Building meaningful, healthy relationships among children of color
This conversation was the second installment in our four-part webinar series on resolving tensions and promoting solidarity among communities of color and among children of color, in particular.
In the first part of our series, SooJin Pate and Margo Okazawa-Rey offered their illuminating perspectives on the roots of the tensions, noting the persistence of "divide-and-conquer" strategies, the role of media in normalizing racial stereotypes and misconceptions, and more. We also lifted up inspiring examples of solidarity among communities of color.
In this conversation, we take a deeper dive into how one community goes about forging meaningful relationships among families and especially children of color. Drawing on the experiences and work of Families of Color-Seattle (FOCS), we'll talk about specific ways in which young people of color are currently showing solidarity with each other, about the "critical consciousness" that fuels such solidarity, and about specific ways parents and other caregivers can nurture children who find community with each other.
EmbraceRace: The first conversation in this series was more historical, about the origins of the tensions, the created tensions between BIPOC groups, and a bit about how the media also encourages those tensions. And then great examples of people who are building solidarity across racial lines.
So today we're going to be talking more specifically about kids and how to nurture kind of alliances among kids of color in particular. We're really excited to have the Families of Color Seattle group in, three members of that group, to talk to us about how they're working on that in their chapter.
As hopefully many of you know, at EmbraceRace we have a lot of different kinds of programming with lots more coming out. One of those initiatives is something we call The Color Brave Community. The Color Brave Community is specifically for caregivers, meaning parents, educators, grandparents, anyone, any adult who plays a meaningful role in the life of at least one child of color who's young, zero to eight years old. So early childhood, kids of color, the adults in the lives of those children.
And as part of this initiative, we do a lot of things there, but one of the things that we're especially excited about is hosting racial affinity group conversations for those adults right in the lives of young children of color. And we have registration now open for our next affinity group conversation, which will specifically be on building solidarity among young children of color, which again is the topic of tonight's conversation. There'll be five affinity group sessions. Each affinity group session will be one hour long conversations starting in April. Registration is free. The conversations so far in previous affinity group sessions have been wonderful.
Now let me turn to tonight's program and tonight's guests. We're really pleased to have them.
First, I will introduce Hafidha Acuay, who is the Events Manager and Program Coordinator at Families of Color Seattle, FOCS. She joined FOCS in early 2020 to support their transition from all in-person program into all virtual gatherings in response to the pandemic shutdown. Hafidha is Black, Latina, a grown unschooler, and the mother of a queer, always-unschooled teenager. Outside of FOCS, Hafidha is an avid outdoors woman and the Managing Director at PeoplesHub, an online movement school that serves community organizers. Hafidha, We're really glad to have you. Thanks for coming.
Hafidha Acuay: Thank you.
EmbraceRace: Also introducing her colleague Shawn Koyano, she/her, who is the Program Director of Families of Color Seattle. Again. She was raised by a Black single mother who worked to instill in her the value of her own life, perseverance and the will to thrive. Shawn has worked in nonprofit management for 20 years and values supporting families in community. She's currently enrolled in a dual MSW, Masters of Ed program in Human Sexuality and strives to work with parents of color and birth giving folks to heal sexual trauma. Thank you for doing that work. She enjoys spending time with her family, reading, acquiring and caring for her new plants, being on the water, and growing food. Shawn, it's great to see you. Thanks for coming.
Shawn Koyano: Thank you. I'm happy to be here.
EmbraceRace: And Christine Tang, she/her, who is the Executive Director of Families of Color Seattle, having become the ED in March of 2020. Prior to that, Christine served FOCS at the Director of Programs, and before that, as director of the FOCS board. Christine has two young boys and as an Nigerian-Romanian immigrant, found in FOCS the support and understanding she needed as a mother of children who have intersectional identities. She has an LL.M in environmental law, and previously worked in sustainability and corporate social responsibility. Christine is passionate about issues pertaining to intersectionality, environmental justice, racial equity, and inclusion in education. And again, we're really glad to have you all here.
