Psychiatrists' book gives black parents advice, guidance

June 23, 1993|By Monte Williams | Monte Williams,New York Daily News

* Should black children be taught to be angry in order to fight racism?

* How can I help my child develop a strong black identity?

* Fighting is a big problem among boys in our neighborhood over such insignificant issues as "He stepped on my shoes." I fear for my child's life. What can I do?

These are among the hundreds of questions that two African-American child psychiatrists, Dr. Alvin F. Poussaint of Harvard and Dr. James Comer of Yale, say have been posed to them by black parents.

They answer these questions and nearly 1,000 others in a recently released book, "Raising Black Children: Two Leading Psychiatrists Confront the Educational, Social and Emotional Problems Facing Black Children" (Plume. $12).

Such a book is necessary, Dr. Poussaint says, because "there are special issues in raising black children in American society, which is still plagued with discrimination and racism."

In addition, says Dr. Poussaint, who was the script consultant for "The Cosby Show," some black parents must rear children in violent, drug-saturated neighborhoods.

Not everything in the 436-page book is race-specific, however. The doctors offer sound counsel on child development and parenting issues (such as toilet-training and telephone privileges) for all parents.

But much of it addresses the special challenges black parents face in a race-obsessed society.

For example, say the authors, it is not unusual for a 4-year-old African-American child to come home and announce that she wants to be white because someone called her "nigger."

If parents confront this scenario, they might "explain that nigger is a name that some people call blacks when they want to make them feel bad. [They should] urge her not to feel bad. Explain that she is not a nigger or anything else bad."

Middle-class blacks rearing their children in affluent, predominantly white neighborhoods must overcome different hurdles than those facing blacks bringing up kids in a poor, inner-city neighborhood, the authors note.

The former might have to deal with issues surrounding interracial dating. And the latter, ironically more so than the former, may have to deal with racial identity problems.

"Many blacks have never met a reasonably fair white person who displays all the strengths and weaknesses of all other human beings," the authors explain. "Thus, it is possible to endow whites with imaginary strengths, weaknesses, and negative intents toward blacks. . . . Positive blackness based on anti-whiteness is as hollow as the reverse."

"Raising Black Children" updates an earlier Poussaint-Comer collaboration, "Black Child Care," first published in 1975 and now out of print.

The revised edition was urgently needed, Dr. Poussaint maintains. Since publication of the first book, the number of black female-headed households has increased. There has been an increase in violence in the black community. And although the black middle class has grown, so, too, has the underclass.

"When we put out the first book, a lot of people asked us, 'Why do you need a book about raising black children?'" recalls Dr. Poussaint. "A lot of publishers turned us down. Some accused us of being separatist."

This time, he notes, no one raised those questions.

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