Racism and Children

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Racism is taught. Racism is learned. Racism is not inherent. Right now, it’s not enough to be against racism, one has to be anti-racist. It is a lifelong fight for equity and basic human rights for Black people. Racism and children needs to be discussed.
One of the first lessons a white or white passing child learns is how to dial 911. We tell them that if there is any ever trouble to call the police, the police will help them and keep them safe. Black children, on the other hand, learn that keeping themselves safe looks very different.
 

“Remember that children learn by example. If you are preaching inclusivity while benefiting from a system that oppresses others, what are you really showing your children? Talking to your children about racism shouldn’t be a one time thing, it should be a continued, open conversation in which you both honestly evaluate your actions and beliefs.”

While we watch the news and talk to our friends and relatives about police brutality, racism and protests, children are listening. Children’s developing, inquisitive minds that seek to relate and understand are forming their own ideas based off of what they hear on TV, what they hear their parents say, and how they see their parents act. Often what they are absorbing now is not processed on a conscious level but ingrained in their minds, which is why its imperative that these conversations are had to steer their minds in a positive way. While the topic of race is uncomfortable, don’t be the parent who avoids the topic of race because you’re not sure how to handle it. It’s okay to be uncomfortable right now, because that discomfort brings change.

Equip your child with the tools they need to grow up and be an adult who stands up against and actively fights racism. Raise a child who will be a mediator, a peacemaker. Raise a child who makes a safe space for everyone.

Heal Yourself

How does one raise such a child? By first acknowledging and dealing with your own biases. Unlearning white supremacy and white privilege is a difficult task which can and will be deeply painful. Do it for your children and for George Floyd’s daughter. Do it for all of the Black children who are not taught to call 911 because the police pose the most danger to them. Read books and watch movies curated by BI and POC. Learn about how our systems in America are built on slavery and profit off of the oppression of Black lives. Understand systemic racism and how school districts are segregated. Think back to the times in your life where you exercised your privilege for your own advantage. It will be painful. Do it for your children. If you don’t uproot and unlearn your biases, they will stick with you and show their head when you least expect it, and that will be what your child sees and learns from. Children learn from example, don’t say one thing about race and then show them something different. 
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Talking to Children Under 5

Young children learning about their place in the world will point out differences they notice in people. This is done usually in an embarrassing and uncomfortable way for parents in public. Rather than silencing your child when they point out these differences, embrace and celebrate them. “Mommy, that woman’s hair is in braids!” “Yes sweetie, and aren’t they beautiful? They are a symbol of her culture.” Resist the urge to shush or shame them, this will only begin the process of internalization and will make them feel like they can’t come to you with questions and create a stigma around “otherness.” When describing racism to your children of this age, refer to it as being “unfair.” That BIPOC are treated unfairly in the workplace, on the streets, by doctors, and police. Children understand the concept of fairness and this will resonate with them on a tangible emotional level they can comprehend. This will also inspire their beautiful young hearts to want to take action. Encourage them in doing so. Read them books about racism and watch age appropriate content.

Children Aged 5 through 11

Older, elementary aged children can be more difficult to speak to racism about. They understand more and their questions can be intimidating or hard to answer for parents. That is okay. Recognize within yourself that you won’t have all the answers. It’s okay to say “I don’t know,” to a question they have. If you find that’s the case, make a plan for the both of you to investigate together. Make it a learning experience to go out and find your answers about race. Find out what they’re not learning in school, or what is being covered up. Encourage them to give a classroom presentation on what they’ve learned. Being open and honest with your child builds trust and encourages them to seek out the answers they don’t have. Discuss with them what they are seeing in the news and on their own social media. Ask them what their friends are saying and their opinion on it. Unpack any stereotyping or biases that your child or your child’s friends are beginning to form. Remember that racism is learned, not inherent, and can be imposed upon by peer pressure. Do not shame your child or your child’s friends for their thoughts, but steer them in the right direction of thinking with guided questions.

For Kids 11 years+

Pre-teens know a lot more about the world. Their history classes, while undoubtedly skewed to avoid the real race issues pervasive in American History, will have taught them something about discrimination. Usually along the lines of “we had slaves, we abolished slavery and everything was fine! Then Martin Luther King came and everything was great for Black people!” A dangerous and blatantly incorrect curriculum designed to keep the truth from children who benefit from that very oppressive system. Find out what your child knows about racism in school and let them talk, listening to understand, not to respond. Depending on the school, your child may be angry at the injustice, allow them to feel this. Don’t try to tell them “it’ll all be okay” but rather encourage action. Get involved in your local chapter of Black Lives Matter. Research policies in your local government that suppress Black voices, like lack of affordable housing in areas with higher funded schools and make a plan to take action. Volunteer, encourage diversity. Children are natural empathizers. Encourage them to think about how their lives would be different if they were the subjects of systemic and ingrained racial injustice. You may want to protect your child from these “negative” emotions and truths about the world, but the truth is that children are our future and children will save the world. Create children who grow into caring allies
 

Remember that children learn by example. If you are preaching inclusivity while benefiting from a system that oppresses others, what are you really showing your children? Talking to your children about racism shouldn’t be a one time thing, it should be a continued, open conversation in which you both honestly evaluate your actions and beliefs. While this is a time of pain, anger, and injustice, it is also an opportunity for growth, inclusion and coming together.

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