Hey Kids! Let’s talk about race!

Focusing on being an upstander, stereotypes and white privilege for tweens and teens.

Transcript from my podcast Awkwardness and Grace.


Hello and welcome to Awkwardness and grace. The last two episodes were focusing on talking to kids about race from ages 2–5 and 6–11. I am a strong believer in talking to kids about race as early as possible. This is really important because racism is so pervasive in our society and our kids are exposed to racial messaging at such a young age. When we talk to our kiddos early they can normalize anti-racism as opposed to racism. I encourage you to listen to the last two previous episodes to obtain some more foundational tools to help you navigate your older kids and yourself as you embark on shifting your consciousness from racist to anti-racist.

When I first embarked on the show talking with tweens and teens I had too much content so I will be doing a series. This is the first focusing on being an upstander, stereotyping and white privilege.

If we want to live in a harmonious world where everyone is accepted and equal as fellow human beings we need to think outside our white box. This means teaching our white teens how to be upstanders and anti-racists by tapping into their empathy, thinking critically, making it personal, listening to their opinion and engaging with them as adults. Partnering these aspects with facts to give them the tools to take action.

But if you are like me, before I could even have an inkling of confidence to talk to my kids about race, I needed to educate myself first. I am not talking about taking extensive college courses, I am talking about reading, listening to podcasts, sincerely listening to African Americans and People Of Color, and yes, you may find it enlightening to take African American history classes. I know I did! So congratulations on listening to this podcast and pushing those comfy corners to get outside our white box. As we move into this teen series I will primarily be focusing on African Americans. The main reason for this is because, for me, I feel there is a historical dynamic in this country between whites and blacks that is in dyer need of confronting, investigating and dismantling. That said Indigenous, and non-black people of color are also true victims of racism and experience all that I will be discussing today.

As you move into anti-racist conversations you will want to use the correct terminology to talk with your teens about race.

At this point your kids most likely know the definition of racism. But let’s just make sure! For teens I compare racism to bullying because kids are pretty aware of bullying. The key difference is Racism is a form of bullying but specifically focused on skin, hair, or physical features. Dictionary.com defines it as: a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to dominate others or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others. It is notable that at the beginning of the definition is the word BELIEF. Meaning that it is a mentally constructed “idea” not a hard fact or even scientifically valid. That doesn’t mean it isn’t real and that it doesn’t have devastating effects on African Americans and all people of color. But because it is a belief or doctrine then it can be dismantled. It may not be easy but it can be done with conscious effort.

What I love about being a mom of a teen is that I get to relate to him more as an adult. Through this anti-racism journey I have been able to talk to my son about what I am learning. Which sometimes means he just looks at me like I have been living under a rock. He is 14 and he is keenly aware of what is going on in America. I remember whispering to my husband about George Floyd being murdered by a police officer. Of course, my son’s antenna went up and he googled George Floyd. Within minutes he saw the video. I didn’t want him to see it because it rocked me so hard and he is a black teen soon to be a black man. Like my son most kids have access to social media whether we like it or not. Teens are very punched into the world and can tell us a thing or two about the injustices in our society. If they say things that are racist and set off your alarm bells then dig into where they got their information. Social media, internet, fellow friends? The internet is a gift on so many levels but it also has some insidious dark sides. Take this “teen time” to correct any information that is wrong or hateful.

If they resist, which is their way of flexing their independence, keep things factual. They want evidence. Search the internet with them or give them internet sources that are factual, evidence based and have real Statistics.

I do have a sense of hope when I talk with teens. They have a deeper level of empathy compared to when I was a kid. Which is valuable in order to be an upstander. My son has told me how he sometimes feels safer hanging with his white friends. I have also heard this from black adults in certain situations. Oddly enough, black people also have a mistrust of white people for reasons I will not cover today.

Unfortunately the safety of whites can be an illusion if the white friends do not know how to be upstanders. I have prepared my son for racial situations. White parents need to do the same by talking with their kids about being an upstander and how stereotypes can make People Of Color and African Americans vulnerable to racism and harm.

