As the parent of three children (ages 8, 7, and 3), I’ve been thinking a lot about how our family is dominated by and/or perpetuates the values of white culture, and how I might replace our center with multiracial values. By saying that whiteness is “at the center” of American society is to say that access to power, control of resources, and the ability to enforce cultural values and policies disproportionately belongs to white people. After reading Decentering Whiteness by Jeff Hitchcock and Charley Flint, here is a sampling of four practices that have helped move my family and me closer to this shift:
- Conduct a Home Inventory: Walk through your home and take note of the artwork on the walls, the books on shelves, the toys in the playroom, the movies DVR’d, the colors, patterns and textiles of your decor. Our homes tell the story of who we are and what holds meaning in our lives. As my children walk through the home that we share together, what messages are they receiving about what is ‘normal,’ or ‘neutral?’
- Explicitly Talk about Differences: Within and beyond your family, name the shades of skin you see: pale peach, honey, warm chocolate, and cinnamon are some my own children have named. In private and in public, acknowledge the beautiful diversity you observe among people - for example, hair texture, body shapes, and birth names that are similar to and/or different from your own. If I ask my children to describe a person to me whom I’ve never seen, would they name their skin color if they weren’t Black or brown?
- Be Deliberate about Language: Pay attention to how your language may perpetuate “universal” standards of beauty, speech, behavior, dress, conflict resolution, etc. It’s quite common for a person to compliment two of my three children on their beautiful blue eyes. While I always appreciate the compliment, I am conscious of my third brown-eyed child - what message is she receiving about how she fits in with European standards of beauty? When in my own positive and negative interactions with children have I come from a white-centered approach?
- Find or Create Local Multiracial Activities: Invest your time in communities, clubs, organizations, and spaces where people from several racial backgrounds live, work, and play. Unfortunately, our society remains deeply segregated so centering multiracial experiences may be a challenge. If you have difficulty, join together in a multiracial effort to create these spaces. For example, someone in my town recently started a “United Families” Facebook page which highlights things such as local Black-owned businesses or kid-friendly activities or meet-ups for its group members.