Christine Tang: Good to be here.
EmbraceRace: And this is such hard work. It's not only that, but it's such hard work. We're quite certain that each of you brings us a personal investment in the work.
So Hafidha, I'd like to start with you, if you would be willing to share just something we should know about you personally that explains why you are drawn to FOCS?
Hafidha Acuay: Thank you. Yeah, I was drawn to FOCS in large part because despite my child having two parents of color, my child doesn't have a community of color. And I did when I was growing up. All I knew as a child was people of color and communities of color until I was 14 or 15 years old. And so I know what that feels like. And my child is 13 years old now, and apart from the first two years of their life, they've never known communities of color. Because of the recession years ago, my then husband and I left and moved to Seattle. We left our families and moved to Seattle and we were away from our families and we've lived here for the past 10 years. And the fact that my child doesn't know communities of color in the way that I did is something that really weighs heavily on me.
There's power in the collective, which is something that I knew that, but I took it for granted because I had it. And it's very obvious at this point, but I realized you can't build a shared identity or culture by yourself. So being with other communities of color or being with families of color, Seattle in particular, is something that's really important to me. And I feel like what my kid is going through, probably other children are experiencing as well.
There's power in the collective, which is something that I knew that, but I took it for granted because I had it... I realized you can't build a shared identity or culture by yourself.
Hafidha Acuay, Program Coordinator, Families of Color Seattle
EmbraceRace: Just curious, where were you moving from before Seattle?
Hafidha Acuay: We had lived in the Portland area, Portland, Oregon, but both of our respective families were there. And we lived actually within 20 minutes of all of our families. So we were just surrounded by my parents, my brothers, his parents, and his siblings. And so moving away from them just kind of removed the day to day experience.
EmbraceRace: Shawn, what's your personal investment in this work?
Shawn Koyano: Great, yeah. So you shared a little bit. I was raised by a Black single mother. My grandparents were heavily involved in raising me. I spent every summer with them until I was about 16 years old. But because of my mother, and we weren't really around a lot of family, we had a lot of village community. So much like Hafidha shared. I really grew up with a sense of community, of the aunties. I couldn't go too far without everybody knowing where I was and what I was doing.
And my experience right now, part of the reason why I do this work also is personal. My children are multiracial, they're multicultural, and it's important for me that they know who they are and where they come from so that they can find success in any space. Because I think we know, in other spaces, there are going to be people who assume or tell them who they are. And so doing this type of work is really personal for me because I want my children to connect with their identity and respect others as well.
And then I think lastly, I want families of color to get the support they need to thrive to have and be rooted in community, whatever that community looks like for them. Because I believe when we're rooted in community, we do grow our capacity to care for each other. And that's really important.
EmbraceRace: Christine, why do you do this work?
Christine Tang: Both Hafidha and Shawn said a lot of what also reflects my experience. And I think we share a lot of the reasons for coming to FOCS. In my case, we had just moved to Seattle literally a month before my oldest child was born. And I realized several months after that that if I wanted to have Black and Brown people in my life in this new place, I had to be intentional about it. And that was the first time living in the US I felt like I had to do that, to seek out, to go out of the way so to speak, or to intentionally seek communities of color. Because on the east coast where I'd lived in large cities, those were majority Black and Brown cities: Washington, DC, and New Haven, Connecticut, and those kind of connections and community building was happening more organically. So that's how I found FOCS.
And once I found the organization after participating in a parent group, I knew that I wanted to be more involved. I loved the beauty that was in this multiracial group of parents, usually mothers, coming together with their babies, with their toddlers, and seeing those kids kind of look at one another and seeing them really just normalize the experience, which I didn't have. I didn't have my Blackness normalized growing up. I think a lot of us didn't. And I wanted my children to keep having that experience. And I wanted to ensure that children in Seattle see themselves as the norm, see themselves and their families and their communities as valued and important and powerful really
EmbraceRace: Thank you so much. So you're operating in a very specific context of a mostly White city of Seattle. So that's different.
