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Dear Care and Feeding,
I am a relatively new mother and have found “mommy/daddy and me” groups to be a great way to keep me sane while allowing my daughter to be sociable. However, I have noticed how very white these groups are (I’m white myself). Honestly, there have been three or four people of color among the dozens I have met in these groups. We live in a very ethnically diverse part of the United Kingdom, and I would really like my daughter to grow up with respect, understanding, and appreciation for that.
I have valued making new friendships with other new parents, but diversity is such an integral feature of where we live, and I want our circle to reflect that. I think it is wrong for community groups to exclude certain parts of the community, whether intentionally or otherwise—is there something institutionally unwelcoming about these groups that I can challenge? Am I overthinking this or being unrealistic? Our local schools are highly diverse, so when my daughter is older, she will be surrounded by people of all different backgrounds. Is there anything I can or should do about this issue in the meantime?
—So Many White Babies
People most often seek out connections with people with whom they readily identify. This can lead to the “chicken or the egg” situation for these parenting groups: Were they created by white parents who then attracted more white parents? Or were they created by white parents in hopes of attracting other white parents? It’s hard to know the answer to that without speaking to the leaders of these groups, which you should totally do. Let them know that you find it curious that the makeup of the community isn’t reflected in the makeup of the families present, and ask if they’d consider ways to attract a more culturally diverse base.
However, you should also consider that people of color make decisions about with whom we spend our time that aren’t always based on how interested white folks are in spending time with us. I cannot fathom the circumstances under which I’d join a nearly all-white parents group, and I have actively worked to prevent any situation in which that would make sense (i.e., choosing to live in a community in which we were in the minority). Honestly, I can count the number of times on one hand in which I was a racial minority in any space. For many of us, it’s hard to feel happy or safe when we’re surrounded by white folks, and the prospect of desegregating an existing social space is far from compelling.
Perhaps you can create your own baby group that is intentionally diverse. Choose a location that would be convenient to parents of varying backgrounds and meet during hours that work for working parents—the middle of the workweek or early Saturday morning schedules that most of those groups seem to use rendered them impossible for me to join and always signaled to me that the other parents would likely be privileged, white, and/or sending their nannies in their stead. Post invitations in places where diverse groups of people can be found and make it clear that this is a group for children and parents of all backgrounds.
Alas, even with your best efforts, you may find that there are simply fewer POC interested in this sort of activity than you’d like—and that’s fine! You can introduce your daughter to children of other backgrounds at museums, festivals, and other places where families gather, and hopefully you meet parents in those venues with whom you mutually decide to keep in touch. You can also expose her to books, music, TV programs, films, and other art forms that were created by and/or feature people of color in prominent (and nonracist) roles. Finally, the more diversity there is in your own friend circle, the more likely it is that nonwhite children will find their way into your lives without you having to take some sort of special action to get them there.