African-American Childrearing: The Context of a Hot Stove
In the presence of a kitchen stove, even when it is turned off, parents exclaim “No!” as their toddlers inch toward the stove. Because the stove represents significant potential and actual danger that the toddler is unable to discern, the negative imperative is a developmentally appropriate caregiving response. In everyday life, racism functions as a hot stove for African-American children. Herein, racism refers to its occurrence institutionally (e.g., employment and housing discrimination) as well as to everyday interpersonal occurrences, such as the telling of racial jokes and the assumption that one needs to lock one’s car because an African-American male teenager is standing on the corner. Given the pervasiveness of racism throughout one’s life span, a major caregiving function is to provide early childhood developmental experiences that enable AfricanAmerican children to make appropriate responses to this hot stove. Because parents and other surrogate primary caregivers lack sufficient control over the hot stove and African-American children often experience the hot stove’s harmful effects when they are least expected, characteristics such as resiliency (healthy growth and development in spite of adversity), adaptability (code switching), and healthy self-esteem (feeling positively about oneself in spite of oppression) are critical early childhood outcomes for African-American children. The hot stove burns relentlessly from birth through death, and therefore, it is a fundamental part of the context related to understanding African-American caregivers’ early childhood communication with their children. “Burns” may range from “first-degree” occurrences, such as feelings associated with stares in response to one’s color, to “third-degree” occurrences, such as a college student’s inferiority complex resulting from years of reinforced underachievement.