Tagged Race and Ethnicity

Talking to Kids About Racial Violence

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The daughter of Diamond Reynolds, whose boyfriend, Philando Castile, was shot by the police in Minnesota last week.

The daughter of Diamond Reynolds, whose boyfriend, Philando Castile, was shot by the police in Minnesota last week.Credit Eric Miller/Reuters

My husband is white; as an Armenian man, I am a hue darker, and our 10-year-old daughter is biracial, with brown skin. We’ve tried to shield her from some of the recent painful news stories related to bias. But after last week’s killings of two African-American men by police officers, and then the killings of five Dallas police officers, we need to be ready to talk with her about the terrors of prejudice.

I reached out to some experts who help teenagers and parents make sense of violent racism, and work toward something better. Here is some of the wisdom they offered:

  1. Don’t avoid it. “As moms and dads, we can be scared to talk about something so raw, and ugly,” said Tamara Buckley, an associate professor of counseling and psychology at Hunter College and the co-author of “The Color Bind: Talking (and Not Talking) About Race at Work.” “But not bringing it up doesn’t protect your family. It only puts the conversation in others’ hands.”
  2. All kids — not just minorities — need to talk. “Every youth needs to be nurtured to practice empathy, not judgment,” said Renée Watson, who has worked with high school students struggling to process the Black Lives Matter movement and whose work includes the young adult novel “This Side of Home.” “It’s time for us to get out of our own worlds. To be critical thinkers, young people must be exposed to news about every demographic.”
  3. It’s O.K. not to have answers. “Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable in front of your child,” said Ms. Watson. “Even as a teacher I don’t know everything. It’s not about me trying to get students to think how I do, but to create room for dialogue.”
  4. Ask open-ended questions. Buckley suggested asking: “How are you feeling about what you’re seeing in the news? What are your friends saying? What bothers you the most?”
  5. Notice changes in behavior. “Your son might answer, ‘It’s not bothering me,’” Dr. Buckley said. “Some young people may be in such shock they can’t take in the news. Keep a close eye on them. Do they seem stressed? Isolated? Watch for changes in demeanor, which can suggest they’re upset even if they’re telling you otherwise.”
  6. Turn to art. “If things get tense, music, painting, and dance are great ways to express yourself,” said Ms. Watson, who was a 2013 NAACP Image Award nominee. She said multicultural publishers like Lee & Low “know we need a mix of ‘mirror’ books — in which we see ourselves reflected — and ‘window’ books — in which we see others.” She offered a checklist to measure the diversity in your home library: Do all the titles featuring black characters focus only on slavery? Do all the ones about Latinos emphasize immigration? Are all your L.G.B.T.Q. books coming out stories? If so, you could consider books that examine broader issues in these communities.
  7. Educate yourself about social justice. “Know the difference between equality and equity,” said Shuber Naranjo, a diversity educator at Bank Street School for Children in Manhattan. “It’s like in a Broadway theater, there are the same number of stalls in the women’s and men’s bathrooms. It’s equal, but not equitable, because you see a longer line for women.”
  8. Don’t go it alone. Racism is a tough subject for one person to tackle. “Seek out other dads and moms,” Dr. Buckley suggested, “and find ways to support one another. I’ve noticed all this racial violence has been a real point of connection between black and white parents.”


How do you talk to your kids about race, policing and violence? Join six New York Times journalists for a live chat at 2 p.m. Eastern time, Tuesday, July 12.

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A Poster Family for Diversity

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Credit Giselle Potter

Clicking through the new website of the private school my three children attend, I landed on a close-up photo of my oldest child’s smiling face. I shouldn’t have felt jarred, but I did. The picture, accompanied by a short interview highlighting everything she loves about the school, had been posted on the admissions page. Born in India and adopted by my husband and me, who are white, she’s a minority student at a majority white school that’s striving to become more diverse. Her interview was one of many, but for me, her mother, it generated a spotlight’s heat.

My older daughter is 14. Our son and younger daughter, siblings born in Ethiopia, are 13 and 12. When the children were small, strangers often mistook them for adorable, boisterous triplets. The kids’ friendly smiles and our family’s multicultural makeup ensured that we attracted attention everywhere we went. More than once, professional photographers stopped us on the street to propose a photo shoot. Religious strangers felt compelled to thank my husband and me for “loving the Lord and loving orphans.” Shoppers in the grocery store flagged me down to gush, “Your family is beautiful.”

