Diversity, equity, and inclusion expert, Nicole Lee, joins Traci for the third and final installment of their discussion about race, Black Lives Matter, and talking to your kids about racism.
01:08 – Teaching Children About Race
03:16 – Being Polite: Growing Up in a Post-Civil Rights Society
05:03 – How Children Pick-up Meaning
08:51 – Skin Tone Agnosticism
12:12 – The Cultural Issues of the Melting Pot Theory
15:58 – Having the Hard Conversations
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Traci Shanklin 0:37
Hi, and welcome back to the show. For those of you just tuning in, we have been speaking about diversity and the Black Lives Matters movement with diversity, equity, and inclusion strategist and human rights advocate, Nicole Lee. Nicole has dedicated her career to advocating, educating, and bridging solutions for minority groups, especially in a corporate environment. I divided this conversation into three parts because it is powerful and packed with valuable information for individuals and companies.
Traci Shanklin 1:08
So, please join me for the third and final part of my conversation with diversity expert, Nicole Lee, where we discuss talking to your children about racism. As a Caucasian mother of a Haitian daughter, this episode was deeply personal to me, I learned a lot and I hope you do too. So, I think that – that is a good pivot though – to talk about how we go about repairing some of the stuff that’s going on right now and teaching our children about race in a way that sets them up to be – to live in a society that is all-inclusive?
Nicole Lee 1:46
That is a big part of my work. That was also this – this part of my DEI work was actually born in Ferguson as well because I ended up going into schools – just meeting with administrators, and I went into schools that were like the unaccredited kind of really broken-down schools. And I also went into posh private schools. And one of the things I noticed is that all the kids were afraid. None of the kids had been able to escape just the real uncertainty or the insecurity that had come from that situation. And so, I really started looking at how we talk to our children.
Nicole Lee 2:26
But one of the things I’d love to tell you a little bit about, Traci, is one of the things that I did was I interviewed parents, and I interviewed parents about what they were talking to their children about. It was a research area where I thought there was a little bit of gap – that we don’t always talk to parents about what conversations they’re having with their children. And so, I interviewed parents – I interviewed folks that had children that were six months old; I interviewed folks that had 32-year-olds, and all in between, and I interviewed parents of color. I interviewed white parents, and something was a thread I saw throughout that I found to be really important is most of us – if we were born, even in the 60s – 60, 70s, 80s, right? Most of us have no model for how to talk to our children about race because our parents didn’t talk to us about it.
Nicole Lee 3:16
We grew up in a time where, especially the post-civil rights folks, we grew up in a time where we were told that it was much more polite, much more appropriate, never to mention race, right? To not have that be a part of the diet, so politics, religion, and race, we just don’t talk about them. And if we did talk about them, we were shushed, right? So, small children – so often, adults tell me about situations where they just said, “Oh, hey, like there’s a black person,” or they said, you know, “Why is that person’s eyes look different,” or whatever they said, and they were immediately shushed by their parents, right? And so, then when it comes to talking to our kids, we really don’t have a lot of models for that. And so, I raised that, because I think it’s so important, most of what we do in parenting has been modeled to us, right? We’ve seen how people parent, so if these conversations have not been modeled to us, it’s much more difficult to have them. That’s the first thing I would say.
Nicole Lee 4:11
The second thing I’m gonna say is, they’re so important to have the conversations. And if this is not new-fangled, like flashy, innovative research, this is time-tested research, right, in the last 30, 40 years that sociologists have done and psychologists have done on what children need developmentally. Our children need for us to be having conversations with them about race and gender, and other forms of identity at a pretty young age. Younger than most people are prepared. In fact, research shows us that children as young as three-months-old are differentiating and can see the difference in race. Now, do they have meaning behind it? No. Do they – are they making meaning? Not really. Meaning starts around three and four. But even the issue with that is if we’re not talking to our three and four-year-olds, where are they getting meaning from?
Nicole Lee 5:03
They’re picking up cues. And so some of the cues that we’re giving in society, just frankly, still are rife with issues of racism and ethnic phobia. And so if we’re not talking to them, they’re getting all of this input, if you will, they’re getting all of this data, but they don’t know what to do with it. And so often, you know, folks think that oh, when a child, you know, let’s say, like a middle-schooler between 12 and 14, when they make a mistake around race, whether they use a racial slur, or they write racial slurs, oh, it must be because the parents were just these horrible people. And in my work, I’ve actually found that that’s not the case either. But often, what I do find is that parents that were not having conversations. And a convers – and when I say a conversation, I’m not saying, when a child says something about race, or when issues of race come up, that we tell our children, “Up, just treat everybody the same.” The “Just Treat Everybody the Same” crowd is actually in the same crowd in terms of how their – their children are able to articulate race as frankly folks, this is what the research shows, as folks that have – that say negative things about race, right, because there’s so much in our society that children are picking up. If we’re just telling them to treat everybody the same, they actually don’t know what to do with that.
Nicole Lee 6:16
We have to have specific messages to them around race that say what our values are. So, if your value is that, you know, everyone is equal then one has to articulate. I believe we are white, right, if you’re a white family, we are white. And so, articulate that, and a lot of folks get nervous and uncomfortable, but this is really important for identity formation, we are white, and there are people who are not white in our society, we call them “black,” or however you want to say it. And they have not historically or even currently been treated in a fair way, and our family doesn’t agree with that. That’s many more words, right? That’s many more senses and even more – more concepts than just saying, “Hey, let’s treat everybody equally.” But that’s something that a child can – can hear, and then ask questions and get clarity around. And so, we are in some ways at a disadvantage because like I said, in the beginning, we actually weren’t taught to have these conversations. But we’re at a disadvantage at one of the most pivotal parts of parenting right now in our society, which is to be able to have the conversations.
Nicole Lee 7:24
So, one of the things I tell parents to do is – you have to get comfortable often first. If you’re not comfortable talking about race, you’re gonna have to take some steps to get comfortable, so then you can articulate some of these concepts to your children. Often times people say to me, but it’s so much it’s so hard for a child to understand. This is why it’s important for you to get educated first because once you’re educated, then you can figure out what’s the age appropriate way for me to describe this. And yes, you can have age appropriate conversations with children that are very young about very tough issues. And, you know, when I receive pushback from clients on this, one of the things I asked them is, would you prefer for someone else to teach your children these really important lessons? Because someone will. Absolutely someone will, and it may not be your values.
Traci Shanklin 8:13
Yeah. So, when we started this conversation, you kindly corrected a – not corrected but said that there was a question that I had written for you that wasn’t necessarily something that you were a proponent of, which is this, this concept of skin tone agnosticism. And I just realized as I’m talking to you that part of that is my, you know, the mirroring that I have done in the way I was raised, which was very much what you just said, is you just don’t talk about race. We don’t – “everybody’s the same,” and let’s not talk about it.
Traci Shanklin 8:51
And we’re going to accept everybody, you know, for who they are not what they look like, kind of, you know, dialogues. So, can you just explain why you feel that this idea of skin tone agnostic is not a positive concept that we instill in our children? Because I think that it would be really very helpful for me and others.