Five Conversations About Race That White Families Should Have With Their Children

The resources in this blog link to articles and books that white people can read to help them understand the complexities involved in race relations and provide language and tips for how to have conversations with their children, family members, students, or other white people in their lives. The more we educate each other, the better able we are to support and advocate as white allies.

1. Talk About Skin Color

Discuss the richness and differences in all the beautiful shades, even, or I would say especially, if your whole community is white. Kids notice skin color differences beginning as early as three. Don’t make this a “shushed” conversation. Begin to talk to your children about differences, validate them but do not say we are “all the same underneath” as a way to make children feel they shouldn’t notice or talk about color. We can validate that we are all human beings with different attributes.  My children have blue eyes and blond hair and people mention these features when praising them – these traits are recognized and pointed out to them, so why not discuss the beauty in all people they encounter and the wonderful differences that they recognize. Make it okay for them to ask questions and mention the beautiful differences they notice in people too. Remind them that we are more alike than different as people and make sure you are buying and reading books that show a variety of people and perspectives. This includes people with physical differences as well as skin color.

For Whites Like Me: On White Kids

2. Engage Them Early On With Conversations About Race

When your children talk about a racial experience at school, in the news, or in their community, encourage active, imaginative, strategic thinking. Don’t spout everyone is equal. This minimizes the experiences of marginalized groups. While yes, we should be treated equally, that is not the reality of the world in which we live right now. You can talk about equality and justice and how important it is, since we are all part of the human race, to do everything we can to deconstruct racism and systematic oppression. Explain their job as an advocate and anti-racist and that they must speak up when they hear racial slurs or jokes. Live this by example too. Explain that the work of advocacy is active, not passive. When my children were around third grade, we began talking about race as a social construct which included the reality that we are treated differently based on cultural, ethnic, and socio-economic differences worldwide. I also explained what racism is, and as they got older, they questioned reverse racism. I explained that white people can experience discrimination, bigotry, and prejudice and that this can be valid as a treatment by individuals. Explain to your children that when white people claim reverse racism, they derail an important conversation and make the discussion about them and that this invalidates the real experiences of people of color. Make sure they understand that there is no system in America that works to actively oppress white people. It is the systemic and institutional racism that is real and cannot be experienced by white folk.  Our children can begin to have these conversations earlier than you think. My children knew about Ruby Bridges in first grade and began asking questions about the civil rights movement, segregation, and integration. They can understand issues of fairness very early and that when we are not treated the same, that is not fair.

How to Talk to Your Kids About Race

Racism Explained to My Daughter

Reverse Racism Isn’t Real

3. Talk About Their Identity Privilege

The thing about the privilege of my and my son’s (and 3 daughter’s) identity, is that there is a choice to be made every day whether or not to resist oppression.  Working in solidarity with people of color means recognizing your own positionality. One of the most important things my son can do is engage those who share the same identity in dialogue. Help your children understand the deep history of racism and white privilege and to understand that oppression is constant.

Helping Students Explore Their Privileged Identities

Facing History and Ourselves

4. Teach Children to Listen to Those With Identities Other Than Their Own

Children should establish a way to converse or be informed by a diverse group of people. Lead by example through your choices in who you follow in social media, types of movies, books, and music you choose and your circle of friends. Are all the books you read written by white men? Are all the people you follow on Twitter or FB white? Follow or Listen in on conversations by diverse groups and have a dialogue with your children together. Be purposeful in the books you read aloud to your child. Make sure to pick stories showing strong protagonists of color and a range of diverse voices. I ask, after every movie we see, “ What were the roles of women in this movie?”, “ What roles, if any, were played by people of color?” My older children are used to this by now and are critical themselves, to the point of sharing this attitude with their friends.

For White People, on How to Listen When Race Is the Subject

5. Join Schools or Organizations That Support Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

This will support you in your efforts to raise a socially conscious child. The great thing about technology is that we do not have to feel isolated from diverse voices even if we live in an area that is all white, like I did growing up in Indiana.  Research groups that support social justice if you cannot enroll your child in a school with this philosophy. You can also seek training or coursework in social justice.The more you know, the better prepared you will be to answer questions and address bias. This in turn, will help you talk about race with your children. Most people are just unaware or uneducated on these issues. That makes it hard to speak with your children. You will be surprised that by reading a few resources and listening to a variety of voices, how quickly you will build a knowledge base and a comfort level. And, as most who work in anti-bias would tell you, be prepared to lean-in to your discomfort. It is not easy. Tell you children that too. I would even go as far as to say, dig deep into your discomfort. For those of us in the privileged group, we have a responsibility to do our part in order to help move the conversation and this country forward.

 Community Change, Inc

Social Justice School: IDEAL – Inclusion, Diversity, Excellence, Acceptance, Leadership

The White Privilege Conference


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