You may have seen a video going around Facebook last week that was pretty much the worst.
In the video, two adorable, young white kids open their Christmas presents from their aunt and what sounds like their uncle. The gifts are black baby dolls. The woman recording, presumably their mom, asks the girls if they like the dolls, and the older daughter offers a half smile and mutters, "Uh huh."
Someone in the background laughs, and the mom then asks the younger daughter if she likes the doll. The young girl begins to cry and shakes her head no — as the background laughter continues and gets louder.
"What's wrong?!" the mom asks in a high-pitched voice, and the younger daughter responds by throwing the doll, still in its box, while wailing.
That awful 41 seconds reminded me of a rather famous Denis Leary quote.
As terrible as that video — and what those young girls are being taught — is, something good came from it in the form of an even shorter video with a very powerful message that quickly went viral. It came from a mom who knows exactly what Denis Leary meant, a mom who's raising actively anti-racist kids.
Katie Nachman, who's almost finished with her master's in social work and who is a mom of three (ages 4, 7, and 8), saw the video and was bothered because it's exactly the opposite of the way she parents her kids.
She was so bothered, in fact, that she went upstairs immediately after watching it and asked her girls, who'd already gotten into bed and were getting ready to go to sleep, a few questions about the black dolls they received for Christmas.
"I was pretty shocked and appalled because it seemed very clear to me that the parents and the aunt and possibly uncle were playing some sick, twisted joke on these kids, and the fact that the joke was racially based was beyond my comprehension," she said in a phone interview. "I thought, you know, I’m horrified enough about it as a white woman. How would a person of color feel, watching this video and seeing a girl throw a baby doll down on the floor in disgust?"
Here's the video and the commentary Katie uploaded to Facebook.
(Be sure to expand the post to read her full message. It's important.)
As a parent, Katie is doing everything she can to raise kids who will grow into adults who are not only loving and accepting of everyone, but who take an active role in fighting racism — even though it doesn't directly affect them.
Katie buys her kids dolls of all colors and ethnicities. She knows that's not going to end racism; she's not naive, and besides, people reminder her all the time that it won't. But having diverse dolls and toys for her kids is just a small part of what she's doing.
"I feel like any small step in the direction toward racial justice is worthwhile," she told Welcometoterranova. "Dolls represent people, and kids use dolls as learning tools ... so if they have dolls who are different races and they're treating them like their friends or their babies — taking care of them and playing with them, loving them — I think it sets a precedent for how they're going to treat people of other races throughout their lives."
She talks to her kids often and honestly. One day, that talk centered around protesters who were marching because a young black boy was killed by police in her town. Her then-6-year-old son thought it was a parade, and she explained in child-appropriate terms what a protest was, why people were having one, and how racial bias disproportionately affects people of color. She talks about slavery, white privilege, and what her kids can do to make the world a better place.
She never expected her video to go viral — who does?! But Katie did want to share a message with her circle of friends when she uploaded it. (It's a huge bonus that the message is being spread far and wide.)
She said that so many good, kind white parents teach their kids to love everyone and that everyone is beautiful and valuable, but "what I really wanted people to know is that everyone is not equal in this country. Just because it's 2016 does not mean racism does not exist."
"Being colorblind is not OK. You're your kids' first teacher. You need to set the example for them."
"Just because slavery was a long time ago and the civil rights movement was a long time ago doesn't mean people have equal access to opportunity in this country. I wanted people to know that being colorblind is not OK and that you really need to be active in teaching your kids. You're their first teacher, you're the person they look up to the most. You need to set the example for them."
While the adults in the original video may have been blatantly awful, a lot of good white parents try to do something they feel is better — but it turns out it's still very damaging.
The outdated notion of colorblindness centers around the idea that it's best to treat people as equals and to totally ignore difference in race and ethnicity. It may feel good for white folks to subscribe to that belief, but in reality, anyone who's not visually impaired does see color, kids included.
And bias — whether implicit or explicit — happens as a result of the combination of our seeing color and the subtle message we absorb from media and the people around us. When those of us who have the power to do something about racism and racial bias pretend it doesn't exist, we're only allowing it to continue and even worsen.
When parents raise their kids to be colorblind, they're well-intentioned and they're certainly not racist. I get it. I used to consider myself colorblind, and I may have done the same if I hadn't adopted two children of color and gotten an eye-opening front-row seat to incredible amount of bias and racism people of color face every single day.
But it turns out that subscribing to and teaching the colorblind belief only perpetuates the problems those very same parents want to end. And when you know better, you do better. We know better now. We have to do better, and we can follow Katie's lead and make the world a better place for all of our kids.