How do we tell our daughter about her dark history?

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

"Will you please bring in the bins when you get a chance?" "Do you mind restarting the wifi?"

"Can you please teach our daughter about slavery, emancipation and civil rights? Oh, and don't forget Barack Obama and Rodney King."

My husband is a proud African-American man. He says the term "African-Americans" speaks volumes; their lost history allows them to identify only with a continent, rather than any of the individual African countries or regions. Their culture, languages, family and tribal connections were decimated by slavery.

I think it is incredibly important that our seven year old daughter comes to know the history of the African-American people. I'd love for her to know of the lives of her ancestors, but that is near impossible. The early history, or the little I know of it, is sad, brutal and dehumanising. As is some of the more recent history. Is it too much for a young child?

I am in the "knowledge is power" camp. The more she knows the better. Sometimes, as parents, we have to make a call on whether we want to sacrifice some "childhood innocence" in favour of another goal.

I'd like to say that any information imparted would be age appropriate, but what is that really?

And who decides? School teachers, Mr Google, the older girl next door? Some of the historical facts are not appropriate for any age, but they are facts. Institutionalised rape, lynchings, separating parents and children, floggings; no-one needs to know these facts, but they help paint a clearer picture.

Will it do her any good? I think so; she will gain some understanding of her place in the world.

Much of the African-American history is centred on struggles; personal struggles, and those of a people to gain freedom, recognition and nominal equality. Her father speaks of the struggles of his parents to give him a better life and opportunities than they, or previous generations, had.


Knowing that other people made sacrifices for her may allow her to see her life in a larger context.

She will learn that every person has a history; their cultural heritage influences how they look, think and feel. And that there should be a place in this world, and this country, for everyone.

I hope she will gain a clearer picture of the complexity of race relations; that nothing happens in a vacuum. That the #BlackLivesMatter movement is the latest incarnation of the centuries old fight for true equality. And that African-Americans are just one of many racial groups still fighting for basic human rights.

As a (very) white woman of Irish descent, I am poorly placed to teach her. I recently read Uncle Tom's Cabin, and knowing the bad reputation Uncle Tom has among African-Americans, I was waiting for him to betray a fellow slave. It's not really a spoiler if the book was written in 1852- he didn't. My cultural biases did not highlight his subservience and passivity as defining features. I can read up on the history to give her a broad outline, but it is not something I have lived or felt the weight of.

My husband was raised in a predominantly black area of a large US city. He was one of only a handful of African-Americans at a high school on the other side of the city, and was in a minority at University. He has been in Australia for over 20 years, but his interest in American issues, society and politics has not waned. He has the knowledge and lived experiences to teach our daughter about their shared heritage.

But when is the right time.