Parents commonly choose to raise their kids in cities in part because of the diversity of people. What we give up in terms of smaller spaces, crowds and noise is more than gained back in the rich and varied cultural opportunities around every corner. And yet, despite holding to this ideal, raising children in actual diverse settings turns out to be quite a challenge.
In Charlotte, we tend to live very segregated lives. Many of our neighborhoods, schools, shops and parks testify to this. The “crescent and wedge” phenomenon is backed up by the data, as well as by personal stories.
Collectively, we tend to live in places that are racially and economically isolated. This is not ideal for building a strong, resilient, prosperous and safe city. And for parents who are considering the value of diverse spaces for their children, this is not ideal.
Building the ideal we want for our children will not be automatic, though. We cannot achieve it by just talking or thinking about it. It will require actual practices. By practices, I mean ways of putting our bodies in different places, of thinking different thoughts and of doing different things so that we can get different results.
Here are a few practices I think can help us and our children to build a more equitable and peaceful world.
Put yourself in places outside of your normal routines
This is important for white families like mine, more than for people of color, who are usually accustomed to moving in other cultural spaces. Go to a playground in a different part of town. Visit restaurants in other neighborhoods. Shop for groceries in places frequented by people who do not look like you.
Put yourself and your children in places where you can experience the beauty, gifts and hospitality of other cultures. Talk about all the amazing things you see and experience in a way that reflects that these are normal experiences.
Activist and author Angela Davis says that it is “not enough for us to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.” In a city facing seemingly intractable problems with segregation and poverty, we will all need to work together to build a place that thrives for all of our children.
Getting yourself a little education through a group like Race Matters for Juvenile Justice can be very helpful in learning to see how race operates in you and your children. Brownicity offers opportunities for families with children to explore and “disrupt the narrative of race” in multi-generational settings.
Don’t hide the truth about complexity of our stories
Recently, my youngest son and I were walking in a park when he asked me to explain a plaque that he saw. We read on the plaque that King George II had “given” the tract of land where we were standing to some English settlers several centuries before. As his parent, it was my responsibility to explain the parts of the story that were left out, namely that the land was not King George’s to “give,” and that the arrival of those settlers became doom for Native communities.
For a 6-year-old, this was hard to understand. But for a 6-year-old, almost everything is hard to understand. I would do him no favors by pretending that the story starts with English settlers, or that the story is less complex than it is. Telling the hard parts of our stories is essential if we want the next chapters in the story to look different.
Pay attention to books and media
The books and media that our children consume shape the ways they imagine the world. When buying books or watching shows, pay attention to who is represented, and how they are represented.
When humans are at the center of the story, what is their skin color? What do their communities look like? Fill your house with media that represents the beautiful diversity of the world, and that shows the struggles and triumphs of as many cultural groups as you can.
Diversity is not an input. It is an outcome of just policies and practices. We get healthy diversity through equitable practices. As a parent, you can help put your children in the best place possible to experience the gifts of the varied people in our city. You can also seek to address the policies that have made experiencing those gifts a challenge.
Learn about education policy and talk to your school board member. Write to your county commissioners or city councillors about neighborhood and land use policies. Call your representatives in Raleigh and Washington. Do these things as a parent, stating why you think your children will benefit from changes in policy that will help all children.
These little moves are but a start toward building a thriving city across every neighborhood. Rethinking some parenting and cultural habits is a challenge, but the end result — new friendships, expanded opportunity, surprising hospitality — is worth the effort.
Photo: Lesley-Ann Tommey