When a passenger on an airplane gets ready for takeoff, they are reminded by the flight attendant that, in case of an emergency, they secure their own oxygen masks before helping their children.
Imani Chapman and Franny Silverman, equity educators, advocates, collaborators (and Jewish parents), argue that this same idea can be used for teaching children about racism.
For children to learn about race and racism, first the parents must be interested in learning about racism themselves.
Chapman and Silverman spoke about parental responsibility to educate children on race and racism on June 9 as the second part of the “Looking Within for Communal Change: Racial Justice Workshop Series,” hosted by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s Center City Kehillah and jkidphilly.
The two educators apply the Jewish principle of Elu v’elu (both/and) to teaching their children about racism, advocating for viewing an issue from multiple perspectives.
With that foundation, both understanding and teaching racism can be done through the lens of the “Four I’s of Oppression:” ideological, institutional, interpersonal and internalized, from the abstract ideas society teaches us about race, to the thoughts we have about race and racism within.
Though Chapman and Silverman have 50 years of educating and consulting between them, it was clear that the experiences of raising their own children guided their work the most.
One day, Silverman recounted, her 8-year-old daughter marched around the house with a flyswatter in her hands, chanting, “Black lives matter,” mirroring the behavior of protesters, though some would argue she was too young to understand the nuances of the movement.
“That’s how ideologies work,” Chapman said. “We start doing it before we understand it.”
To Chapman and Silverman, those instances underscore the necessity of holding conversations with children early on.
For Jewish children, Silverman said, explaining antisemitism can be a jumping-off point for discussing oppression and discrimination more broadly.
Chapman explained antisemitism to her daughter by saying, with incredulity, that “some people have the idea that Jewish people run the world.”
Silverman used a similar technique to explain to her daughter the implicit biases held by individuals against people of color.
“In the world,” Silverman said to her daughter, “there are people that think that people have different skin colors that actually has to do with like, what kind of people they are? If they’re good people; if they’re bad people; if they’re smart people; if they’re dangerous people; if they’re safe people. That’s bonkers!” Silverman said. “That’s totally bonkers.”
Chapman, an Afrolatina raising three children, one of whom is Jewish, with her wife, teaches race-consciousness differently than Silverman, who, along with her child, is white.
She’s responsible for not only instilling a sense of awareness and consciousness of racism in her children, but also teaching them to have a positive self-concept, particularly in her 7-year-old daughter.
“One of the ways I do that is I really surround her with a lot of heroes,” she said.
But even children of color can harbor internalized racism, Chapman said, as children learn about race from others besides their parents.
There were times when Chapman’s daughter would cling close to her when they walked past a group of Black men. Chapman used that as an opportunity “to give her a narrative that’s not the narrative that she might get somewhere else.”
Those men remind me of your tio, your uncle, Chapman would say, remembering when he would sit with his friends and play dominoes on the street.
Chapman and Silverman don’t think this work is easy. Everyone, regardless of race, experiences challenges having discussions about race.
“The core of racial anxiety for people of color is: I’m going to walk into a situation and somebody is going to be racist,” Chapman said. “And the core for white people tends to be: I am going to walk into a situation, and I will be perceived as racist.”
However difficult these conversations are, “not saying anything sends a message,” Silverman said.
Though necessary, Chapman and Silverman argue, the discussions don’t have to happen at once. For parents and children alike, becoming conscious of racism is a lifelong journey.
“We are striving,” Chapman said. “We do not arrive.”
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