Guest Blog – Dr. Howard C. Stevenson, Telling a Racially Stressful Story: Calculate, Locate, & Communicate


It was MJ Quigley, Assistant Head of School at The Chapin School who first turned us onto the scholar and wisdom of Dr. Howard C. Stevenson. MJ was totally invested in what he shared with faculty & administration at a NYSAIS (New York State Association of Independent Schools) Diversity Conference.  We finally had a chance to hear him for ourselves when Dwight Vidale hosted Dr. Stevenson as keynote of Riverdales’s most recent Young Men of Color Symposium. RIISE is a witness to the research he provides the entire independent school community, supporting the emotional, social, and academic success of kids of color attending independent schools.

RIISE is so honored to have him keynote and sit on a panel at this Saturday’s Parent Power Conference 2014 (registered?) where he’ll address prospective and current families of colorWe are super thrilled that Dr. Stevenson is dropping some parent development pearls for successful parent involvement on us today! Enjoy and see you Saturday!
Thank you, Dr. Stevenson.


Telling a Racially Stressful Story: Calculate, Locate, & Communicate
by, Dr. Howard C. Stevenson


I once wrote, “Parenting is a life-long acquaintance with helplessness.” In no other experience have I found this true in my own parenting than when I had to talk to my two boys about racial politics. As African American boys, I believed their lives might be burdened with the pressures of systemic and face-to-face racism before they were ready to deal with it. I worried that I might not adequately protect them from the daily subtle and blatant racial insults I experienced growing up and as an adult. I struggled with foisting my own life experience on theirs by telling endless stories of how I had to walk barefoot through the snow to get to school where racial epithets were thrown on me and my siblings and friends in every class on every day of every year.

Well, perhaps I’m exaggerating about the snow part, but if my research in racial socialization (or talking to children about racial politics), has taught me anything, it’s that every story could be healing and deserves a hearing, no matter how painful. Still, it is different to parent your child to survive life challenges versus to survive and transcend life challenges to one’s racial difference in skin color, language, mannerisms, and style.

My research over the years in parental racial socialization has shown that talking to our children about racial politics is not only healthy but can prepare youth to make sense of confusing and sometimes overwhelming racial encounters. Researchers have found for over two decades that youth who say their parents talk to them about racial pride and discrimination are youth who score lower on measures of sadness, anger, and stress, but who also score higher on measures of well-being and academic success.

While those relationships between racial talking and child well-being are important, I have been more interested in focusing on providing children and youth with racial coping skills they can use before, during, and after racially stressful encounters. The key word in this new direction is racial stress.

Racial stress has been found to be harmful to one’s focus, motivation to achieve and compete. If talking about race in this country is difficult then explaining to our children how to navigate, negotiate, and jump over the racial rejections of the world can be very stressful.

So I’ve proposed that parents use three racial coping strategies when telling stories about racial politics to their children. They are Calculate, Locate, and Communicate. Following each strategy, the parent must remember to breathe and exhale slowly.

The first racial coping skill is to calculate on a scale from 1 to 10 how stressed out you feel at the moment you are anticipating, engaging or remembering the racially stressful encounter. A “10” means to “I feel very stressed right now,” while “1” means “I’m not stressed at all.” Just remember to breathe and exhale after each skill.

The second skill is to locate on your body where you feel the most stressed. Breathe and exhale slowly.  The more specific you can be about the effect of the stress on that body part, the more you will be able to manage it (“I can feel butterflies in my stomach and they are spreading throughout my upper chest area and into my throat so much that I can barely speak”).

The third racial coping strategy is to now communicate that feeling and the effect of the stress to yourself and then to someone that you feel comfortable and safe sharing.

Calculating, Locating, and Communicating, followed by breathing and exhaling each time, will allow you to then tell your racial story to your child and be free of the stuttering and the confusion that often accompanies when someone is unprepared. Then, you can spend most of your energy focusing on your child’s experience of the story and be emotionally available as they have questions or want to practice the lesson of the story.

Dr. Howard Stevenson, Professor of Education and Africana Studies and former Chair of the Applied Psychology and Human Development Division in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. He has co-authored numerous publications on independent school education and students of color. His latest book is entitled Promoting Racial Literacy In Schools: Differences That Make a Difference

Related post: Podcast with Dr. Howard C. Stevenson discussing #IndySchoolGirlsofColor

This entry was posted in Frontpage, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>