“It can be difficult to have a conversation about race as adults – and incredibly difficult to have the conversation with children or younger adults,” Mbele says.
Yet however uncomfortable it may be, it’s absolutely necessary to broach the topic. Mbele tells us how to go about it.
Recognise the difficulty of the conversation
“We need to start at a point of recognising the difficulty of the conversation, because of the many landmines we may step on,” Mbele says. “It’s important to acknowledge that to the person you’re having the conversation with so as to deal with the elephant in the room.”
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Know where you’re coming from
Don’t pretend to know everything there is to know about the complexities of the subject.
“It’s important to have a reflexive understanding of where you come from: to know what you know and know what you don’t know,” he explains.
“As the adult, you shouldn’t be defensive and think the child doesn’t know anything. Rather, be open to learning things so the conversation isn’t a lecture but more of a contemporary dialogue, one that’s consistently changing and evolving.”
The conversation is never one that ends quickly or conclusively, but is one that we might have to come back to again and again in different formats and different times
Context is vital
Placing things into context leads to better comprehension.
“Explain where you’re coming from with this conversation,” Mbele explains. “And as difficult as it might be, put out there the different histories we have so the child understands that this isn’t just a conversation being had by two people, but one that cascades from a social history.”
Being aware of your own biases is also crucial.
“It’s incredibly important to be forgiving in the conversation about race. This has to to do with you recognising your capacity to be offensive, intentionally or unintentionally.”
The conversation should be ongoing
A talk about race isn’t one that starts and ends in one session; it’s ongoing as your child will come back with more questions about what he or she might have heard or experienced.
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“It’s a series of dialogues that one needs to have because of the evolving and mutative nature of the topic. The conversation is never one that ends quickly or conclusively, but is one that we might have to come back to again and again in different formats and different times.”
There are many voices in the conversation
“It’s easy to monopolise or homogenise the conversation, but it’s important to explain that there are many differences in the conversation of race and diversity that initially might be frightening but are eventually enriching,” Mbele says.
“As much as we speak about race, I think we speak different languages around the subject, and we all have different understandings of what it is. Even more importantly, we’re moving into a more complex understanding of the issue, and the polarity of voices within this dialogue are incredibly important.”