Growing up in the suburbs of Detroit, it was difficult to fit in with my complexion, to say the least. I went to Detroit Public Schools and Grosse Pointe Public Schools. Most of the time I only seemed to fit in when I classified my race as either Black or White. Today if you ask me, as I’ve been asked countless times before, “What are you?”, I simply answer biracial.
As a biracial mother raising two toddler boys in those same suburbs, my desire to personally be more educated on Black history is the most heightened it has ever been in my life. My three-year-old and four-year-old, who at a glance do not look biracial, may not understand it now, but their skin tone guarantees them a privilege I never knew. While they might grow up with this privilege, it is my responsibility to make sure they know where they come from and why it matters, so that when they are asked, “What are you?” they can proudly answer.
Here are some ways I expose my children to Black culture:
One of our favorite places to visit in our city is the Henry Ford Museum. My boys have been obsessed with tractors and trains since forever. While this is a museum of innovation, The Henry Ford offers collections of Stories of Social Justice and Injustice.
The most popular are the curation of the Rosa Parks bus and the exhibit on the Civil Rights Movement. Granted, my children don’t know how to read yet, but the excitement of the bus is enough to plant seeds of history. We make sure to visit the exhibit every time we take a trip to the museum. If it isn’t the Nazi clothing on display striking up a conversation about racism, then it is how I show them our different skin tones would have separated our seats on the bus. Even if the conversation only last the 45 seconds my toddlers can hold on to a thought, they are hearing and seeing and remembering it for another day.
Why this matters?
Exhibits that allow you to immerse yourself in culture have a lasting effect on children. The repetitive trips we take through the exhibit allow me to plant new seeds of information that will grow in them each time we visit. Other museums we like to visit that help us immerse ourselves in black culture are The Detroit Historical Museum and The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.
Through Internet, Television, and Movies
In my home, it seems every popular You Tube channel my children love features actors of a single race. Whether it be families performing amazing ninja moves, or young white men with catchy songs about excavators, the algorithms we generate lack culture. Luckily, Disney, Netflix, and other streaming apps make it easier to search by representation. These categories offer a variety of movies and shows with Black characters and Black history. Watching Black families performing amazing ninja moves, or a young Black man singing catchy songs about excavators, may be hard to find, but representation matters.
Why this matters?
The white daughter of a former boss once taught me what representation can look like to kids. My coworkers and I played the game Taboo at an annual Christmas party. The then nine-year-old was on my team. The word I needed to describe to her was “robber.” I failed to provide enough clues to get her to guess correctly before the buzzer. When I told her what the word was, she said, “Black people.”
Where did she learn that? I asked her. She said Black people are the robbers she sees on the news. Yes moms, it’s just that simple. This is why representation matters. If the algorithms and “just for you” streaming suggestions aren’t representing a diverse group of characters, we aren’t helping our children learn what the real world looks like.
Through Art and Theatre
One of my mother’s most favorite pastimes with her children was going to the theatre. She was a widow with five kids, so it wasn’t often she had the extra money. When she did, we would go see different types of artsy musical shows. Last year my family visited Broadway in Detroit for the first time to see Disney’s The Lion King. This was an amazing showcase of African culture to expose my children to.
Why this matters?
Theatre of any type at any age provides a depth of sentiment that can be very thought-provoking. Seeing history performed on stage or in visual art ignites the feelings and emotions we and our children use to practice empathy. If live art is not in your child’s bandwidth, The Detroit Institute of Arts has amazing exhibits on Black art and culture that a child of any age can learn from and enjoy.
I grew up listening to Motown and smooth jazz on the kitchen radio. My youngest loves listening and watching music just as much as I did growing up. My boys claim “rock and roll” is their favorite genre; likely influenced by their Pink Floyd-singing father. With their natural interest in music, I can enrich their learning by thoughtfully exposing them to a variety of Black musicians and styles within their genre of interest. (Now, whether my youngest will be a Jimi Hendrix or a John Mayer guitar player has yet to be determined.)
Why this matters?
