I want to say with an emphatic, “hell yeah!” that you do fit in to these discussions. And don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t.
White people, particularly white parents, are very important in race discussions. Because you’re raising the next generation of white people. The generation where we are hoping that racism is markedly improved. If we want racism to go away, we need to start teaching our children, ALL our children, about the evils of racism, and how to overcome it in their minds.
Because we live in a racist society, we have to admit to ourselves that we are racists. We are all racist. It’s the nature of the societal beast. People of color have had to wrestle with race/culture/racism for generations. White people have not. We’ve had a pass for generation after generation.
But with this generation, I’m hoping that we will stop taking that pass and join in the conversation. The conversation starts at home with your white children.
How to Talk to Your Children About Racism
This isn’t going to be a primer on “how to have discussions about racism.”
It’s not something that you should bring up in some stilted manner. We’ve figured out that conversations about sex and drugs have to happen naturally. Let’s follow that rule with racism.
Don’t worry, those conversations will have openings. But it needs to be on your radar. Wait for it. Your child will ask a question about race/culture/ethnicity. When it happens, don’t shut it down out of fear. Grasp that moment and talk to your child. If, in hindsight, you realize that you already missed an opportunity, don’t be afraid to bring it back up. Part of the conversation is going to be admitting to your child that it’s a really hard conversation to have. Teach them about the fear. But also teach them to embrace the differences. Hopefully, you will make them less afraid.
White Privilege and “The Fear”
Two things that white people need to come to terms with when embracing the idea of conversing with their children about racism. White privilege and The Fear.
As whites part of our white privilege is that we’ve never had to deal with racism before. We have taken part in racism simply by ignoring it and thinking it will go away if we don’t talk about it.
So, admit that to yourselves. First get over that hump. You’ve participated in this. Now move on. I’ve done it. You’ve done it. We’ve all done it.
The fear comes because we worry that we will be exposed as racists. I think that it partly a fear of exposing your racism to yourself.
But if you can admit to yourself that you’ve participated in racism (often unknowingly), then you can address in yourself the fear that someone might think you’re a racist. God, I know I’ve wrestled with this one for a long, long time. I’ve started so many posts and then never finished them because of the fear.
So I’ll just go ahead and say it. I’m a racist. And I don’t mean that I harbor secret thoughts about white power. I just mean that I’m a part of a bigger society that has systemically repressed people of color through multiple channels. I’ve done and said many racist things in my life. Perhaps, even right here on this blog. Because part of my writing about racism is my own subconscious way of learning about the inside part of my brain that thinks things I don’t want to think about.
Once you know that you’ve screwed up and that you’ll probably screw up again, then you can start having honest conversations with yourself and with your friends about real things that matter.
Racism is systemic. It’s a filthy lie that’s been embraced throughout our history. Much of it lies outside the bounds of our control. We live in a dirty, stinky racist country. Sure, some of it has gotten better over time and because of the Civil Rights Movement. That’s all on the outside though.
We have to start filtering it out of our brains now so we don’t accidentally poison the next generation. And that filter starts by being honest with our kids about our own histories.
So with that, I’ll leave you with my own answer to the earlier thread on Facebook. This is what I ultimately thought. And from my perspective, the type of thing I’d like to hear people say to their kids when they ask questions about race, ethnicity, culture or skin color.
What I’d Like to Hear White Parents Tell Their Children:
Here a few of my own comments from that Facebook thread:
“What would you do in a situation with any other family that is not like yours? If the parent doesn’t know the answer for sure, perhaps discussing all the possibilities with your child is in order. If its a family at school or a friend, sure, have your child ask a simple question. Or as the parent, maybe you say, “my child wants to know why you and your child have different skin colors.” Although, in a random public place, you never know if that’s a question that the person is going to be okay with. So I say if it’s someone you’re never going to see again, I think you should deal with it yourself.
“Yes, I think people should talk to their kids about race. I don’t see how that should involve walking up to random people on the street or in the park/ pool or wherever and asking someone else to explain it to your child. Would you go up to a lesbian family and ask them to explain themselves to your child? Would you go up to a handicapped family and ask them to explain themselves? No. You go home and have a discussion and tell them all the things that you do know. And tell your child that it’s rude to ask/assume that someone is adopted simply based on skin color or parental sexual orientation, etc. if you don’t know, you just don’t know.
“We’ve seen handicapped people and Annika wants to know how they became handicapped and I’ve told her I just don’t know. Unless I know the person I’m not going to have Annika ask them because their are some things in life you just aren’t going to have an answer for. Not that I’m comparing skin color to being disabled. But it’s something kids are curious about.”
Why it’s Not Okay to Talk to Strangers About Race:
“I don’t think it’s ok to walk up to random people and ask them to explain something to your child as complex about race and skin color. You can say something like, “Are you wondering if she’s adopted because her mommy has white skin and she has brown skin? Well, it’s possible that she’s adopted, just like it’s possible that any child is adopted. But it’s more likely that she has a daddy who has brown skin and she’s biracial.” Then you can go on and talk about how families don’t all look like your own.
“I think you are more likely to have a really productive discussion about race/culture and the differences between people if you do it yourself, rather than asking a stranger to explain in a few sentences. I also think that you don’t need to be afraid to ask, just consider the context? Is this an appropriate time to be having this discussion?
“And in truth, the real question kids want answered is not whether or not the child is adopted. They really want to understand how is that possible? A white mom and a brown kid? If they come from a world where the only explanation in their minds is adoption, then you need to examine the world you live in and the people you see daily. That is the true education behind this topic and one that cannot be answered by asking some random stranger if their child is adopted. And one that needs some explanation from the parents.”
It’s Okay to Talk About it in Public:
“I also would love it if just once, a white person would give their child that explanation in front of me within earshot. I wouldn’t be offended. Your child asked you the question. So answer it. Don’t pawn it off on someone else because you are afraid to talk about someone else’s skin color.”