In a Facebook post, I said I would interview the 100th person to LIKE our page and a friend, James Karst was the one-hundredth person. I admit that I had no idea who would be number 100 and so I was not sure what I would interview them about, but when I learned it was James, a white father of two (almost three) white children, I had a good idea what I wanted him to talk about.
One of my goals with Transracial Parenting is to hold webinars for white parents of white children to learn together how to raise white children with an awareness of the legacy of slavery, segregation, Jim Crow and racism in our country, so that they engender a brighter, more enlightened way of being in our world.
As I spoke with James and listened to his responses, I realized that there is no one solution to address the elephant in the room. This elephant needs to be touched often and in as many places as possible. The top things that stood out for me are the following:
1) Do not assume a child’s school education will offer a clear understanding of racism from its origins to its persistence. So how to prepare parents to meet this need at each stage of development with children?
2) More classics and traditions should be retold from a perspective of or inclusion of color so that any child’s library, toys and experience are not white-sided.
3) The notion that it is rude to talk about racism or that racism is a thing of the past should be put to rest so everyone will be able to walk in the room and say without fear that there is an elephant in it. The same goes for noticing color – color is beautiful – so notice, cherish, celebrate and embrace color, but please don’t deny it exists.
4) Everyone has a part in this discussion no matter how awkward or uncomfortable it makes you feel and everyone who moves to the front of the line to speak up is brave.
Interview with James P. Karst (actor, journalist)
How are you addressing racism in your parenting?
My kids are two and four years old and I have a third baby on the way. My four year old never really has shown to us that he notices difference. He has friends who are Chinese and Black and he has never said they look different than him or that he even notices their hair color difference. I’m sure we will talk about it in the future but not sure he recognizes it now.
Let me rephrase that, it’s not that I don’t think he notices because children are observant but I don’t think it is significant to him. However, he is a lefty and he does notice that everyone else is right-handed and says, “Aw, I want to be right handed.”
In what ways are you introducing your children to other races either via books, friends, and art?
The art we have are mostly photographs of us and our family members. We do have some paintings, one of a bridge or abstracts, but nothing really that is from other cultures. For books, we tend to pick what the kids like and books that have been given to them. I do believe books about people of color are underrepresented, but we do have some books that have Black characters or Black and white children playing together. The kids seem more interested in the stories though.
As for friends, we live in a very mixed area, Mid City, and we have a Black neighbor on either side of us. Their kids play with our kids and we are friendly. There is another Black family that lives near here but their kids do things we don’t allow our kids to do, like throw rocks, and so we don’t encourage a relationship with them, only because of what is a discipline problem.
How much interaction with other cultures do your children see you involved in?
We have friends that are Black, white, Asian, but obviously we don’t say we want to have Black friends over this weekend. We do tend to hang out with another couple who are white and they have a white child and my son’s best friend is white, but we do have Black kids in our neighborhood who our son plays with often.
We went on a number of school visits, and I have to say that we visited a school in Metairie that had so few Black kids it was striking and though the school conceded that they have a problem and they acknowledged it is an issue, it was a decision for us not to send our kids there.
Do you feel comfortable going to cultural events that are Black-centric in this city?
We do go to Super Sunday on Bayou St. John and my children love marching bands, but as for cultural events we tend to go to the zoo, aquarium or insectarium or to nearby playgrounds.
Are you prepared to speak to your children about racism and the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow and racism?
No, I’m not prepared. Inevitably, I will have to have this conversation but I don’t think a four year old can understand slavery, segregation, Jim Crow or persistent racism. I don’t think he will get it. I am hopeful that part of his school curriculum will address these issues.
We do have basic conversations about why you shouldn’t make fun of other people because they are different, or you shouldn’t taunt people, and these are gateway conversations to more complicated ones.
I think I have the same feeling as most white parents have that were not victims of racism, if they ignore it they are in some way validating that it is over. Racism is difficult to talk about and difficult to explain.
One thing I was thinking of before you called is that bias is a part of human nature. If you witness a crime and a policeman comes to ask you what did the person look like you will most likely be able to describe the person you saw. In the case of my son who is left-handed, he thinks about how he is different from right-handed people and it bothers him. There is also an evolutionary structure where babies look like their parents and in particular newborns look like their father. This is a far cry from oppressing people who are different, but there is difference that is noticeable.
A big issue in New Orleans is our crime problem and a lot of people make it a racial issue but we live in a majority Black city so that is why it seems (and I don’t know if it is statistically true) that more Black youths commit crimes. I work at the Times Picayune and nola.com and whenever there is an article on crime inevitably we will get racist comments that we have to strike. We do have an economic problem in the city where people live in squalor right next to people who live in mansions. So it’s not what’s wrong with Black kids who commit crimes it is what is wrong with us – with our schools, our ineffectiveness in dealing with racism, with kids living in blighted housing.
The truth is that I have two white kids and another white kid on the way and I haven’t talked enough with my kids about this subject.