The idea of us made a lot of people feel good, hopeful even, but I quickly grasped that we could also be perceived by some as a kind of entertaining novelty. For years, another mom at our elementary school referred to me, in public and private, as “Angelina Jolie.” I did my best to shield the kids, and myself, from the attention, so that our family could be just that — a family, not a symbol of post-racial equality or evidence of a supposed Hollywood trend, a trend some critics characterized as white celebrities adopting black babies as fashion accessories.

By virtue of their white parents, transracial adoptees often move in majority white spaces, inadvertently providing diversity for others. Although I’ve always tried to place my kids in environments where they encounter peers and role models of the same race, they inevitably end up in the minority at school, at camps, in enrichment classes and on sports teams.

Early on I noticed how schools and kids’ programs love to feature children of color in their marketing materials to highlight their commitment to diversity, just as the big corporations do. As much as I wanted pictures of my three to entice more minority children to join my children in their activities, I couldn’t bring myself to sign the blanket photo releases that came with every registration packet. I didn’t want my children being used to promote an ideal of diversity that didn’t exist in reality.

But complications arose. Without my release, my son’s fourth-grade teacher couldn’t post group pictures to her classroom website, an inconvenience that didn’t seem fair to her. Then a photo of my daughter, taken without my knowledge at our town’s Christmas parade, popped up in a catalog for the recreation department. A picture of all three kids appeared in a brochure for their favorite summer camp, even though I’d specified no photos. Complaining after the fact felt petty and pointless when I couldn’t identify any tangible harm done.

And then there was the problem of my work as a writer. Frequently when I published a parenting essay, the editor would want to run a family photo. For years I resisted, putting myself at a distinct disadvantage in the world of mommy blogs and image-centric parenting websites. As the kids matured, I discussed the pros and cons of every photo request with the whole family. The kids voted to publish the photo every time, and sometimes I did. Although I’ve been careful to never include their real names in my work to guard their privacy, there’s no question that using my children’s photos on occasion has helped my professional career, a reality I’m conflicted about, even if my kids are not.

And so I gave up. These days I sign all the photo releases for schools and camps and teams because this is the way the world works. All I can do as a parent is maintain an ongoing dialogue with my children about the hidden messages in advertising, about the ways minorities are portrayed in the media, and about why I feel so protective of their likenesses.

Sometimes, when I find a picture of my daughter playing bass guitar on the girls’ rock camp Facebook page or discover a video of my son’s deft footwork being tweeted by his soccer club, I’m thrilled. To see my kids promoted for what they do, not what they look like, feels good. Finding them featured in a camp catalog or a school brochure doing nothing but looking “ethnic” alongside their white peers brings up less positive emotions.

The photo and interview on the school admissions page felt like a “do nothing” at first, even though the school does a good job representing students of all backgrounds in its marketing as a whole. The post also felt like an intrusion. I’d never signed a release for an interview, and nobody had warned me it was coming, let alone sought my permission.

“Did you know they were going to put this interview with you on the website?” I asked my daughter.

“Of course,” she said.

“And you’re O.K. with it?”

“Obviously.”

She’d made her decision. With my children approaching adulthood in the age of the selfie, they’ll be making decisions daily about how to use and distribute their own images, with their status as members of minority groups an added twist. As a mom who shies away from the camera, I hope I’ve given them the tools to figure it out.

Sharon Van Epps is a freelance writer.

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A-Fib Is More Dangerous for Blacks Than Whites

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Atrial fibrillation, or A-fib, an irregular heartbeat associated with various types of cardiovascular problems, is more dangerous, and more often fatal, in black people than in whites, a new study has found.

Researchers studied 15,080 people, average age 54, of whom 3,831 were black. They followed them for an average of 20 years. The findings were published in JAMA Cardiology.

The rate of atrial fibrillation was higher among whites than blacks, and both white and black people with A-fib had increased risks of stroke, heart failure and coronary heart disease. Those with A-fib also had an increased risk of dying from these and other causes.

But even though rates of A-fib were higher in whites than blacks, the actual effect of A-fib led to much higher rates of disease in blacks than in whites. Compared with white people with A-fib, blacks with the condition were more than twice as likely to have a stroke, 42 percent more likely to go into heart failure, 76 percent more likely to have coronary heart disease, and nearly twice as likely to die prematurely.

The reason for the finding is not clear, but the study had no data on treatment or treatment disparities, which might partly explain the outcomes.

