How young is too young to talk about race? And is 15 too late?
By kindergarten, children have already picked up attitudes about other races and ethnic groups. They're influenced by media and friends, but it's parents who play a pivotal role in shaping these values. And many parents just don't know how to start the conversation — or when. Thus, an organization in Westchester is providing training for parents to have these dialogues.
Next month, the Coalition for Understanding Racism Through Education (CURE) is sponsoring Talking About Race For Parents: Raising Children for Racial Justice, a four-hour workshop for parents and caregivers.
Conversations with your five- to seven-year-old about interracial friendships can dramatically improve their racial attitudes in as little as a week, according to Po Bronson and Ashley Merriman, authors of the 2009 parenting book NurtureShock. Even if you are raising a preteen or young adult, it’s still extremely valuable to open up a dialogue, the authors say.
CURE’s mission is to educate the community and help parents and caregivers have these conversations in the most productive way.
The coalition works to bring a deeper understanding of institutional racism and how it leads to disparities in wealth, criminal justice, housing, education and other areas of American society. Its events take place primarily in Larchmont and Mamaroneck as well as in other communities and they are open to the general public.
New Rochelle native and CURE President Nicole Alifante grew up a bit nomadically, spending five years in Saudi Arabia among other places. As an adult she lived 20 years in Manhattan, working as a professional actress.
"I grew up integrated, but it felt segregated. All of us think New York City and New York State are true melting pots, yet we have the most segregated public schools," she said in an interview.
CURE board member and a graduate student at Teacher's College at Columbia University Ann LoBue also joined the phone conversation.
LoBue's involvement with the issue began when she served as president of the school board in Mamaroneck, a racially diverse district.
"I began thinking about equity in our schools from the beginning, and one of the first things I learned is New York State public schools are the most segregated in the United States — which blew my mind. I had no idea. My fellow graduate students are a diverse group of people. Seeing the impact, the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement on my friends made me think more about how racism still matters in today’s world. I'm a white person and racism doesn't affect me so much, but it really affects my friends, people of color," LoBue said.
Alifante points to New Rochelle as having so much potential in uniting and becoming a "beacon" for the rest of the country because of its rich diversity. "It has every socio-economic status, every race, color and creed. It represents so much of what goes on in this country."
"Growing up in diverse spaces," added Alifante, "I still felt a disconnect between myself and people of color because of the messages I received from society, etc. I've been thinking about this my whole life. As an Italian-American, I was always questioning my relationship to my whiteness and what it meant. "
She said a "growing awareness" ultimately led her to get involved with an organization called New Rochelle Against Racism which helped her take a deeper dive into history.
"What completely cracked my world open was to look at how institutions are structured and whose life experiences are affected by those structures. I started to understand that rules, policies, practices, laws and major Supreme Court decisions were continuing to oppress black, brown and indigenous Americans. Constantly educating myself around this and doing something about it has become a deep calling for me," said Alifante.
She explained that next month's workshop will help parents learn to strengthen their understanding of how to effectively address issues of race and racism with their children.
"They will learn how children see race and gain skills for approaching age-appropriate conversations using a racial-equity lens and develop strategies to promote positive racial-identity development in children, including addressing misconceptions about race and reversing unconscious racial bias."
The Center does a lot of work with teachers and parents, said LoBue who took the workshop. "It covers what is race, where the idea of race comes from, how racism impacts policy and helps people understand racism is not just about saying bad things to people. They talk about what young kids feel when they recognize race. Many (parents) don't have the skill set to have these conversations. A lot of white people in particular are silent with their kids on the topic of race. They, we, just don’t feel comfortable talking talk about it. Unfortunately, silence tends to perpetuate the status quo."
The workshop is on Sunday, March 1, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Community Resource Center at 134 Center St. in Mamaroneck. The cost is $100 per person. Scholarships are available. Email requests to firstname.lastname@example.org.