So you want your kids to have a diverse group of friends? Start here.
If you are a parent putting effort into raising a socially conscious and socially responsible kid who has the confidence to be an advocate, or at least an ally, then you probably aren’t aiming for them to be in a white, cisgendered, able-bodied bubble. But how to help them have an inclusive comfort zone?
Start by looking at your own friends. No, not your facebook “friends” whom you hardly know. Who would you invite to a small wedding reception? Who would you call to share your excited news or to vent about your latest trouble? Who would you ask to keep an eye on your toddler so you can quickly step out of the room?
These are your friends. Now be honest, how diverse of a group is this? Do any of your thought reflect any of the following……..?
“I have a black friend!” check
“I have a gay friend!” check
“Hm, isn’t trans basically the same as gay? Um…two checks for gay friend!”
“Do I know anyone with a disability? Uh, Kris broke her arm, does that count? I’ll say yes!” check
“Wow, I am so PC. And awesome.”
Ok, let’s unpack this a tiny bit. I wonder how many people your black friend is the one black friend of. Ditto for your gay friend. No, trans and gay are not at all the same. And no, a broken arm is not a disability, even if they are temporarily unable to do many of their regular activities. Like I said, a tiny unpacking, because those thought examples are so incredibly problematic, like whoa.
Who a person chooses to spend their time with says something about their values. If when a person goes to a social event and the people they have actual conversations with, and perhaps exchange contact info with, are white people, then it is clear that person values whiteness. Even if you have small talk or exchange polite head nods with people of color, it is less clear if you value their company.
And a child who observes this pattern consistently is more likely to develop a similar preference.
So how does one develop authentic relationships with people outside of their own demographics? What is interesting to me about this question is that people think it is different from how you develop relationships with people with similar demographics.
Say you are at an event and someone is standing near you. You start talking about the event (the food is good, the main attraction was exciting/fun/interesting), you find out you have kids close in age and you talk about them (funny stories, horror stories, the newest issue with the current developmental stage), one of you knows about a similar event coming up, you decide to both go and meetup there. One of you says, “hey there is park near there, maybe we can meet there early so our kids can play first?” You exchange phone numbers, and tada!, you have a new friend.
So tell me, if you are straight, what changes about this interaction if the other person happens to be gay? If you are white, what changes if the other person happens to be Latinx? How about if the other person is in a wheelchair? Well, you would suggest events and parks that are wheelchair accessible, but other than that……..?
Nothing, nada, zilch.
If you are uncomfortable with people outside of your demographics, your kids will likely notice. Seeds of prejudice can be planted this way, without you even saying a negative word about a group of people. On the other hand, if they grow up with parents with a diverse group of friends, they are more likely to value diversity.
Some words of caution….
People aren’t items on a checklist. This is important. Don’t go to an event with the objective of making an Asian friend. Don’t assume that because you have a black friend you have established yourself as an ally, and need not bother making more black friends.
Ignorance isn’t bliss. Ignorance can hurt people. Take the above thought about gay and trans people, for example. Without some really basic info about definitions, one can easily say something insensitive or even incredibly insulting and hurtful. But don’t worry, I wont leave you hanging here.
Trans is shorthand for transgender. Someone who identifies as transgender does not identify with the gender that corresponds with their sex. For instance, a person with male genitalia that does not identify as male. A person may identify as transgender, gender queer, gender fluid, gender expansive, gender creative, androgynous, non-binary, or two-spirit (ONLY in indigenous North American communities). Note: these words aren’t synonymous.
A person’s sexuality has to do with their enduring emotional, romantic, and physical attraction to other people. Some commons identities include gay, lesbian, queer, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, and straight.
A word about a word. Queer is word that some people use to describe their gender identity and/or sexuality. It is also used as an umbrella term that encompasses all identities and sexualities. Some embrace this term but because it has a long, offensive history as a derogatory word, others find it offensive. It is important to NOT identify someone else as queer unless they self-identify as queer.
Alright, so there you have it: the first step in helping your kids to have an inclusive comfort zone is to look at your own comfort zone and take steps to broaden it.