Incorporating a range of diversity into my children’s interests makes it easier to expose them to Black culture. Music has always been a great way to learn about a culture or a specific time in history. By showing them that diversity can be found in the music they like, they may one day hear and understand a song that describes what it’s like to be Black, or disliked, or different. Then, it is my hope that they will be able to empathize with those lyrics and the people who find truth in them.
Through Literature and Games
Just like the actors in the YouTube channels, I try to make sure my boys see Black characters in the books they read and the games they play. Whether it be me trying to find Black Lego men and women to buy online, or borrowing the book with the Black curly-haired girl from the library, educating my boys on different voices and perspectives through story telling can expose them to many powerful narratives.
Why this matters?
Black history has a focus that lasts for only the month it is proclaimed. If I instill a bit a diversity now through the books and games my children see year-round, their awareness of the need to see people of color will naturally strengthen. Just the same, I cannot convey what it is like being dark-skinned.
Some may say exposing my children to Black culture is easier considering I’m half-Black. Those people would be wrong. While I’ve had many encounters with racism and have been on the receiving end of racial slurs and discrimination, I have a “light-skin-pass.” My skin tone has protected me from the dehumanizing racism many others with darker hues and tones have lived with their entire lives.
I cannot teach them all of the feelings and experiences of prejudice and disadvantage. The people who have, can. The use of literature illuminates our imaginations to not only be mindful of the emotion books carry, but also more considerate to those they mirror.
I understand introducing new food to toddlers can be tricky. For older kids or those who enjoy exploring the tastes of the world, food is a great expression of culture. It can be a Black-owned restaurant you choose for your next family outing to try soul food or fried chicken. Or a Black-inspired recipe at home. Learning the ways our Black community has used food as an expression is a great way to learn more about the culture.
Why this matters?
The feel of a Black restaurant is its own experience. The smells, the camaraderie, and the spirit are all much different than your everyday take-out place. I can taste the soul and feel the love in my aunt’s dressing and my cousin’s fried chicken. Getting to know different culinary styles of Black cuisine is a perfect entry into Black culture.
Through City Lines
I like to think by engrossing my children into more urban environments, I am giving them and myself a greater chance to connect with families of color. The preschool my eldest goes to has a wonderful mix of races. He has Black peers and teachers. Our neighborhood on the other hand, while vibrantly rich in Arab American culture, lacks much of a Black community. Rightfully so; the mayor from 1942 to 1978 campaigned to “Keep Dearborn Clean,” which meant to many residents, keep Dearborn white.
So while where we live might be lacking in Black community, I try to expose my children to playgrounds and experiences that include a variety of colorful faces. Visiting Belle Isle Conservancy, the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, or festivals at Hart Plaza is an amazing way to expose my family to Black culture.
Why this matters?
City lines can show a thick divide of race and race relations in our community. I learned about modern segregation early in my adolescence during my years in Grosse Pointe. The city is boarded by the east side of Detroit and by mere comparison of homes, cars, and people on each block, you could see the racial divide was real. Those thick lines still exist today, but many families of the new generation and some of the older ones are taking the action needed to make this modern segregation disappear.
Where we look to provide entertainment and education for our children isn’t always in areas easily accessible to the Black community of metro Detroit, let alone affordable. This is something to consider in your own town and in your own neighborhood. If we are to teach our children to be inclusive, are we providing them a safe and open environment to do so?
From a Biracial Mom to Every Mom
It doesn’t have to stop there. If your mission isn’t to teach your children about your roots like me, let these examples be ways to authentically expose your children to culture. Not just Black culture, but to any culture. America is a mixing bowl; it’s in the interest of our children’s future to embrace it. All of it. The good, the bad, and the ugly.
How we expose our children to culture sets the foundation for a better understanding and acceptance they’ll have when they come across adversity and opposing perceptions on their own. In order to expose our children to Black culture, we as parents must be open to immersing ourselves and incorporating it in our surroundings, as well as experiencing it and representing it. Our kids only have our attention for so long, how are you using this time to incorporate culture in their lives?