First Nations, have different educational outcomes than students who are of white Anglo-European descent. I am also familiar with research that tells us that it is more likely for students of colour to be suspended, to leave school before graduating, and to have run-ins with the law. As an educational researcher I know that male students of colour are more likely to be criminalized than other youths, as a parent and as an aunt I worry about my nephews who live close by, and the kinds of experiences they will have and the challenges they will have to overcome in addition to the academic work they already need to do in school.

My educational experience has led me to study in two North American countries, the United States and Canada. As a Mestizo, with Maya and Spanish descent, I am a person of colour and my experiences reflect that. In the United States,  I was being identified as an “alien,” suggesting some form illegal immigrant status, most likely a non-human from another planet, though I was a university student. I was an outsider, who by virtue of my physical appearance was there to take away “their” jobs. In Canada, specifically BC, it appeared, on the surface at least, that the colour of my skin was not evident. As if people could not see it. Politically correct society does not use words for skin colour like, black, white, nor do they use words like race - multiculturalism is key.

Yet when I am asked, “where are you from?” or I am complimented on “not having an accent” what does that mean? If the colour of my skin is not used as an identifier in modern liberal society, then why the need to ask me questions about my birthplace and my ability to speak English? When people first meet me by phone, they make assumptions about me, assumptions that lead them to compliment my lack of accent when we meet in person. The difference is that the physical person they meet is one who is somehow at odds with the voice they heard on the phone. A difference that points to one thing - I am not from here and could further mean that I do not belong here.

On the Role of Parents

As I debated in my mind how to deal with the follow-up questions sure to come from my 3-year old, my daughter’s best friend, whose skin is white, and who has blond hair and blue eyes, also broached the topic to her mother. That both girls made similar observations about the colour of their skin suggests that:

1. Children notice the colour of our skin whether or not adults talk about it, and

2. Children look to us as parents for guidance about what to do with these observations.

How should we respond to these questions? Should we shush them the same way we do when they say swearwords? Seems the danger in silencing our children from certain words is that when we shush them they understand that we do not say those “bad” words. If we do that, we are inadvertently saying, “skin colour is bad.” Which, for children, can easily be translated into: “people with that colour of skin are bad.”

As I searched for how to talk to my daughter about difference my first response as an academic was to look to books, where I found lots of children’s books on the topic of “difference” and of being different and “being the same inside.” I struggle to understand how these books can help with issues of race and skin colour when clearly skin colour will impact the kinds of experiences my daughter and her best friend will have. Furthermore, the idea of being “the same inside” seemed as superficial as talking about eggshells.

As I thought about how each of these girls’ lives will be different, I reminisced about my experience as a teaching assistant working with teacher candidates here in Vancouver. The course was on “Difference and Diversity in the Classroom” and most of my students were Canadian-born students from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Admittedly, as a “person of colour” I made assumptions about my students given the “diversity” of skin colours I saw before me. I was eager to begin the course with a discussion on the assigned readings, for the first class the topic was “white privilege.” It did not take long for me to realize that my experiences and education allowed me to talk about and see differences in how people were treated here in Vancouver, that were invisible for other people.

TO BE CONTINUED

A wife and mother, Renira Vellos is a Belizean graduate student in Human Development, Learning, and Culture at UBC. Her work spans across human development, alternative education, educational policy, and uses critical discourse analysis to examine how people are positioned within policy texts.

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