By Terri Peters, TODAY Contributor
Author and speaker Doyin Richards — a black dad raising two daughters — says he often sees well-meaning parents refer to themselves as "colorblind" parents, who teach their children there is "only one race — the human race."
Richards is quick to set those parents straight.
"I'm not going to mince words — raising your kids to be colorblind is just straight dumb," Richards told TODAY Parents. "And, not only is it dumb — it's dangerous. By doing the whole, 'We're the same,' thing, you're dismissing what a black kid or any person of color deals with."
Richards, who will release a children's book this September titled, "What's the Difference? Being Different is Amazing," says kids cannot grow or learn as people if they believe that everyone is the same. And, especially in the wake of the recent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, the California dad says the responsibility to educate kids about differences falls on today's parents, even when they are unsure of what to say.
"Teach kids to be conscious of race," said Richards. "Teach them to be like, 'This black kid or this Mexican kid has had a different life experience than I have as a white kid, and that's what makes it great. I see their differences and I embrace those differences and want to learn to be a better and more productive citizen going forward.'"
Eirene Heidelberger is the founder of GITMom, a parenting coaching and advice service, and says while parents may feel nervous about discussing race with their kids, it's a necessity.
"No one wants to talk about it because they are completely uncomfortable with it and don't know what to say," said Heidelberger. "Parents stay silent because they don't feel comfortable, but it is up to parents to get educated and find the right words to teach about color, culture and religion."
Lori Riddick, a managing partner at Raising Race Conscious Children, an organization that provides practical tools to start conversations with kids about race, agrees, saying an honest, ongoing dialogue between parents and kids about race is essential.
"Research tells us that when we're silent about race, kids pick up their own definitions," said Riddick, who lives in New York and has two children of her own. "When we don't talk to our kids about race, we maintain a culture of white supremacy, where white is what's normal and we notice race only in terms of negative attributes."
So how can parents steer their children away from "colorblindness" and begin to have open conversations with their kids about race — and racism?
Heidelberger says, depending on a child's age, there are simple steps parents can take to begin the conversation.