When it comes to social injustices our silence is complicity. The death of George Floyd is the most recent murder of yet another unarmed Black man by law enforcement. Black people in America are tired. As a black mom with black children and a black husband, I’m tired. It’s not enough to say, “Well, I’m not a racist” or “I’m teaching my kids to not see color” (which is a terribly flawed philosophy, even with the best intentions) and believe your job in this fight is done. We have to be proactively anti-racist. We have to teach our children to be proactively anti-racist. As parents raising the next generation this is a responsibility we all shoulder.
Talking about race, addressing the varying levels of privilege we all hold, and how these all play a hand in systematic racism is critical to begin breaking down these barriers. It’s never too early to start having these conversations with our children. Talking about race can cause feelings of anxiety and discomfort, but to stay silent costs us so much more. This chart from The Children’s Community School shows us a fascinating breakdown of how children perceive and think about race. At 3 months a child will look more at faces that match the race of their caregivers and by age 5 a child already holds the same racial beliefs as the adults in their household — associating some groups with a higher status than others.
How do we begin to have conversations about race with our kids and why is the phrase: “I don’t see color” problematic?
Each one of us is different and it’s in those differences that the beauty of humanity shines. One of those differences is that we do indeed have different skin colors. It’s not wrong to acknowledge this. To say: “I don’t see color” is to ignore the lived experiences of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, turning a blind eye to the bias, racism, and prejudices they experience as a result of the color of their skin. It ignores the systems in place that give one skin color enormous privilege over another. By having these conversations with our children we give them the tools to begin to break down these systems and demand change.
“Don’t shy away from talking about race — kids are aware of the differences in color,” says Maureen Williams, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. “Be honest in your answers: [There are] many people, cultures, races, etc.. If they say, ‘That lady is brown,’ reply with, ‘Yes, she is.’”
Racism is more than one group hating or prejudicing another based on skin color, which tends to be the simplified version of this complex issue that children are taught. Racism goes beyond the color of our skin — it’s the stereotypes, assumptions, and resulting discrimination that happens based on someone’s racial identity, including language, cultural behavior and norms.
“Learning is hard. Unlearning is harder. Pretending that most of us don’t need to do either when it comes to racism is its own form of violence.” – Brene Brown
How do we challenge racism in our lives?
1. Acknowledge your privilege.
We all have varying degrees of privilege. If you are white, the color of your skin affords you a level of privilege that gives you an automatic step up in the systems and institutions within the U.S. — from the freedom to walk into any neighborhood without fear for your life to the clothes you choose or way you style your hair to the education you receive and positions you hold in your place of work. An important distinction to remember about white privilege is that it doesn’t mean you haven’t struggled, it means you haven’t struggled as a result of your skin color.
2. Check your biases.
We all have explicit (biases we know we have) and implicit (ones we don’t). According to the Kirwan Institute, for the study of race and ethnicity, at Ohio State University, implicit biases are “the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, decisions and actions in an unconscious manner. These implicit biases we all hold do not necessarily align with our own declared beliefs.” The first step in challenging these biases is acknowledging that we have them in the first place. It’s important to take note about decisions or judgments we pass, asking ourselves and being honest in answering: Would our opinion change if this person was a different race, gender, religion? What if they looked, spoke, or dressed differently? What if they were part of a different group?
3. Speak up.
Call out family and friends who make racist or stereotypical remarks or jokes. Being anti-racist means challenging this narrative. Even it means telling grandma or grandpa that’s inappropriate and why. Having these conversations are uncomfortable, but this is how we begin to make change. Our children are watching and listening — looking to us as an example of how to navigate the world.
4. Celebrate and encourage diversity.
Read books written by people of color. Read books featuring diverse racial identities and cultural experiences. Each of our stories is important and by making a conscious effort to introduce our children to the richness of the different cultures and racial backgrounds of the world we help them to be more kind and empathetic to all. More than the stories we consume, do we engage on a regular basis with people who only look like us? Or is our inner circle diverse? Do our children have toys of varying ethnicities? Do they have friends or take part in sports or programs where participants are diverse or does everyone look like them?
5. Learn Black history.
This will help give you a better understanding of systematic racism and open up the discussion so that the whole family can gain a fuller understanding about the many layers of racism and how it’s harmful.
6. Listen and do your own research.
It’s so important that we listen rather than talk and defend when people of color share their lived experiences. Also we cannot look solely to black and brown people to educate on racism and how to fight it. There is a wealth of resources and information that’s just a quick Google search away.
“You are responsible for becoming more ethical than the society you grew up in.” – Eliezer Yudkowsky
What are some kid and adult books that support conversations about race?
- AntiRacist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi
- List of Coretta Scott King Book Awards Winners
- Outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.
- 35 Children’s Books That Celebrate Diversity
- 31 Children’s Books To Support Conversations On Race, Racism And Resistance
- An Antiracist Reading List Of Books For Adults
- How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
Ravelle Worthington is a wife, momma of three, and the founder of Mommy Brain. Follow her on Instagram here.
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