It’s not “the talk,” but it can feel just as tricky. It’s important to initiate a conversation about race with your child, rather than waiting for it to just “come up.” And while it’s not an easy or simple talk, it is one you can prepare for. Here are four pretty simple steps to help, along with links to more information so you can dig deeper.
1. Name it and claim it.
The first step towards awareness around race is to name it explicitly. When we confidently use words such as Black, White, Latino, Asian, Mixed Race, Arab and Native American, we give kids the language they need to make sense of what they experience. The old notion of “colorblindness” doesn’t work; it doesn’t line up with reality and never actually did. Instead, we want to see race clearly as we celebrate and honor our differences, our histories and our cultures. Here’s a quick reference:
• Use race terms confidently
• Let your kids know it’s ok to use these words themselves.
• If your kid uses an incorrect or unkind term, correct them. The same goes for yourself.
• Don’t bother pretending you’re colorblind – or that anyone else is, either.
2. Get educated.
Issues of race, and of white privilege, are inextricably woven into our nation’s history. If you live in this country, it’s woven into yours, too. Knowing the truth about where we’ve been, and where we are as a people, is essential to dismantling racism in our homes. Here are some great places to broaden and deepen your knowledge.
• Teaching Tolerance: https://www.tolerance.org/professional-development/on-racism-and-white-privilege
• Unpacking white privilege: https://nationalseedproject.org/white-privilege-unpacking-the-invisible-knapsack
• Raising Race Conscious Children: http://www.raceconscious.org/2017/07/race-matters-story-white-privilege/
• The longest shortest time: How to Not Accidentally Raise a Racist: https://longestshortesttime.com/episode-116-how-to-not-accidentally-raise-a-racist/
• Race, Racism and White Privilege in America: http://www.mediaed.org/whitelikeme/index.html
3. Stock up on truth.
Children’s literature is indispensable in helping inform these kinds of conversations. Books with characters who look different from you (and this doesn’t mean animals!) and celebrate different cultures will ease the topic of race into your child’s worldview. If your child seems not to notice, gently point it out and see what he or she says. In addition, you can intentionally choose books that are written and illustrated by People of Color and represent heroes and sheroes of Color.
Good kids’ books on race
Books with Sheroes/Heroes of color
4. Face race in your kid’s questions.
Your kid has a million questions. That’s normal. Some of them are about race. Also normal. Sometimes he or she may ask these questions in a way that’s embarrassing, stereotypical or that uses inappropriate language. Again, normal. But don’t shut down the conversation there: Silencing a child so as not to offend anyone really just teaches them that talking about race is ‘bad.’ Instead, tackle this stuff head on. The way you handle this topic will be the most important guide for their thinking and future interactions. Here are a few ways to transition from question to answer.
• “You made an interesting observation. Here’s what I know about that…”
• “The word you used is said by some people to be mean. I know you didn’t mean it like that. Here is a different word to use instead…”
• “We don’t talk about the way people look in front of them. When we get home, I’d be happy to try and answer your questions.”
These are just four suggestions in an endless sea of important conversations. Let us know if you have additional tips, or if a personal story has led you to see the value – or the pitfalls – of any of these strategies.
Offered to you by Malkah Bird, MEd & Penelope Dullaghan, artist.
Malkah Bird, MEd, is a certified teacher, a parenting coach and a parent educator at Parenting With You. She teaches at a cooperative school in Indianapolis where she spends her time encouraging her kindergartners and their families to keep having hard conversations.
Penelope Dullaghan is an illustrator, pattern maker and creative explorer. She believes art can help bring about positive social change and that social change often starts with children. As a mother, she's interested in bringing more mindful, open conversation to her to parenting.