We want to hear a bit more about FOCS. Can you give an overview of what you're doing and what kinds of experiences you're trying to create for kids?
Christine Tang: Sure, I'd be happy to. So FOCS, Families of Color Seattle, is a community based nonprofit that serves families who have children of color in the Seattle area. And we do that through programming that supports parents in parent groups, supports parents through arts and cultural activities, and supports communities through systems change and advocacy work. Shawn can tell you a lot more about parent groups because as the Director of Programs, she's in charged with implementing the parent group program, and I know Hafidha is involved as well.
But what I'll say is that we have grown so much from 2013 when the organization was founded. And it was really just moms going to one another's house to, in less than 10 years, having more than a dozen types of parent groups, including many affinity groups, growing to provide parenting support and tools for parents who are raising children of color who are older. So we're not just focusing on providing support for new parents of babies and toddlers, but also seeking to provide tools for parents of older children. Because that's also when things get really hard and really serious when it comes to them feeling, experiencing racism and being very, very much aware of it. FOCS, I've heard from so many people how transformational participating in our services has been to them and the way they parented their children.
EmbraceRace: Shawn, do you want to add to that?
Shawn Koyano: Yeah. I mean, I think Christine shared a lot. I think what I'll highlight is that for us at FOCS really our vision is about children of color being born into loving community that's racially and economically just. So really all of our work is centered around building space for families to find belonging. I think that is at the core of everything that we're doing. We provide newborn and waddler parent groups and affinity groups for multi ages as a space where parents, families, caregivers can come together and talk about the ways that they're impacted as a family of color. And they can do it in a safer space when they're with other families that are oftentimes experiencing some of the same things.
So I was super excited about coming into this work because I have heard stories from families, I have my own story of how I was supported in that way. And I think our parent groups really provide that type of space. I would say the other thing too, is that we're really intentional around the curriculum that we use in our parent groups. We center what we call RICE, which is race, identity, community, and inequity. And so it really is a place for families to unpack their experiences and share resources as well as learn how to advocate for each other and for their own families. And so they're a really special place. I love talking to families and hearing about families who join FOCS for the first time, because I don't think it's ever what they expect. And we have some FOCS in our FOCS groups that continue to connect with the community and parent groups and also through our family programming.
And then I think the last thing I would say that is really special about the work that we do is also providing opportunities for mainly women and non-binary folks to lead these parent groups. They're peer led. And so it really does give kind of opportunities for these folks to step into a role of like giving back and supporting other families as they come up.
EmbraceRace: Yeah, we get so many questions about that and even when we posted about this webinar, people really do want to be part of groups and we always say, "You're the leader that you've been looking for." So it's great to hear that the leaders are the members.
How long have you been involved in FOCS, each of you?
Christine Tang: I was pregnant with my youngest who is turning eight this year. So I first joined a parent group, I became a parent educator a year or two later. I was on the board for a term and then I went on the staff side.
EmbraceRace: Shawn, how long have you been involved in FOCS, in any way?
Shawn Koyano: Yeah. I actually had heard about FOCS prior to beginning to work with them and it wasn't until after I started working, about six months into the pandemic with FOCS that I connected and since then have been in and led parent groups as well.
EmbraceRace: Thank you. Hafidha, how long have you been with FCOS?
Hafidha Acuay: I heard about FOCS when my child, who's now 13, was I think about six or seven. I'm not sure. And then I actually started going to some of the gatherings that were being hosted about four, it's hard to tell in pandemic years, about four years ago. And then after the pandemic began is when I was invited to interview and work at FOCS.
EmbraceRace: Hafidha I want to stay with you. The reason I ask is now struck by its founding in 2013. So of course, I mean, we know that race is a pervasive issue in American life for the life of this country and before this country became a country. But we also know Barack Obama's presidency sort of injected new life into the race conversation here. 2013, Black Lives Matter was maybe just getting started. I'm just thinking of these last nine years or so that FOCS has been around own have been pretty remarkable for the race conversation in this country.
