By Kerby T. Alvy, Ph.D.
It is important that all children feel positive about themselves and their abilities. It is extremely important that African American children feel positive about being African American, that they have a positive racial and ethnic identification. In line with this important child rearing goal, there are numerous things that parents can do and some things they should avoid doing.
What parents can do:
- Enhance your children's ethnic development and pride in their blackness by drawing attention to and communicating positively about their African American heritage.
- This can include sharing with children important facts about Africa as the country of origin of your family -- facts such as Africa being the birthplace of humanity, and that Africans were the first to make laws about mathematics and science.
- Other actions can include creating a family tree that traces back several generations and gives children a firmer understanding of all who were involved in shaping your current existence. Involving children in "rites of passage" activities at local churches and community groups is another positive identification action parents can take.
- Parents can also regularly share stories about the courage and achievements of African Americans, starting with the most obvious and historic achievement, the election of Barack Obama as president. It is an extraordinary accomplishment that the Obama family is the nation's first family, and that reality deserves continual reinforcement to exemplify that children of African descent have a chance to achieve any goal in life.
- Parents can also highlight and bring pride to the unique customs and ways of speaking of African Americans, many of which have become part of the broader cultural vernacular, including rapping and rap music.
What parents should avoid:
It is also important to avoid references and phrases that are ethnically self-disparaging. Clara McLaughlin of Howard University is most articulate in this regard. She provides examples of communications of a self-disparaging nature (“act your age and not your color”) that promotes “the fallacy that only white is right.” She reflects how destructive this fallacy is, and indicates that “the ability to dig out and expose the roots of black inferiority lies within us. Forget who the first teachers of black inferiority were. This is no longer important. We are now the teachers, and the strength of our people depends on us and how we handle our children.”
Ultimately, the main point is to focus on all the unique and positive aspects of your culture and history in order to raise proud and well-adjusted African-American children who can combat some of those negative messages that are an unfortunate legacy in our world.
Kerby T. Alvy, Ph.D. is a clinical child psychologist and the Executive Director and Founder of the Center for the Improvement of Child Caring (CICC) His newest book, The Soulful Parent: Raising Healthy Happy, and Successful African American Children is available at ciccparenting; for more info, see www.ciccparenting.org.