Growing up, I remember how disconnected home and school seemed to be when it came to discussions about race. My parents, both Trinidadian immigrants, often talked about race to help me and my siblings understand what school rarely acknowledged in the 1990s and early 2000s: that racially stressful moments occurred frequently, and had significant impact. When not met with silence, denial, or avoidance, such moments were often handled with disciplinary consequences as a means of setting the boundaries for civil discourse. We didn’t talk about it because we were scared to make it real.
Home and school often have different methods for engaging the social reality of racism in America. Imagine if home and school partnered in a way that encouraged more consistent practice for how to talk about race without the omnipresent threat of social ostracism or silencing. Remaking in-the-moment interactions that we have across lines of difference in schools also holds profound possibilities for remaking the future of cross-racial interactions in society at large. Practicing talking about race with a common language can heal social dislocations. Schools can further the dialogues about race that families are having at home.
Historically and socially, race – like politics or religion – has not been a polite or comfortable topic of conversation for many, yet increasingly there is a need for kids today to develop a sense of competence and confidence in both navigating racially stressful situations and interpreting the realities of the world around them. In the 2014 article in the National Association of Independent Schools magazine, “What White Children Need to Know About Race,” Ali Michael and Eleonora Bartoli describe how the silence about race throughout our childhoods, which was intended to teach us that race shouldn’t matter, instead implicitly teaches us just how much it does matter.
Here are suggestions for how parents can support their kids in developing what experts today call racial literacy. Racial literacy is the ability to read, recast, and resolve racially stressful encounters in ways that promote healing over replicating patterns of silence, hurt and harm.
Talking about race isn’t easy and can even be a painful experience, but not talking about it leaves our kids to learn how to manage challenging experiences on their own. Dialogue is support. You can develop a more skillful ability to engage your kids in meaningful ways when they notice or talk about racial encounters. Silence only suppresses the natural curiosity that they have around what makes it such a complex societal issue. These conversations should continue to shape a tomorrow that is driven by meaningful, inclusive relationships.
For additional information and resources, including podcasts, films, and recommended readings, visit haverford.org/awareness.
Brendon Jobs is the Director of Diversity and Inclusion at The Haverford School. His development as an educator has been shaped by experiences as a James Madison Fellow, Lehrman Fellow, National Constitution Center Annenberg Fellow, Education Pioneer with the SEED Foundation in Washington, D.C., and as an active member of Philadelphia’s teacher leader community. In-depth training with Penn GSE’s Racial Empowerment Collaborative and the Race Institute informs his approach to building inclusive communities.
As an on-site consultant for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Jobs wrote “Diversity in the Teacher Workforce: The Demographic Imperative & Talking about Race in Schools.” In 2014, he published the chapter “Productive Mistakes: Teacher Mentorship & Teach for America” in the book Teach For America Counter-Narratives: Alumni Speak Up and Speak Out. He holds a B.A. in Political Science from Columbia University and M.S.Ed. from the University of Pennsylvania.