As you think about what FOCS is, what it offers, the whole vibe of FOCS and what people look for in FOCS, how is what is happening in the country is sort of reflected in your programming, your community, what people are looking for?
Hafidha Acuay: I would say that it's really difficult because the pandemic changed a lot of things. It also just changed the venues for having conversations, but even leading up to the pandemic there was Michael Brown, there were all of these different incidences that became quite public that sort of started fueling public interest in sort of looking at systemic racism, policing, all these different impacts, particularly on the Black community. Then when the pandemic began we saw a lot of anti-Asian racism. So there's been many incidents socially, nationally that have drawn people's attention to these topics.
I would say a big shift that I saw occur was people gathering for social reasons. And then people also wanting to gather to really sort of delve into these topics, especially in a multiracial context. So, how do you talk about Black Lives Matter or assault against Asian women for example, in a mixed group of people and what are people's understandings that they're bringing, how are they talking about it with their children? So some of the things that we've done FOCS is we've had spaces that are affinity based and then we also have spaces that are multiracial. There's different kinds of conversations that need to happen in these different spaces but I think the thirst for having these conversations and processing together as a community has definitely increased.
We have a lot of families that are mixed race, the parents are maybe two different ethnicities or several different ethnicities and that's a really big need as well. You also have families where there's White partners or White extended family members and people of color in particular need to have spaces where they can even process those kinds of challenges, especially during the last presidency and just a lot of the violence that we were seeing in the country.
EmbraceRace: Hafidha, as you say, so lots and lots of process including we might say the increasing politicization of racial identity, and people getting together about that. This conversation is about building meaningful and healthy relationships among people of color.
Shawn, with that sort of social political context in mind, what are some of the main ways in which you try to build spaces to have these conversations? What effect do you think your programming is having on the children who are involved? Even if the children aren't there in the room when their parents are meeting.
Shawn Koyano: Yeah, absolutely. Well, I will just say that any type of support that parents are getting, it does reach their children. I think the conversation that parents are able to have, the ease of which they're able to have them really does translate to their children. And it does kind of give their children more competency and understanding about how to navigate the world that they're in. So I think we have parent groups where we're talking about and creating kind of these spaces to share their culture and their skills and their resources, and also get educated in racial justice and in advocacy. And that vicariously is always going to connect to their children. So I think it's doing that.
Hafidha kind of addressed this a little bit, but you know, our parent groups, there's cross racial solidarity that's happening in them. I think in our current political climate, which feels like you're either for us or against us, you're e to have a space where you can come into with many different racial and ethnic backgrounds, whether they be immigrant families or not, to show up and have these conversations really does, well one, it gives you a sense of belonging but it also, I think, tells parents that they matter and that they care. I think in our kind of climate, it's hard to feel that way sometimes times. I know as a Black mom, I'm constantly thinking about the dangers that my children are going to face, the inequities that are out there. But in a FOCS' space, joy is centered, it's not just what's terrible about the world or what they're struggling with or what their children are being faced with, but really is centered around joy and community and support.
Any type of support that parents are getting, it does reach their children... We have parent groups where we're talking about and creating kind of these spaces to share their culture and their skills and their resources, and also get educated in racial justice and in advocacy. And that vicariously is always going to connect to their children.
Shawn Koyano, Program Director, Families of Color Seattle
EmbraceRace: Hafidha, I'm thinking about your saying that you and your then husband came from Portland you had your family, your family was, it sounds like, sort of the bedrock of a community of people of color that you had in Portland. You came to Seattle, you didn't have that, your concern for your child, quite young but it sounds like you've been involved in FOCS for the majority of your child's life.
I'm wondering what difference do you think it's probably made for your child to be involved with FOCS?