What is an upstander? What is a bystander? Basically an upstander is a person who speaks or acts in support of an individual or cause, particularly someone who intervenes on behalf of a person being attacked or bullied.

A bystander is a person who is present at an event or incident but does not take part.

There is fascinating research on the bystander effect.The term Bystander Effect refers to the phenomenon in which the greater the number of people present, the less likely people are to help a person in distress. Often people are uncertain about a situation that they freeze and can’t proceed or they assume someone else will step in. To overcome bystander frozen moments there are actions to take in order to be an upstander.

Here is a situation you can role play with your teen. Your teen is going to be his or herself and you will be David the friend. The teen and David are at the park and the teen sees David is facing someone. You are not sure what is going on and feel confused.

As you look closer David is clearly distressed and the person near him looks menacing.

What do you do??? You have options. You can standby and see how things shake out or choose to be an upstander and investigate the situation further. As an upstander you need to focus, assess the situation and interpret it as a problem. Take a breath and focus.

Breathing brings air to your brain and allows you to hone in on the problem more clearly. Assessing the situation may not provide a clear answer. So error on the side of courageous caution and investigate it further. Don’t let your uncertainty, peer pressure or ambiguity prevent you from proceeding. If it is racially motivated then the person who is being racist can have some deep seated emotional issues with racism and may not be reasonable. Proceed with caution and use a calm voice.

Once you have made the choice to be an upstander,

Take personal responsibility and be the first to come forward. Don’t assume someone else will take the first step.

It may not be clear how to help especially if you think you are in harm’s way. An option is to seek help. Bring others around you to help like an adult or person of authority. One aspect of the Bystander Effect is that other people around you may not know what to do and will be paralysed to make a move. Lock eyes with a person near you and yell to them to get help. This snaps them back into reality so they can proceed and take action.

This can happen really quickly. Always be prepared to film the situation or Engage another person to film the situation with their phone.

If you feel confident then step into the situation to defend your friend and quickly take them by the hand and lead them away to a safe place. You can also bring another friend into the situation and take the victim away together. The victim may also be terrified so firmly tell them “let’s go.” Stay Calm, alert and proceed with caution. Yelling at the bully or perpetrator will often aggravate or escalate the situation so do not engage with them if they seem irrational. Your phone is your weapon of choice. Record or video the situation.

Take the victim to a safe space. If you are near a business or school go into the facility and tell them you are in danger. Being in a safe space can intimidate the bully or racist and can allow you and the victim to obtain help.

This may seem scary. So Be prepared. When my son goes out with his friends I have the phone number of the friends and sometimes their parents phone number. I tell the white kids, that Black kids often get stereotyped and they need to have my son’s back. They are a bit surprised but they always say OK.

Sometimes I am asked by kids “What is a stereotype”. Here is a definition. A stereotype is a mistaken idea or belief many people have about a person, place or group that is based upon how they look on the outside, which may be untrue or only partly true. It is a type of prejudice.

Stereotypes are great starters for talking about racism because everyone can be stereotyped. Wait was that a stereotype??? I encourage you to have a healthy debate with your teen and really listen to their opinion and answers. I know that sometimes it is almost impossible to find quality time with your teens. These can be ongoing conversations. Even a quick conversation in the car is valuable. They are listening even if they don’t act like it.

For teens The starting point of this discussion is to make it personal by having your teen start with their own gender and move outward from there.

Ask your teen what do they think is stereotypical of girls? Stereotypical of boys?

How do they feel about those stereotypes?

Do they think they are always true?

Do they think it is true for themselves?

Have they ever been stereotyped?

Do they like it when they are stereotyped?

Next move into what are some stereotypes of Black teenage boys or black teenage girls ? Their answers can be very revealing. Ask them why do they think this? If they have a friend that is African American then ask if their friend is like that stereotype. If not, how do they think their friend feels to be stereotyped?

If your teen gives an example of: Black men are great athletes. Ask them “Why?”