Still, the lead author, Dr. Jared W. Magnani, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, said that “the extensive health-related differences here are likely fueled by racial disparities. We need a preventive health system for all Americans, and we don’t have that in place.”

Living With Cancer: Being Erased

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Credit iStock

While I recover from a fractured pelvis, I have time to remember the day after a less ruinous fall two years ago. No bones broken then, but I quickly developed a shiner and then slowly an insight into the color of cancer.

A bluish-purple humdinger bloomed beneath my right eye, spreading its tendrils down my cheek. Leaning over or a deep breath hurt. With too many cancer-related hospitalizations, I was determined to avoid the emergency room. Learn from the pain, I instructed myself, and prepare your dish for the potluck: The word tugged me back to the 1970s.

I had slipped on the way to the bathroom at 4 a.m. A thud — my body hitting the hardwood floor — woke my husband who immediately supplied towels to sop up the bleeding from my forehead. Was that fall a consequence of the targeted medication of a clinical trial, a sliver of Ambien, the neuropathy in my feet from past chemotherapies, or all the above?

Still, food needed to be prepared for the gathering I was supposed to attend that evening of retired faculty women from Indiana University. The company would consist of compatriots on all sorts of committees over the course of some 40 years. We were the ones who arrived at the university to integrate the mostly male faculty. Many of these people had consoled me when cancer treatments necessitated my retirement.

I had already blanched the asparagus and started a dressing. As I assembled the dish, I rehearsed parries to the concerned comments my black eye was sure to elicit. “You should see the other guy,” I would tell my former colleagues. Or “It’s a counter-irritant; it takes my mind off cancer.”

After finding my way to the dinner, I joined some 25 variously frail and hale retired faculty women who had brought quiches and salads for a communal meal. They were filling their plates and sitting in small groups.

With only a spasm of pain, I settled on a couch next to a friend and started to launch into one of my usual shticks: that she should participate in the oral history project to document her work establishing gender studies and African-American studies at our university. But she interrupted me.

“Do you realize that I am the first black woman to retire here since I don’t know many years ago?”

Then we were off and running down memory lane: recalling E.S., a pioneering scholar, and C.M., a brilliant teacher. Careers blindsided, people lost to us. What had happened to them? Gone without a trace. Did their isolation in a Midwestern college town depress them and had their depression further isolated them? Were they pigeonholed as representative African-Americans and erased as unique human beings? Although the administration tried various retention strategies, somehow the environment remained inhospitable.

“It’s still a hard place to be a black woman,” my friend sighed.

While driving home I had worried and wondered why E.S. and C.M. did not, could not navigate their way to that evening’s event and whether newly hired African-American women would find the path as hazardous now as it had been then. At my front door, though, a more self-regarding thought stopped me in my tracks.

How odd that not one person had mentioned my black eye! “You look great,” one and all had volubly exclaimed at my coming and then at my going.

Did my friends assume that oncologists routinely punch their patients in the face? Or were they exhibiting some version of Midwestern niceness? Or are cancer patients invisible as individuals, visible only as cancer patients who must be perpetually bolstered and boosted? My colleagues had seen Susan with cancer, not Susan who arrived in their midst with a black eye.

“People who have had cancer are treated as a kind of minority group,” the prostate cancer survivor Michael Korda believes, “as if the most important thing about them is their cancer, much as many people still treat African-Americans, as if the only thing that matters about them (or to them) is that they are black.”

During the following months, I mulled over the hyper-visibility of categorized cancer patients and African-Americans, on one hand, and their invisibility as individuals, on the other.

Only this year, since it takes me quite a bit of muddling to learn anything, did Michael Korda’s insight make me realize how very few cancer memoirs we have from people of color, despite exceptions like those produced by Audre Lorde and Robin Roberts.

The experiences of minorities remain strikingly marginal in cancer literature: not only in memoirs but also in blogs, diaries, essays, stories, plays, novels, movies and television series. Since these genres generally express the perspectives of individuals, we are impoverished in our understanding when what we read and see excludes the reactions of patients from various economic and ethnic and racial backgrounds. Mortality statistics and drug advertisements notwithstanding, the cancer patients many of us imagine — as individuals enmeshed in their own stories – are white.

In the prize-winning book “Citizen: An American Lyric,” Claudia Rankine describes taking a few steps back when someone with multiple degrees said to her, “I didn’t know black women could get cancer.”

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