Hafidha Acuay: Yeah. I think especially given the way that most of our programming is virtual now, and with the virtual programming, the parent groups sometimes with the little ones, the parents bring their little children. My child will not come on camera. So it's really about me and I've led a group, I've led several groups, expecting parents group and then also a Black moms group. Which, Black moms group is one of our ongoing groups. I think one of the things that it really has done for my child is it's really supported me. And I think Shawn kind of touched on that a little bit, when you support the parents to be as present as they can be, then you're supporting their children in that way. I know for myself and my child, it's actually eased a lot of my anxiety that I had around, oh my goodness, I'm in the city, what's going to happen to my kid?
I think having those spaces to process and having those spaces to kind of plan and also having those spaces to strategize and think about how can I actually support my kid as a kid of color who does not have the same kind of community that I had growing up? You do have to be so much more intentional about everything, the way Christine said earlier and it's exhausting. I'm divorced, I work, I try to raise a teenager. It's not easy at all and I, myself, I'm walking around navigating the world in this Black woman's body. Having the support and feeling seen and seeing myself reflected and my struggles reflected in a lot of ways it's kind of everything. One of the reasons why I insist on working at FOCS as long as they'll have me is because I get to work with two other Black women, for example, which is not a common experience here. It's an opportunity, honestly. And it makes me a better parent, I feel like a healthier and happier person and it kind of just gives me fuel and strength to just kind of keep at and keep resisting the ways that the society and the culture can really just kind of isolate us and make us feel really like we're in it by ourselves.
EmbraceRace: Christine, I'll turn to you. Again, you've worn two, at least two really important hats as Director of Program and now ED, and have been there for now eight years or so. I'm wondering what your perspective is on some of the obstacles to doing this work. All of you, you've talked about feeling valued, about belonging, about community.
What are some of the obstacles in Seattle or for families of color and parents of kids of color to craving that sense of belonging that shows up in your work and poses a challenge for you?
Christine Tang: That's an excellent question. As you were talking earlier with Hafidha and Shawn, it occurred to me that one of the things I heard, especially when we had programming in-person, was parents really expressing the relief that comes from not having to think about the White gaze, just being in a space that's really centering the lived experiences of people of color and lived experiences of children of color. That's something that some of our members, some of our parents don't even realize how heavy it is until they're in an environment like ours.
With respect to the question about what some of the obstacles would be, definitely a lot of it related to the pandemic. We went from having just such a beautiful community building history. Our Founder, Amy Pak, and previous ED, did that really organically and was a community connector, and it was all about seeing and meeting people. So having that move to online was the best thing we could do with what we had to deal with at the time, right?
I would say that is still hard, because it provides something in lieu of what we use to have. It's hard from a connection perspective, because there was so much that was happening in the intimate environment that was someone's living room or even a library room, from having your kids play with other Black and Brown kids and kids of color and seeing that, that that wouldn't necessarily happen at a Seattle playground. As Seattle gentrifies more and more, it's becoming a Whiter and Whiter city.
So I would say the challenge for us, especially in the last couple of years, has been related to the pandemic, and doing our best to maintain that feeling of connection and community among our families. While at the same all of us on staff, most of us, have young children at home. We're dealing with distanced learning and not having childcare and having to work and being worried about COVID and the economic uncertainties at the beginning of the pandemic and all of those things. We've definitely seen nationwide and locally the disparities that the pandemic did not create, but it enhanced, whether those are related to public health, education and in general anything related to opportunity, whether that's economic opportunity, educational opportunity and things like access to mental health and wellbeing programs.
I will add one more thing that has been a challenge for many of us. Really in the last couple of years, our really young children having access to devices and oftentimes even with our best of intention, not being able to supervise them well because they needed those devices to access school online. So my children are still young. I do wonder about children their age and slightly older who had access to information, maybe really awful information related to, I don't know, racist depictions or articles that they're not ready to see or that they didn't have yet an opportunity to discuss with their parents.
Oftentimes, this kind of information could be presented in insidious ways through humor, cartoons, memes shared on social media. So we have to recognize that many children and teens had so much more access to devices and online sources of information, some accurate, some not so accurate, than ever before.
