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How to Talk to Your Kids About Race & Racism

My last post about making your own DIY bug spray was several weeks ago. Since then, anything I had planned to write about seemed trite, so I fell silent.

Once I adjusted to being in lockdown with my family 24/7, I embraced the We Are All One…In This Together mentality that spread around the world with the coronavirus pandemic. It was the first time the entire planet had come together to support each other in our known history. Lots of good things were happening…people were coming together, connecting, helping each other…it was beautiful.

But after 8 minutes and 46 seconds of one man’s horrifying injustice to another man, we are divided again. I didn’t know what I could possibly do or say that would be authentic or meaningful in a time like this. So, I got quiet. I read and I listened.

Our school superintendent, Dr. Donald Fennoy, addressed the school board last week. These are his opening remarks: Superintendent Fennoy Addresses Killing of George Floyd and Reality of Racism in Society.

This was a hard realization for me and heartbreaking as a mother to watch him speak honestly about having “the talk” with his eleven-year-old son. Dr. Fennoy had to shatter his son’s innocence in order to prepare him for what might happen when he grows up… just because of his skin color. No one should live in fear like this for their lives or the lives of their children.

George Floyd’s death is clearly not the only act of senseless cruelty we have witnessed in this country, but it is waking people up. I noticed a sign from a protester that read, “He may not be the first, but he can be the last.”

Exactly. Why have we allowed this to go on for so long? I wasn’t sure this post would still be relevant, but now I know…It’s never too late. This is ongoing, never-ending change that we need to enact now. I have a lot of work to do to educate myself and my kids about systemic racism…as do many.

Change begins in our own households.

I started asking myself hard questions. Am I unknowingly racist? Do I make choices that might be considered racist? How am I contributing to this pervasive problem? As a white woman who grew up with white, middle-class privileges in a small town in Ohio, I was naïve. I had no idea racism still existed…until I went to college. That was a shocking slap in the face. It was not taught in our house. We were brought up to include all people, be kind to everyone, help anyone in need. But we never discussed race or racism because, frankly, my hometown was predominantly white.

This week, I dove into difficult, gut-wrenching stories of innocent people being shot while jogging or sleeping in their own homes…kids being shot and killed for playing with a toy gun…teenagers committing suicide because they were put into solitary confinement for petty crimes…men who were judged by the color of their skin and killed on the street, leaving behind children who will grow up in fear that the same end could come to them on any given day.

We need to explore how we unconsciously contribute to racism. Doing nothing or claiming to be color blind actually perpetuates the problem. Just because we feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean we should stay silent. Social injustices are hard to digest, but we need to look at the ugly truth and become proactive to change the way we function as a society or it will never go away.

I started thinking, what can I possibly do? As a white mom with white kids, I can do a lot.

I can educate my children.

My daughter picked Who Was Rosa Parks for a book report several years ago. She loved her bravery, what she stood for, and her bold stand to make change in an unjust world.

She’s now reading Ashes, the last book in the trilogy about slavery written by Laurie Halse Anderson. My daughter is totally engaged in these books, even as a reluctant reader. However, I fear she thinks this is something terrible that happened in the past and that we don’t have to worry about things like this anymore. I wish this were true. It’s my responsibility as a parent to help my kids see the truth.

Resources to Start the Conversation

The following is a list of resources for parents who want to start the conversation with young children, but, like me, don’t know where to begin.

The first article I want to recommend is Talking to Children About Tragedies & Other News Events. This is a primer for parents who want to discuss any tragedy honestly with their children: hurricanes, bombings, police brutality, etc. while protecting young children from graphic details.  

Books for Young Children:

A is for Activist

All the Colors We Are

Antiracist Baby

Happy in our Skin

Hidden Figures

How High the Moon

I Am Enough

IntersectionAllies: We Make Room for All

It’s Okay To Be Different

Let’s Talk About Race

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History

Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History

Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X

Race Cars: A children’s book about white privilege

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

Something Happened in our Town

Stella by Starlight

Sulwe

The Day You Begin

Whoever You Are

For Teens:

I’m Not Racist, Am I? (Documentary)

All American Boys (Novel)

Monster (Novel)

The Hate U Give (Novel)

Articles for Parents:

George Floyd. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. What do we tell our children? This is an excellent and VERY helpful Q & A with Erlanger Turner, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor of psychology at Pepperdine University, and Beverly Daniel Tatum, a psychologist and author of Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? 

Raising the Next Generation of Anti-Racists: 3 steps you can take to raise your child to be an anti-racist At the bottom of this article are links to diverse books, blogs, and other resources.

Author, Guy Sims, Talks Race and Having Those Important Conversations

Talking to Children About Racial Bias

National Museum of African American History and Culture “Talking About Race” Web Portal

Help Your Kids Find Books with Diverse Characters

Podcasts for Parents:

Talking to Kids About Race – This short podcast offers very practical guidance and is easy to implement with young children.

8 Podcasts That Help You Talk to Kids About Race

Videos for Parents:

We Had The Talk With Our Sons *Being Black In America

YouTube Playlist: How To Talk To Kids About Racial Injustice – I have not seen all of these videos, but am working my way through them.

Book for Parents:

The ABCs of Diversity: Helping Kids (and Ourselves!) Embrace Our Differences 

***

We can’t ignore our differences but we can learn about them to understand each other better. After all, each one of us has a beating heart with the ability to love as well as the ability to break.

Change is beginning to surface regarding the tearing down of racist symbols that pervade this country, like the planned removal of General Robert E. Lee’s statue in Virginia, as well as the ban of the confederate flag at NASCAR.

It’s about time.

UPDATE (08.05.2020): I do not endorse public rioting and tearing down statues. Violence only begets violence and perpetuates hate on all sides. To create long-lasting change, we need to stop arguing and listen to each other. This interview with Harvard historian & legal scholar, Annette Gordon-Reed, helps shed light on this debate.

There is a lot of homework in this post, and it is only a start. There’s so much more – too long to list here, but I’ll leave you with this:

Ignorance is our biggest enemy. The most important weapon we have against racism is education.

Let’s educate ourselves, educate our children, and work towards a better future for all of us. 🌷

The Geek's Wife

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