They could answer: There are mostly black basketball players on the court. Hmmm? What about your friend Marcus? He is not on the basketball team at school. Your teen may say “ Well not ALL black guys are basketball players”. Point out that he or she made an assumption about black men even though their friend is not like the stereotype of ALL black men. Show your teen how limiting it is to stereotype people, especially negative stereotypes. If all black men are great athletes then we as a society will expect them to be great athletes. The black man that is not a great athlete may be a genius at Astro physics, like Neil De grass-Tyson. But because we think he is supposed to be a great athlete when we look at him we will not see or even inquire what other aspects of him are valuable.

Let’s say your teen says, “Black people are stupid or trouble makers or worse, like criminals.” This should really set off some alarm bells. Again move into inquiring: Why do they think this way?

Have they had an experience with an African American person to reinforce this idea?

Did someone tell them this? In order to undo this idea of black person as criminal, have them think of a friend that is AA. .

hopefully they have a friend that is African American. Ask “How would their friend feel if they knew you felt this way?” How would your friend react if she was stereotyped as a criminal? If they do not have a personal friend, someone within their community or their church then find public figures as examples like, Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Herschel V. Wade, a biophysics professor or Erica Joy Baker who has been a senior engineer for google and Microsoft. None of these “Black People” are criminals, stupid, or play basketball professionally.

Have your teen take some time to put him or herself in a black person’s place. How would it feel if someone assumed you were stupid, a trouble maker or criminal just because of the color of your skin? This exercise stimulants your kids to think critically about assumptions they have made whether consciously or unconsciously. By tapping into their own feelings they can have empathy for their friends that are being stereotyped. And be more likely to think before making judgments fight this injustice.

Building on this conversation ask where they heard these stereotypes? Racism is so pervasive in the American life that we are consuming these implicit biases without knowing it. Friends, media, school, church, place of worship, family or just walking down the street. The reason It is so important to keep pursuing these conversations with your kids is because with the bombardment of racial rhetoric in our society we need to nip in the bud any racist information they hear, see or experience and help them to assess the information they receive. And guide them to realize the hateful and damaging effects of racism.

Let’s say your teen and their AA friend are at the mall. They both have backpacks because they just came from school. They enter a store and the AA teen is immediately followed by the sales clerk. The sales clerk does not ask if they need help finding anything but they continue to stay glued to your African American friend. This may take your white child by surprise. This is a good opportunity for your teen to be an upstander. They can say to the sales clerk. “Hey, why are you following my friend”? The African American teen has most likely been preparing for this or has experienced it before. The first time my son was followed by a sales clerk he was when he was nine! And I had to talk with him about stereotypes at nine years old so he was prepared if it happened again.

Ask your teen how they think their African American friend feels about a store clerk following him or her? Or if a mall security guard accuses their African American friend of stealing even though they didn’t steal anything. How would your white teen feel if they were followed by a store clerk or accused by a security guard. It is dehumanizing. Encourage your white teen have a heart to heart talk with their black friend about being black in America. It is your teens turn to listen. This can be an enlightening conversation for them. If your teen hears something from her friend that she didn’t know, have her acknowledge her friend and if need be apologize for anything your teen said or did that may have hurt her friend. Even if she didn’t know she did it. This will let her friend know that she respects her as a human being and that she is becoming aware of her role as a white person in America.

So let’s pile on some intensity. How about a black person walking through a white neighborhood. I know of a professor that was walking through a white neighborhood on his way home from work. The police were called three times on this man for walking down the street! This is where stereotypes can become dangerous. The white neighbors were using their white privilege to weaponize their power by calling the police on an innocent black man. If the police officer was racist and assumed the man was a threat, even without evidence, then this man could have been murdered. There are many examples of innocent black teens being murdered by the police or “white “ wannabe police. Take 17 year old Trayvon Martin. He was walking home eating skittles when George Zimmerman followed him for no justifiable reason, tackled him, shot him and killed him because he was black. Ask your teen “How he would feel if he was walking down the street and a fellow citizen or a cop pulled him over and interrogated him about walking down the street?” Or worse shot him because of his or her skin color?

