Last year, the gruesome murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police sparked protests against anti-black racism in North America and many parts of the globe. It was such a heavy emotional time for many Black people. When we were preparing to go for a Black Lives Matter rally here in Winnipeg, my older brother Dennis told me that he had an uncomfortable talk with my niece Fahari. He told her “Fahari, your black skin is very beautiful, but there are some people who will not like you because of it”. He felt the need to prepare her for the reality that awaits her, growing up in a society that is full of both subtle and overt anti Black racism that is very much embedded in our systems and institutions. But first, he started the talk by affirming her, affirming her beautiful Blackness and affirming her identity with positivity. Dr. Helen Neville, a psychology expert on racial trauma notes that when it comes to ‘The Talk’ with children, “you don’t want to sugar coat it, you don’t want to hide the truth, but you also don’t want to scare them”.
My niece Fahari, was only four years old at the time and my brother mentioned that it was painful for him to have this talk with her. Experts suggests that the right age to start speaking to children about race and how they are affected by it is the age of five. Her parents decided to talk to her as they felt she is very in tune to things going on around her despite her age. She has been very aware of “The Virus” as she calls Coronavirus and knows how it affected things around her. Dr. Aisha White, director of Positive Racial Identity Development in Early Education (P.R.I.D.E) notes that “once they get to age 4 and 5, Black children or children of colour begin to feel discriminated against because of their skin colour.”
Growing up in Kenya, my parents never had to have that talk with us, so my brother had no frame of reference on how to discuss such matters with my niece. I wrote on my instagram touching on the African Diaspora struggle and having to learn how to teach and prepare our young Black children as they face racism from a young age, yet we may never had those experiences ourselves growing up on the continent. I had many discussions with people who resonated with it, realizing that they had no frame of reference on how to approach such difficult discussions with their kids. It’s very clear that this is an additional burden to families raising Black children along with all the other challenges that come along with parenting. It’s especially more challenging for first generation diasporans who are learning to navigate such unclear waters. Many are trying to shelter their children from the harsh realities of racism while simultaneously learning to navigate it themselves.
The following are some thoughts and experiences from diasporans in my circle regarding parenting Black children in the diaspora:
Akinyi Adoyo wrote a blog post ‘African mom, American son‘ contrasting her experience growing up in a space where she did not question her freedom, to her Black son’s experiences in America. She discusses how she finds it really hard to tell her son to “expect racism” or “work twice as hard as other people” because she knows he deserves better and that every being deserves freedom and abundance. Thus she made a conscious decision to work towards creating safe spaces for him and others like him.
“My prayer to God is that on top of every effort I make to help you live in your skin freely, that he will add extra protection and care that will boost your esteem to still walk with your head high. Like your great ancestors.
May our ancestors take every step you take. protecting you, guiding you, validating your wholeness and praying for you.“Excerpt from a letter Akinyi penned to her son Jabari
Norah echoes something similar to Akinyi as she mentioned difficulty envisioning the talks she will need to give in the future. She said that recent events have led her to deeply reflect on her future parenting. She has been grappling with how she would let her children know they can achieve whatever they want regardless, but also be aware of the reality without necessarily imposing that ‘you have to work 10 times harder’ voice.
Esther envisions raising her children back in the continent. She says “I cannot imagine having to prep my child for racism coming their way. No. When it’s time for me to have a child, it’s time for me to return to the continent. I first dealt with racism when I was already an adult in the diaspora. My child shouldn’t have to deal with it from the first day of life. That’s terrible”.
In a group chat, my friend Rispa who lives in Minneapolis where George Floyd was murdered, told us that her nephew who is seven years old told his parents that he is scared because police are killing Black people and he is Black. She recounted how at 7 years old she was out playing cha mama (house) back in Kenya and not caring about anything. She emphasized that if we decide to raise our kids in the diaspora, we will have to talk about racism with them from a very early age and learn how to navigate such heavy subject matters.
Diana says for her two daughters, she will be instilling for them the pride of being African and their belonging despite being away : “Understanding that they are children of Africa, a land that will never consider them foreign and a place that will always embrace them with open arms is so important. Not only will it deepen a sense of who they truly are but it gives them a sense of belonging and strength to fight any racism thrown their way.”
Anti-Black racism is a harsh reality, and while it exists on the continent, it’s an everyday reality in the diaspora. I know there are many challenges African immigrants encounter while raising children in diaspora – such as the challenge of negotiating different cultural identities – but with racism it becomes harder as we try to shelter children from it’s harsh realities all whilst learning to navigate it ourselves and as echoed above, not having a frame of reference from our own upbringing.
The following are some resources and books that can help parents navigate talking to their children about race and children’s books featuring Black characters to help them feel empowered in their identity from a young age.
Positive Racial Identity Development in Early Education (P.R.I.D.E) – Resources for parents on talking about race at home, including resources for parents that help Black children understand race and embrace their ethnicity and heritage.
RESilience Initiative– This initiative is focused on getting resources to parents and other caregivers to be able to work with their children to develop a strong and supported racial identity. Positive and supported racial identities helps children become resilient.
Children’s Books with Strong Black Characters – Stories featuring strong Black characters that exude bravery, confidence, and curiosity.
Children’s Books to Celebrate Black Culture – A list nine books that celebrate and offer windows into the world of Black lives and culture.
Follow Little Black Nook on Instagram where Dolisha Mitchell highlights a variety of inclusive picture books for kids of all ages!