One of the duties that a healthy parental figure has in their child’s life is to harness their innocence as long as possible while methodically introducing real-world concepts in an age-appropriate manner. With this in mind, some parents may feel more urgency to introduce concepts like race and racism because they feel this knowledge can help to protect them — but sometimes it comes at a cost of corrupting their innocence possibly too early.
In an interview with AARP, filmmaker Tyler Perry revealed that he’s not interested in having the race conversation with his 7-year-old son, Aman, just yet.
“I don’t want to tell him that there are people who will judge him because of the color of his skin, because right now he’s in a school with every race, and all these kids are in their purest form,” he says. “When he describes his friends, he never defines them by race. So, the moment he loses that innocence is going to be a very, very sad day for me.”
I applaud Tyler Perry for using discretion when it comes to the topic of race, because even adults misrepresent and misunderstand the importance of race in present-day American life.
Part of the problem is that too many parents discuss race from the worst possible perspective, creating a sense of paranoia for their child which could manifest into an inferiority complex, placing their child in the role of the continuous victim in American society.
I was around Aman’s age when I was told that all white people are racist and can never be trusted; words I’ll never forget. I don’t believe this was explained to me to purposefully corrupt my innocence, but to put me on a higher alert which could lead to me being protected emotionally or physically.
However, the problem was that it created more confusion than certainty because it was illogical compared to my surroundings. At the time, I lived in a majority white neighborhood, went to a majority white school and most of my friends were white. I had never felt targeted because of my race or uncomfortable being black, but I was now presented with a new narrative that was confusing because it didn’t match my reality.
It didn’t make sense to link morality to skin color because I knew of good people and bad people who were black and white. I didn’t like the idea of looking at my white friends negatively especially when their behavior was showing otherwise. Nevertheless, the damage was done and now I felt pressure to abide by this new narrative and when I didn’t, I would be passive-aggressively chastised for treating people the same way I wanted to be treated and not caring about their complexion in order to interact with them.
For years I resented having to live someone else’s unfortunate reality and it often felt like the reality of people in the distant past but not from my present. I couldn’t understand why racial hatred was elevated over any other form of hatred and why living a life fearless of white people would make me inauthentically black.
Today, I understand that it’s because many of these conversations stem from the trauma of a previous generation and they are sometimes unaware of how they are passing on paranoia instead of awareness. Their racial framing is from feeling a jaded sense of the inevitability of racism. They believe in a high prevalence of such racism based on their personal past experiences, which remain as a filter from seeing the progress of the present.
Parents have to ask themselves what is the social benefit of injecting a racial dialogue into a young child like 7-year-old Aman? Obviously, children can tell when someone looks different than them, but the discussion of race will imply context that may not be beneficial or even understandable to them. If you teach a child it’s always been this way, has never gotten better and will never get better, it perpetuates a cycle of mistrust.
Parents have the discretion to do what is best for their children, but we should be careful of continuing a legacy of presenting being black as a negative experience and transferring our personal traumas onto our children.
The victim mentality is transferable and adequately protecting our children means stopping the cycle.
Adam B. Coleman is the author of “Black Victim to Black Victor” and founder of Wrong Speak Publishing.