Ask your teen “How his AA friends feel about walking home from school through a white neighborhood?” They are probably terrified.

Ask your teen “How would his African American friend would feel if one of his parents were murdered by the police because of their skin color?”

How would they feel if their own parents were murdered because of their skin color?

My teenage son is hyper aware of the target on him because of his skin color. In fact, my son’s white friends and teachers were completely unaware that the reason my son has been late to school a few times is because he won’t run down the street to catch the bus. When they asked “why?” My son told them he was afraid to run down the street because he was worried he would be targeted by the police and possibly hurt or worse. White teens don’t have to worry about the police tackling them because they are running down the street to catch the bus. This is a daily thought for our black youth. They get to start their ride to school worrying about their personal safety. My son’s white friends are now a notch more aware of the black experience and can tap into their empathy for their black friends or friends of color more easily. That is what diversity is for!

We have talked about when your teen is socializing while walking around. Now let’s jump into the car with your white teen driving the car and a black friend is in the passenger seat. The music is blasting everyone is grooving to the music and your teen sees a red flashing light in the rear view mirror. Of course they are stricken with mild terror especially if it is the first time it has happened. Hopefully you have had a conversation with your child about what to do when they get pulled over by the police. If not, they should slowly and safely pull over, turn down the music, take off their sunglasses and keep their hands on the steering wheel. Be respectful and do what the police officer asks. Pretty much what black parents tell their black children also. The difference is that when your white teen is alone they can reach for their wallet or into the glove box for the registration. White people have a privileged relationship with the police. They could even get a little mouthy with the officer Without raising a red flag. If they are with a black teen they need to ask the police officer if they can reach for their wallet. Both of the teens need to turn on their cell phones to record or film. Even if the phone is left on the seat it is still recording. The black teen needs to keep their hand visible to the officer at all times. In Fact, they need to put their hands on the dash in plain sight! Do not assume the black person is safe because they are with your white teen. The police officer has already assumed the black teen is a threat. They don’t see the black teen as an honor roll student. They see them as black. Your white child is doubtfully at risk. The police officer may have the black teen get out of the car. With hands on the roof or in sight. The car will likely be inspected and if there are any drugs, even a tiny remnant of drugs found the black teen will be suspected and is at high risk to be arrested or harmed.

If the black teen is driving. There is a greater chance they will get pulled over. Every single black person I know from judges to the vice president of Fox films has gotten pulled over by the police for no reason! Black teens are aware of the explicit bias police officers have towards them. Black parents have also had the talk with their kids about how to behave. The white teen needs to keep their mouths sealed and not talk back to the police officers. They will need to keep the situation calm to prevent escalation. Police officers are on high alert because of their training and have been fed the same racist rhetoric from society so their stress levels will be elevated which can often obscure their judgement. Like I said before the black teen will most likely be asked to step out of the car and possibly told to lay on the ground. A perfect example of this is the Recent video of a woman with her children in Aurora, Colorado. She was pulled over because they were looking for a suspect on a motorcycle. If your teen is truly alarmed by what he or she is seeing then they should tell the police officer that they are being recorded and that their friend did not do anything and they do not want any harm to come to their friend.

It kinda breaks my heart to talk so negatively about the police. I have never had a problem, even when I was pulled over. But my black boys will be viewed very differently than me as a white woman. This is my privilege. I have taken my boys to the local police department and the police have seen them grow up. But I still fear one night when they are walking home from a friends house that one of the cops will not recognize them. I do tell my boys not all police are bad but they still need to be on high alert when it comes to the police. It truly keeps me awake at night worrying about their lives when they are away from me.

Your teen may not understand the reasons for stereotypes and the underlying structure of racism that has formed these beliefs. I will cover systems and structures in another episode. But if they are on social media they are probably aware that these are common occurrences. In fact, in 2019, although African-Americans made up less than 14% of the population (according to official census figures), they accounted for more than 23% of the just over 1,000 fatal shootings by the police compared to the white population of 60.4%, only 36.8% were fatally shot by the police.