EmbraceRace: There are a lot of questions that have come in registration and now, of course, about what specifically we can do to nurture relationships between kids of color across racial lines. I think a big message that we certainly agree with is to model that, to do that yourself, right?
Can you tell us more about how you foster better relationships between kids of color? Also, the why? Why are these relationships important? And what can you advise folks who are listening are caregivers of BIPOC children and want to do this work but don't have institutional support?
Hafidha Acuay: Well, there's a number of things that come to mind. When I was co-leading a Black mom's group about a year and a half ago, one of the things that we talked about ... The group was so large that we actually had two groups, one for Black moms of younger children and one for Black moms of older children. I was in the school-aged children, and I was in the group of Black moms of school-aged children. A lot of moms had the experience of their children, their Black children being the onlys, the only Black child in their class, the only Black child in theater group, in any number of situations.
One of the things that we talked about was this thing that can happen where because we're in this very White society of just how some of us had become quite shy almost about just sort of making our homes be about basically as Black as possible. We were sort of exaggerating and joking about it, but when you're surrounded, if you're the only Black person on your block or in your neighborhood or at your school or at your workplace, then your home becomes so much more important. Your home becomes, especially if you're trying to ground your children in their identity, whatever their ethnic or racial identity is, then more than you might even personally be inclined, the home has to become a place where when they walk in, they are actually seeing their identity reflected there. They're seeing their heritage reflected there.
So we talked about that. We also talked about sort of resisting this ... it's kind of more of a don't do. It's more of not buying into the belief that it's racist to talk to someone because they share your racial or ethnic identity. If you are some place and you do see another Black family or a family of color that looks like yours or similarly, it's okay to actually just talk to them because they are people of color. It's not racist to do that. It's not racist to want to connect on these things and to just do that.
So to try to make those connections and actually be explicit and be okay yourself with actually forming affinity groups and basically forming caucuses of different types informally, not just formally. So there may not be an institution like FOCS in your community that can provide those kinds of gatherings, but it's okay for us to gather ourselves in that way and to seek out POC or BIPOC peers for your children and encourage your children to connect with people. If they're the only Black child or the only Asian child typically some place, definitely don't ignore another child that you come across who looks like you. But actually see that as, "This might be a point where we can connect."
So those were a couple of things. Then other things that came up was, I think it's really important to think collectively. This is, as I had mentioned earlier, you can't really form a shared identity by yourself. You have to find people to do that with. You can form parent groups. It sounds like EmbraceRace is doing some of this already, which I think is wonderful. The internet, the whole Zoom thing has allowed people to actually find each other and get together and gather in ways that physically might have been really challenging in the past. So we have these tools available to actually connect, even if we are physically geographically isolated from each other. There's other things I could say, but I'll pause there.
If you are some place and you do see another Black family or a family of color that looks like yours or similarly, it's okay to actually just talk to them because they are people of color. It's not racist to do that... So to try to make those connections and actually be explicit and be okay yourself with actually forming affinity groups and basically forming caucuses of different types informally, not just formally.
Hafidha Acuay, Program Coordinator, Families of Color Seattle
Shawn Koyano: I can add a couple things to that. I think when I think about this question, and also building off of what Hafidha shared, I think leaning into your own cultural practices is extremely important. We all come from some type of community, even if maybe it felt like growing up or currently we don't physically have people in our space that do that, but we do have our own cultural practices. I think it's important to introduce our children to that so that they can develop a sense of pride and ownership into who they are. So that would be one way to do this, because I think it's by extension, like you shared Melissa. As a parent, if we're modeling this type of behavior, then by extension our kids come to know it as something very natural to do.
I think another one is opening up possibilities about learning about their own histories. That is super important. I think about my own family with my children. My partner is Japanese and White, and his father was born in the internment camps on the Puyallup Fairgrounds, about a 30-minute drive from here. We had an opportunity to have those conversations with our daughter about what it means to have that history and that legacy as a part of who she is. As well, my grandfather was on the USS Mason, which was the only all-Black Naval seaman ship during World War II that was mainly all the officers were White, but all the seaman that worked on the Naval ship were Black. This was something I grew up with that was a real sense of pride for my family. It was something we that we talked about all the time.
