As the child of immigrants, my parents taught me lessons about race that were in the context of their home country. Where they grew up in the Philippines, everyone (okay, everyone that they knew) was Filipino. Race was not as salient of an issue because most people shared a common racial identity.
When they came to the United States, they were faced with a much more racially diverse culture and climate. Because of this, growing up, my first messages about race were framed through the lens of immigrant parents. We quickly found a group of other Filipinos and they became my “Titas” and “Titos” and “cousins.” However, when we moved to the suburbs of Boston, we were thrown into a racially homogenous community of people who were White, and I lost first-hand contact with other people of color.
What were my own first messages about race? Growing up, I didn’t have much exposure to or contact with people who were Black, so my first messages were informed by television and media stereotypes – mostly negative ones. I didn’t even have much exposure to other Asian Americans, so my first messages were informed by derogatory stereotypes of nerdy Asian characters, kung fu movies, and broken-English-speaking jesters. I didn’t have much exposure to people who were Latino or Hispanic, so my first messages were informed by a turbulent political climate that equated “illegal” with “Latino.” I did, however, have lots of contact with people who were White. I grew up learning their history, their achievements, their successes, and their contributions. My first messages of people who were White were overwhelmingly positive. They were leaders. They were powerful. They were lawmakers and rule breakers. They were the ones who fell in love and who were loved right back.
Over the course of my lifetime, I have moved into spaces where I am forced to talk about race — openly and honestly. I have had to confront my own first messages, my own built-up prejudices and stereotypes, and call myself out on insensitive comments and behaviors.
It hasn’t been easy; but it has been right.
On Monday, November 16th, I asked over 60 Park School parents what their “first messages of race” were. They spoke openly about similar negative messages, similar stereotypes, and even blindspots to Whiteness and perceived Whiteness. I asked them about the people who taught them to talk about race and the people who taught them to not talk about race.
I asked them what their own hopes and dreams were for how they wanted their children to talk and learn about race.
Talking about race, regardless of how old or young we are, can be difficult. It can be uncomfortable, unsettling and even evoke feelings of shame and embarrassment.
But, we can change that.
We can talk more about race. We can talk more about how we learned race and racism. And, we can talk more to un-learn stereotypes and prejudices.
At the beginning of the workshop, I reminded parents that, after this 60-minute workshop, they probably will have more questions than answers. They may have to accept that there will not be closure at the end of the workshop. They might not feel all tidied up or that they completely understand race. In fact, at the end of the day, they might feel a bit dizzy and a bit unbalanced.
No, that’s awesome.
The good news is that it gets easier. It gets easier to talk about race. And, that discomfort you felt? It starts to meld into action. It starts to inspire you to do something.
And you know what that something is?
It’s being Color-Brave.
Peace and Park,