‘I want to be White’: Fostering self-love amongst children of African Descent

  1. Expose the child to appropriate Role Models

It is crucially important that all children have access to positive role models that they can identify with. Unfortunately, children are not immune to the effects of negative messages associated with Blackness and the positive images associated with Whiteness whether at home, in school or through the media. Mundane and apparently trivial things may erode a child‘s self-esteem. Are there only Blond haired blue eyed dolls at home/school?  Are the heroes in all the stories they hear White? A colleague of mine, who used to reside on a council estate in a predominantly deprived (and Black) area of London, once told me that he was constantly stared at by Black boys and on occasions asked whether he was a Bailiff Officer. Black men going to work and wearing suits were such a rarity on the estate. The only people who wore suits and came round the estate were Debt Collectors (he was a Director).  We have limited control over the media. Some people may even have little control over where they live and who they live with but, we can exercise our professional or parental control to expose children to people who look like them and have the quality/qualities they feel they, or people who look like them, do not possess.  More often than not such a person can be identified within the child’s family. If appropriate then facilitating contact should be explored. Mentoring Organisations are another option. There are plenty of relevant role models within our communities. Doctors, Lawyers, Community Leaders and Activists, Entrepreneurs etc. Of course, our history is full of them. Identify Black people that your child can look up to in your community and teach them about ‘Black History’. You may even do relevant research together.

  1. Mind your words and actions…

Your behaviour will have much more of an impact than your words. The way you treat children will teach them about how to expect to be treated in the world. In relation to race and colour, deal with your prejudices. Everyone has some. They are capable of doing a lot less damage if you are aware of them and you keep challenging yourself.  It is not unusual for Black parents* to display ‘colorist’ attitudes e.g. show a preference towards lighter skin tones. Children will sense these preferences whether they are verbalised or not (more often than not they are). Do you only compliment women on their beauty when they have lighter skin tones? Do you call straight/curly hair good hair and afro and kinky textures ‘nappy’? Do you comment on people being ‘too dark’? Refrain. If people in your environment do so, challenge them respectfully when appropriate. Many people say things without realising the impact of their words or that they may play a part in systems of devaluation until the experience of others is shared. Finally, being loved, nurtured and attended to, are probably the stronger buffers against the internalisation of oppression and racism and may help the development of a more secure cultural identity and a healthy self-esteem.  A ‘secure base’ help teach children that they are lovable and that they matter; arguably the most important factors in fostering self-love.

* These attitudes are not only found amongst people of African descent but have been found amongst people of South Asian, East Asian, Latin American, Middle Eastern origins and, even amongst people from some European countries-to name but a few. Further, White people (and systems) can similarly show colorism towards individuals from racialized groups. More on that in due course.

Please note the above are just ideas. Although they are psychologically informed, they reflect my own reflections and experience. I am really curious about the experience of others either as parent or as Clinicians/Therapists. If you have any other suggestion please post a comment. Similarly, if you feel any part of the post does not make sense write a comment.

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