When Anthony Peterson’s grandson, Damon, was 5 years old, he asked: “Am I black or am I white?” Upon hearing that he was white, Damon decided, “When I grow up, I’m going to be black.”
While there was nothing wrong with Damon’s ability to distinguish colors, Peterson said his grandson was exhibiting an early understanding of how society imposes values on racial identity.
In his work, Peterson, who holds an Ed.D. and degrees in religion and psychology, strives to foster thought-provoking discussions on race — a potentially fraught topic for many.
“In our lives we follow a stubbornly ingrained false narrative,” Peterson said. “We tell children that race is real but that race doesn’t matter, when the opposite is actually true. We believe that any mention of race exaggerates our differences, minimizes our similarities, and exacerbates our problems.”
Peterson maintains that race is a necessary topic everywhere from the boardroom to the classroom. Studies have indicated that when adults avoid discussions about race, children receive messages about it that are inaccurate at best and damaging at worst. Children, he said, just want to know the truth.
“Children who are taught to be colorblind are blindsided,” Peterson said. “When we talk openly about race, we don’t burden children — we free them.”
Peterson shared examples from his own life, including a discussion with his granddaughter, Chelsea, who was horrified at a drawing of a black Elsa, a traditionally white character from Disney’s “Frozen.” Instead of “letting it go,” Peterson wanted to engage with his granddaughter about her reaction. “I had to venture into that discomfort,” Peterson said. “What followed was a loving and truthful conversation between three white children and their black grandfather.”