Recently, I read a LinkedIn post where a mother spoke about an incident with the students in her son’s upcoming high school classes. Long story short, an African American male student joined his first high school 9th-grade zoom meet and greet group. While awaiting the start of the meeting, a white appearing female student felt comfortably compelled to comment that he looked like a “weed-smoking drug dealer.” He calmly responded, calling out her racially charged comment only to then be gaslighted by other white appearing classmates as they logged on. It wasn’t until another white student called them out for terrorizing this young man that they remotely began to see the error of their ways. Many levels of analysis can be done on the background of this situation and how telling it is about our society when children behaving in a terrorizing way has become normalized.
That will be for another time.
As the focus of this series is about returning “back to school’ this incident serves as a reminder that as parents, we have to prepare our children differently, now more than ever. At the core of this situation is a lack of development of cultural proficiency for most students in this class. Whether that is by choice in that they and their families do not value people or cultures who differ from themselves or by accident in that they may not realize they are acting upon harmful belief systems or mental models, the result for children that look like mine is the same.
Our children must learn how to successfully navigate the ignorance and cruelty of children raised in homes that do not intentionally develop cultural proficiency.
Cultural Proficiency is recognizing and responding appropriately to differences in a way that does not cause harm. It is a skill that must be developed consciously and, for some people, difficult to comprehend or acquire if their belief systems center around some identities or characteristics being favored over others. As a cultural proficient expert, I know that I am not culturally proficient all the time, but I can always make an effort and readily admit and correct myself if I fall short. We also know that while we cannot change people, we can change how people behave and hold the systems accountable for maintaining safe environments. As parents, we equip our children with the following expectations when they get into situations with other people’s children or adults who have underdeveloped cultural literacy or cultural ignorance. (Yes, we use those terms). We tried to make it simple so they can Address It or Ignore It, But Always Report It Address It
With my kids being who they are, this is most likely what will happen, and as such, we want them to know what we expect of them when they address these issues. They know we do not want them to address these issues if they cannot control themselves first. So we talk about feeling your emotions instead and deciding whether you have the patience or desire to manage them. We discuss various ways they can use their words to address someone that hasn’t learned how to treat them or communicate. This can be with phrases such as “that’s inappropriate or unkind” or “do not speak to me in that way,” and at younger ages, to walk away and tell an adult. Our older kids have also come up with creative ways to tell people how they expect to be treated or what is acceptable around them. I recall one time when my daughter said to a classmate who made a racially based comment about her hair and tried to touch it that “in my culture, it is not appropriate to touch my crown without asking permission,” and then, in true Courtney fashion added, “and you don’t have permission.” While she wasn’t mean, she was straightforward and assertive, and the girl apologized, and they went right along playing. Ignore It
This may feel like a cop-out, but we explain it to our children as a way to “protect your peace.” Each of my children is different, has different capacities and capabilities, and will respond to these situations differently based on a myriad of factors. At the core of success is the ability to protect one’s peace, so if they do not feel that they have the capacity to address it amicably or the desire to engage with anyone else’s ignorance, they can walk away and ignore it. We discuss various ways that they can exit these situations and make their way to a Courageous Adult for support. Always Report It
This is a non-negotiable for our children. We help them understand why they must report these situations that create a lack of safety and comfort for them in the learning environment to a Courageous adult school and one of us at home. This helps us keep each other in check and hold people accountable for their underdeveloped children. As we explain this, it also reinforces what we want out of them and how their behavior and response reflect us and our family values. What makes this Courageous Leadership?
Every individual and family unit is going to define for themselves what it means to be Courageous. We define Courageous Leadership as that which creates opportunities and eliminates barriers to our definitions of success. We define success in terms of the 5 Pillars of Courageous Family Leadership. Our children know that their family is behind them and supportive of them continuing to develop into their authentic selves (Personal Leadership) by how they relate to others and protect their peace. We are also very clear about how we expect them to treat one another (Internal Relational Leadership). The adults compensated for educating them and their peers (External Relational Leadership) in school. They are also clear about what happens when they do not meet those expectations since they are kids, of course
A Consideration for You and Your Family…
As we embark upon another school year where our children will have to interact with others who may not carry the same value around people who are different from themselves, what are you doing to prepare your children for Courageous Leadership where they LEARN? Interested in shifting the conditions that hold systemic problems in place? If the answer is Yes! Then join our book study!
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