Talking to white kids about race 101.
A simplified start to end racism.
I published this story three years ago. Sadly there are far too many examples of why there needs to be a major shift in our societal structural racism. White parents please do not cower behind your silence. Use your white power to be the foundation of anti-racism.
Talk! When parents don’t talk about race their kids think it is taboo. Silence is an implicit racial message. A starting point for “The Talk” is to give children positive examples of whites that fought for anti–racism. This will help kids to envision possible ways of being white and anti-racist. Be the one your kids come to when they have questions about race. Make it safe for them to ask questions about something they hear or see.
Get uncomfortable talking about racism. People of color have been uncomfortable and living in a state of terror since before the beginning of this country. If you feel uncomfortable talking to your kids about race, think about how you would feel if your child was black and you had to tell him or her that the world would view them as a criminal because of the color of their skin. Or when you go to your mosque you wondered if it will get bombed. Sit with that discomfort and help change the world for the better.
Racism starts and ends with you. And, you can save a life.
Racism is like bullying. Racism means that skin color or ones race can be used to make one group more superior to another group. In our country the dominant group is white. Throughout history this has been publicly and privately taught. This idea puts people of color at risk. It will help your kids to understand the risk of racism by equating it to being bullied at school. The bully is superior and the person being bullied is at risk. Except the person of color is the one being bullied just because of the color of their skin or religious values. Have your kids notice when someone is being singled out or bullied and encourage them to call out the bully or seek assistance.
Be Camera Ready. When a police officer pulls a car over or is called to a scene, no matter who is involved they are on alert and trained to keep the situation safe. This is stressful and can cause reactions that are life threatening. Unfortunately, our institutions have supported the mistreatment of people of color and have not been held accountable. Every Black American knows that a simple burnt out taillight can lead to the end of their life and are keenly aware about keeping the situation calm. If your kids are with kids of color tell your children to also be highly aware and record or film the situation.
Stereotypes and Racial Profiling. We live in a culture of structural racism. Stereotypes and racial profiling are a reality. Whether it is explicit or implicit. In order to protect the innocent we must realize that people of color (POC) are singled out. I remember the day my 10 year old black son wanted to make a wooden rifle like his white friend. I had to explain to him that if he was seen playing with the toy gun he could be profiled as a danger and someone could call the police on him. Which could lead to him becoming another victim like Tamir Rice. (We all remember Tamir Rice and that gut wrenching video.) Explain racial profiling and stereotyping to your kids. Acknowledge that certain people are vulnerable and together we can create a safer environment for everyone.
Be a hero. Point out injustice to your kids. Kids are natural heroes and hate injustice. Explain that racism is wrong and tell them how they can help. It gives kids a sense of hope that they can do something to help others. For example, if your teenage kids are in a store with a person of color and the POC is being followed by a sales clerk, tell your kids to step between the sales clerk and the POC. If necessary, take the person of color by the hand and lead them out. Peaceful dissent is valuable and can be uncomfortable but being complacent is worthless. Be united not divided.
Hi, How are you? If you see a person of color walking thru your neighborhood don’t assume they are suspect and automatically call the police. There have been far too many phone calls that have accidentally ended someone’s life. Instead, smile, say hello and ask them how their day is going. They could be just visiting a friend. When your kids see you acting in an anti-racist way they follow.
White Privilege. Whites have had the upper hand for centuries. It is so fluid you don’t even realize it. A few examples are having 90% of children’s books without people of color. Having, in general, a positive relationship with police. Or having the privilege of being favored by school authorities. Another example is not having to talk to your children about how the world will view them because of the color of their skin. When your child says “it’s not fair,” remind them that it isn’t fair to treat people differently that are not the same color or religion as themselves.
Color Full or Colorblind? Color blind is just another way of ignoring and perpetuating racism. Color is the first thing people see. People aren’t the same color and don’t have the same experiences. Explain to kids that the reason everyone has different skin color is because of the level of melanin in their skin. Be brave and embrace different races. Celebrate individuality and diversity. Talk. Share. Break bread. Hire them. Be their neighbor. Read books with people of color in them to your kids.
The first and simplest step to end racism is to talk to your kids.
Next, talk to your place of worship or community group about what they are doing to curb racism. Start a social justice program at your kids school and invite all parents to participate. I took my older son to the local police department. (Perfect example of white privilege.) They were very welcoming and gave him a tour. Ask your local police department about community relations and what they are doing to de-escalate situations with people of color. If we can break down the barriers there is room for more understanding, compassion and humanity. Plant the seeds of anti-racism and have an uncomfortable talk.
Yvette M. Brown
A white mom of two beautiful Black American boys.
See my other article on race, And you thought talking to kids about sex was awkward. My new home grown podcast Awkwardness and Grace, conversations with humans about race. Check it out on stitcher or any other podcast source. Peace.