This can bring the Black Lives Matter movement into perspective. Ask your child what they know of BLM? Do they know it was started after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by the police in Ferguson Missouri in 2014?

Do they know why so many people of all races are protesting?

Does your teen agree or disagree with the protests?

Are there aspects of the protests that your teen understands or doesn’t?

Your teen may say, “All lives matter.” Yes, they absolutely do. Yet, Consider this, someone says “Save the Whales from being slaughtered.” Then another person says “Save all the sea creatures.” Do we then ignore the plight of the whales being slaughtered to focus on all the other creatures that may be in a minor degree of danger? No. We focus on the most endangered first.

Because of the contemporary and historical brutality and murders of black people compared to white people we can no longer deny the truth of their experiences and we need to shift our attention to the most endangered. As white people we do not have these experiences so we need to tap into our empathy and humanity. White people need to use their white privilege to support black folks and hold accountable police and policies that perpetuate racism. .

You may bristle at the term “White Privilege” so I will give you a textbook definition and then we can explore it.

White privilege is the inherent advantages possessed by a white person on the basis of their race in a society characterized by racial inequality and injustice.

So what are a few examples of White privilege. As a white teen I can be loud and blast my music in the car without someone harassing me or shooting me. I can also be angry and not stereotyped as an angry black teen. I will be assumed to qualify for AP classes whereas if a black student was in the same situation they would be suspect or not be considered to be smart. Your white teens will never be told “You are so articulate for a white teen.” Also taking the stereotype examples mentioned earlier I will probably not be in harm’s way or viewed as a criminal because of my white skin.

Awe! But your teen says: “But we are not privileged, we have hardly any money and live in a tiny apartment.” Take a moment and insert a white person living in poverty into all of the examples that have been mentioned in the podcast today. You still have the privilege not to experience any of these experiences even if you are a white person who lives in poverty.

And yes, poverty is also used as a form of discrimination and can be devastating within itself.

Sadly enough the statistics In 2018, Pre-Covid, 20.8 percent of Black people living in the United States were living below the poverty line. This is compared to 8.1 percent of White people, and 10.1 percent of Asian people.

As a white parent you are probably done with the term white privilege. You think, I work my ass off and am successful because of my hard work. Americans do work very hard to survive and to make any gains to be financially stable. It seems to be getting harder and harder to get ahead. The question for your teen is “Do black people you know work as hard as your parents and have the same financial success?” According to the Economic policy Institute: In 2018 the median household income for white families was $70,642 for Black families it was $41,692. Wow! I know what I could do with an extra 29,000 dollars! The wealth gap is even greater. At $171,000, The net worth of a typical white family is nearly 10 times greater than that of a black family at $17,150. Can you start to see why your parents can pass the house they own onto you and why a black family does not have the financial means to even buy a house? I could really go down the rabbit hole as to why this is but I am going to leave that for another episode.

As a teen think about if you worked the same exact job as your black friends. Should you get paid 14.9% more just because you are white? That is a huge privilege!!!

These are really complex issues and as a white person we have the privilege to ignore them because they do not directly affect us. As I see this country battle with racism I am finding more and more white people speaking up against the injustices. It is hard to ignore seeing a black person being murdered by a cop or a wannabe cop. It does affect you on a deep human level that you can ignore but you also have to live with the guilt of being a bystander instead of an upstander or ally to your fellow human being of color.

As a parent it starts at home. If your child has an understanding of stereotypes and the lies they are built on then they can use that knowledge to be an upstander and think before they stereotype and prevent a potentially dangerous situation from happening. Be an upstander to your child and support them by learning to unravel your personal implicit biases and taking action to educate yourself, support policies that are anti-racist, and talk to a friend about your coming to terms with your personal racism. They may be going through the same thing.

Thank you for listening and subscribe to this podcast so you can be alerted when the next talking with teen series comes out. Also I will be posting the transcript onto medium.com. Until the next episode, start those conversations with your teen.



White mom with two beautiful black boys

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