Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

Talking About Race

Talking About Race

Sunday’s presentation “Talking to Children About Race” at the Westport Library, co-sponsored by TEAM Westport, was excellent. Catherine Lewis, LCSW and Zoe Tarrant, MA, MFT were the presenters. Their PowerPoint “What Do White Children See?” led them to why it is imperative to talk with children about race. They also offered valuable suggestions.

Catherine Lewis, one of the presenters Talking About Race

Catherine Lewis, one of the presenters Talking About Race

The PowerPoint shows scenes of Westport and beyond that children see. These can lead to stereotypes about race. For me, the scenes showing white teachers, administrators, and sports teams, and a Black cafeteria worker and janitor at the schools were most powerful.

An audience member said, “Seeing white people in leadership and everyday scenes, and Black people in jail and in menial roles was what struck me.”

Zoe and Catherine said, “It’s hard, but don’t be afraid to talk to your children about race. Be willing to open conversations. Ask them about what they’ve seen at school or in their sports activities.”

Zoe Tarrant, the other presenter Talking About Race

Zoe Tarrant, the other presenter Talking About Race

Another audience member said, “Isn’t it racist to bring up race?”

“No,” they assured us. “It will show them that it’s a reasonable conversation to have. If you don’t bring it up, they’ll think you don’t care or don’t notice racist comments or actions.”

Slavery in Connecticut

They described a textbook used in classrooms today that says, “Connecticut did have some slaves. Their owners treated them well and taught them religion and English.” It mentions nothing about the wealth built on slavery in Connecticut.

The truth is that slaves were critical to creating Connecticut’s wealth. Not just the slave owners, but the merchants, textile mills, and bankers all built their empires on the products from and even the trade of slaves in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The legacy of slavery continued in the 20th century with red-lining and bank policies that limited Blacks’ ability to own homes and build their businesses. It continues today with hiring practices, under-funded schools in minority communities, and our social institutions.

At a high school sports event in a nearby town, the all-white town team heckled the visiting Black and Hispanic team with shouts of “Build the Wall.” Parents could ask their children how the visitors would have felt.

Writing and Talking About Race

Yesterday afternoon at the Westport Writers Workshop, one of the participants read a lovely piece about her daughter. She described the difficult situation when her daughter was cut from a team and then from the social connections related to being part of the team.

She suggested her daughter consider volunteering as a mentor to help younger children with their school work. When they arrived for the orientation, the woman said, “The others all looked different from my daughter.” I asked her what she meant. “The others were Black,” she said. “My daughter is white. I don’t know how to say that without being offensive.”

“Say the other young people were Black,” I said. She seemed a little surprised. “Just say the truth,” I said. “It’s not racist to point out racial differences. It’s offensive when you use race to make assumptions about someone’s character.”

The Women’s March

When I saw the Men’s Choir singing at the second service at our Unitarian Church in Westport on Sunday, I assumed I had missed singing with the Women’s Choir at the first service. But our Choir Director Ed said, “The men stepped up to sing for both services so we could give women who marched a much-needed rest.”

Betsy (left) and Cheryl at church on Sunday

Betsy (left) and Cheryl at church on Sunday

At least eight women in the congregation raised their hands when Rev. John asked who had marched. Several women who had been in Washington, New York, or Stamford CT wore their pussy hats. I snapped a photo of Cheryl Dixon Paul and Betsy Wacker.

Anne Khanna sent me the photo of her in the New York March carrying a church banner.

Kristen (left), Anne, and Lorna in New York

Kristen (left), Anne, and Lorna in New York

I was pleased to see Facebook pictures of Dick Foot, Mike Briggs, Patti Nolan, Marilyn Mehr, and other friends who participated.

And I loved the picture Dan Woog sent in his blog 06880. The Minuteman statue, in Dan’s blog wearing a pussy hat, is along the road to the Westport beach. People drive by it often.

Ainehi’s Post- More Talking About Race 

Ainehi Edoro’s recent post talked about book covers and the artists who design them. She especially noted the artist Greg Ruth. She says, “[he] uses a cover design as occasion to reflect on the intersection of race and the artistic process of creating a cover art.”

She says, Ruth wrote “a thoughtful piece on how to avoid common pitfalls when translating the realities and lives of people who are different from us. He speaks candidly from his position as an artist who happens to be white.”

Nigeria Revisited My Life andn Loves Abroad, my memoir front cover

Nigeria Revisited My Life and Loves Abroad, my memoir front cover

“My origins and personal experiences with race, my nearly all white childhood and the reversal of that in NYC and coming into the adult world at a time where white cultural dominance was ebbing and we were seeing much more diverse and colorful faces in our culture, made [Okorafor’s cover] an interesting issue to take on,” Ruth said.

She shares one comment from his piece. I really like this.

“We’re all racial, we’re all tribal. We come from different regions and different places and we see the world informed by those inherent locales. It is our job as artists to both be aware of that reality and to look beyond it when we can, not just when the job requires. It grows us from ourselves and makes of us better at what we do both as artists in our art and as people walking down the street.”

Her post reminds me that I love the cover of my memoir.

Author: Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, blogger, speaker. Born in New York, grew up in mid west United States, lived in Nigeria for 24 years, back in U.S. since 1986. Advocate for racial justice.

3 Comments

  1. Dick Holmquist, Nigeria XXII, sent a text message in reply to today’s post to say, “The film Hidden Figures is an excellent place to start.” Thanks for the message, Dick.

  2. Thank you for your thoughtful posts. Judy