Talk to children about race, behavioural scientist advises

AS several countries around the world tackle the issue of racism following the death of African American George Floyd at the hands of the police in May, behavioural scientist and academic, Professor Rain Jarrett believes that it is important for Jamaicans overseas and here on the island to talk to their children about issue of race.

She acknowledges that it is often a difficult conversation, but urges parents not to shut it down.

The professor, who lectures at Broward College in Florida, United States, made the comments recently during a session of the JN Circle Thrive Together Life Class, hosted via Zoom and streamed by Jamaica National Group on its Facebook page.

“We are often worried that we are not doing it right. Some parents don’t feel affected by it and so they don’t talk to their children about race, and that’s a part of privilege. And others feel the impact of race on a daily basis so they understand very clearly why it’s important to talk to their children about race,” she advised.

She also pointed out that, “Adults in general often experience discomfort when talking about race and so sometimes, because of the discomfort…we shy away from it, we don’t want to deal with it – and so we avoid it. But this can be very problematic.”

Professor Jarrett stated that children begin to become conscious of physical differences from as early as six months.

“Children are not colour-blind, so we can’t be ‘colour-silent’,” she argued.

“Many of them learn, over time, not to talk about these differences; talking about these differences is bad. And so, colour-silence can cause this confusion and racial stereotypes can fester,” she said.

She insisted that there is nothing wrong with talking about race with children and having children talk about the differences they observe.

“What is important is the value that we attach to those differences, or whether we devalue those differences altogether,” she said, emphasising that conversations should always seek to centre on explaining without devaluing the other race.

“We don’t want to say: ‘You have brown skin and brown skin is better.’ That’s not the message you’re trying to send. You’re trying to have that conversation and navigate it. You’re trying not to create a complex in your child, because that can be the tendency: to celebrate and big up their difference, and downplay the others. And that can be problematic,” Jarrett said.

She maintained that adults should be conscious of their own racial biases when they converse with children about the issue of race, and clearly explain the reason for their differences.

When children start asking questions about race, Professor Jarrett said, it may also be time to have a broader conversation in schools about the issue.

“Get in front of the problem and don’t wait for it to become an issue,” she recommended.

Professor Jarrett is a subject matter expert on social and emotional learning and development, inclusion and diversity, mindful parenting, and mindfulness in schools.

People may register for the JN Circle Thrive Together Life Class series by visiting Jamaica National Group’s social media pages on Facebook and Instagram, or by registering at www.myjncircle.com/thrive. The sessions take place every Wednesday at 6:30 pm until July 1.

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