So it was something that really gave me a sense of pride and understanding about who I was. It's always important to have open and honest conversations with our kids about race. I think they know way more than what we think they might know. They notice way more than what I think we might think they notice. So having those open and honest conversations, it's crucial to do that.
I think the last thing I would share is being able to hold space for complexity, because I think about my own child. She already identifies as Black and Japanese. She identifies as queer. She's already forming her own identity. So it's about holding these spaces for complexity and understanding that our kids are kind of navigating the world and they're being fed information. They're learning about who they are. As a result from that, they get to connect with other people and understand other people in a way that I certainly wasn't taught to do growing up. So I think we've got to hold space for complexities in this conversations and not dumb it down. Our kids know what's going on.
EmbraceRace: Thank you for that. A big thing we talked about last time was knowing people across racial lines and talking about it, about the history, your history and other people's history, you really do begin to understand how race works and divide and conquer ways that things were set up and to sort of work together.
I think another really key part of that is that when we understand or when our kids understand that people have privilege, they have places of privilege and places of oppression and that other people maybe in the FCOS group have different privileges and oppression spots, they feel like they have power as well because they can help people sometimes when they can speak up for someone who can't speak up in a moment and their friends can speak up for them. So I think those kinds of things are really, as sad as it is that so many people are being targeted, I think it makes kids feel more bonded together and like they have a lot of power and privilege to stand up for each other. So I think that's a big part.
And the flip side of having relative power and privilege in certain areas, relative to other groups and other identities, is that we also can be part of the problem, right? In some areas we all have blind spots, whether it's on the race, ethnicity, on gender, on sexual orientation of whatever it might be, gender identity and so on, which means that while we may talk a lot about racial oppression, the context of our Black identity or Brown identity, whatever it might be, we also, vis-a-vis other groups, can exercise our agency in problematic ways, in ways that are troubling. To be aware of that and hold ourselves accountable and think how we can exercise allyship or be an accomplice is also part of the journey, hopefully.
Christine Tang: Yes. I think Hafidha and Shawn covered quite a lot, especially in the last two years of being together at FOCS. We have been very intentional about centering those that are furthest from justice and also showing up for affinities who needed FOCS support at a certain time. So for the most of 2020 and 2021, for us, that meant Black people, who are the farthest from justice, including queer, trans, with disabilities and other marginalized identities. When the anti-Asian racism showed a spike, we showed up in events to support our Asian Pacific Islander families. So cross racial solidarity means understanding one another's oppressions and showing up for one another when we need the others to show up for us and doing the same. With the FOCS model, we as parents are our children's first and I would argue the most important educators.
We are the ones who provide the foundation for these children. Research shows that children, by the age of nine or so already have their racial identity and racial conception of the world, biases, already absorbed. So we as parents have the most important in affecting how they're going to absorb that. And if we show up in circles with other families of color, with other parents of color and understand their struggle and their oppression, and they understand ours, and we do understand that this is all coming from the systemic racism upon which our society was built. And it's all through the lens of White privilege. We understand each other of suffering of various forms of racial oppression, as opposed to being allowed to be pitted against one another.
And I trust that this lesson is something that we pass on to our children and they see us coming together in those communities, in those forums. And we model that for them. I would say Seattle is also pretty special in the way that different communities have shown up for racial justice throughout the years. So in the civil rights era here, African Americans and Native Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, people of Mexican ancestries formed coalitions for cross racial solidarity. So this is very, very much what being in Seattle as people of color is about, and we want to uphold and enhance that tradition for our kids.
So cross racial solidarity means understanding one another's oppressions and showing up for one another when we need the others to show up for us and doing the same.
Christine Tang, Executive Director, Families of Color Seattle
EmbraceRace: How do we grapple with anti-Blackness and colorism in communities of color? I wonder if that's something in FOCS in the curriculum or something that you all address.
