‘Mom, Why Don’t You Have Any Black Friends?’
Before you talk to your kids about race, answer this question
I’m a black woman who talks about race. So, in the past few days, I have received many requests from white people — all women — for resources on how to talk to their white children about race.
I appreciate the sincerity of the request—and I’m also looking hard at fathers who have not asked the same—but my response is more complex than “Here’s a book to read!” I want them to answer this question first: “Mom, why don’t you have any black friends?”
Our nation is still, in many ways, racially segregated. If you are like many white Americans, you likely went to a predominantly white school, had predominantly white friends, attended a predominantly white college, work in a predominantly white workplace, and live in a predominantly white neighborhood, where your children — the ones who you want to talk to about race — also have predominantly white friends and are taught by predominantly white teachers.
What does it lead to? The average white American has 91 white friends and nine friends of color, including just one black friend. Seventy-five percent of white Americans have no friends of color at all. Seventy-five percent.
This didn’t happen by coincidence. These were intentional choices made by legislators, mortgage lenders, school administrators, and company CEOs, but also by your parents and by you. And soon, these will be choices made by your kids. The cycle continues, unabated and unbroken.
When white folks tell me that they’re color-blind and don’t see race, I ask them to do this exercise. I do a similar one in my TEDx talk on race in America. If you want to talk to your kids about race, I ask you to do the same.
- What were the races of your three best friends when you were nine?
- When you were 19?
- When you were 39?
- What about your first boss?
- Your last boss?
- Your wedding party?
- Your first crush?
- Your first mentor?
- Your favorite high school teacher?
- Your dentist?