Christine Tang: So the answer is, we do grapple with that. It's a topic that is discussed and analyzed in our parent groups. As I mentioned, in our groups, people feel free of the White gaze. So we talk about these issues and the way they show up in different communities of color and how it shows up for their children because the cycle, unfortunately, is not over.
EmbraceRace: How do we talk to our children about hate crimes and bias that pit communities of color against each other? In the wake of a huge spike in anti-Asian hate crimes, the media and social media comments often focused on stories where a Black person has attacked an Asian person. How can we create solidarity instead of hatred?
Christine Tang: So we had FOCS provide quite a few options for trainings and workshops. And this is one of the issues that comes up all the time in the way we have those conversations. And once people understand the systemic nature of these inequities and that we're dealing with institutional racism and systemic racism, they understand how it shows up in today's world and they're able to explain it to their children. So I've been able to talk with my children about race and racism since they were tiny tots. There's no child who's too young to understand the concept of race and to understand cultural heritage and to understand a lot of the topics that adults feel really afraid to bring up with children. It doesn't mean that we have to tell them everything with all the horror details, but we can explain things at their developmental level and in language that is developmentally appropriate for them.
My youngest was five when George Floyd was killed and I talked with him about it, and he was able to understand it. That was not the first time that he heard about race and racism. He already knew what it was. So my advice is to have these conversations with the children, not in a big one, sit-down type of conversation, but really just include it in your daily or regular topics. It doesn't have to be one big thing, but just as you talk about ... gosh, I don't know, the weather, politics, economy. It's okay to talk about the realities of daily lives. Don't wait until the children get so old and they do not have a concept of what race and racism is, because then they're going to make up their own beliefs based on all the messages that they're getting from all around us, from the society, from film and entertainment and the internet.
EmbraceRace: I loved a podcast called Time to Say Goodbye. I don't know if you guys know this podcast. They often focus on Asian American issues, authors. It's a great podcast. And they were talking, maybe a month back, about anti-Asian sort of violence against women in New York, these two very big cases. And in talking about it, they never mentioned the race of the perpetrators. And I remember listening and going, "I don't know what the race of the perpetrators is either." And it turned out going back that both were Black and mental illness was involved and all that. But I thought it was really great that they were separating that because it becomes an Asian, Black thing when actually it's about this sort of White supremacy and this anti-Asian hate, among other things. So that's kind of one of the ways is to take apart the media with your kids, especially for older kids and say, "They framed it this way. They could have framed it this other way."
And in fact, there's a professor, researcher at the University of Maryland College Park, who came out with a study recently looking at the best data she could find on, who are the perpetrators of crimes against Asian Americans? And found that in 75% of the cases, the lead perpetrator, at least, or sole perpetrator was White, but it's true that you wouldn't get that impression at all from looking at the coverage in media. So that's another thing, of course. Yeah, just teaching critical thinking skills. Certainly a certain amount of skepticism is probably appropriate. And the origin of these wedges, sort of this divide. Historically, people believe in this divide. Why? And how can we sort of take it apart? We really appreciated the conversation.
Shawn Koyano: I think giving children the history of when different racial groups came together to support each other is incredibly important. When we can show them examples of that cross racial solidarity, they can see that it's possible and they can also figure out where to fit into it, what interests them and how they want to work on behalf of others. And I think that's incredibly important. So I just wanted to add that.
EmbraceRace: Earlier y'all said you wanted to normalize the presence of people of color for your child and for children of color in particular. And I think about what's normalize, or what's treated as the usual in terms of relations among people of color is tension. And we don't want to pretend that that doesn't exist in many places, but it's not all that exists. It's not all that characterized neither the present or the history of relationships among different groups of color. So yes, it's really important to lift up those examples, both to show that there's always been a different way, this really positive, healthy way, and as a model for how we can do more of that, because there's a lot at stake for all of us.
Thank you so much for sharing your experience and insights with us.