I recently attended a workshop hosted by Children’s Theatre Company and the YWCA on How to Talk to Kids About Race. This was a free 75 minute speed version of the 6 hour, 3-part workshop the YWCA frequently offers. I signed up for this workshop a few weeks ago, but it came at a good time. While I was attending this workshop, neighbors in NE Minneapolis were marching in a Black Lives Matter rally. A few days before the workshop, my 4th-grader initiated the topic of race for the first time. The conversation went something like this:
“Some kids at school are using the word ‘racist,’ and they don’t even know what it means”
“Do you know what it means?”
“Yes… um. Sort of.”
I don’t watch television, but even I knew of the events in Baltimore. How could I expect my grade schooler to be oblivious. So, I appreciated this workshop more than I expected. I left with a few tools to use and the encouragement to keep going on this journey. There was a lot to absorb in this short evening, but I came away with these eight skills that I will be working on as my children come to an age where they are becoming aware of the world around them — and all of its imperfections.
- Examine Your Own Biases: This is an important one. We can’t eliminate racism in our children if we don’t recognize it in ourselves. I grew up in a small town in Southern Wisconsin. Topics of racism were sort of glossed over by the adults in my life as something of the past. It just wasn’t talked about. But it was there. I don’t want to do the same thing for my children.
- Don’t Deny Differences: Kids aren’t stupid. Like other sensitive subjects (money, sex, religion), I want my children to feel free to be totally open with me. I want them to question authority, listen thoughtfully to the answers and question more if necessary, until they can form educated opinions of their own. They won’t do that if I shut them down.
- Let Kids Lead The Way: If I am ready and willing, my kids will let me know when they need to talk about things. Hopefully, I won’t tell them I’m busy writing.
- Give Straight Answers: I am my children’s guide to this world. They need to feel safe asking me questions without shame and with an expectation of honesty.
- Be Reassuring: Let them know its okay to be different. My answer to my children is, “God doesn’t like uniformity. If he did, he would have made us all beige.” This would be a great time to read A Wrinkle in Time!
- Don’t Overdo It: When my child gives me an opening — I shouldn’t barge through the door with a life-time of good advice and history lessons. I need to let them move on when they are satisfied. They’ll come back.
- Deal With Prejudice and Stereotype: An easy way to do this is to point it out as we watch television and movies together. I don’t want to disrupt family peace, so I may not confront Uncle Bob directly, but I can talk to my kids about it later.
- Expose Kids to Various Cultures: There are so many good ways to do that in the Twin Cities. Urban Expeditions, Festival of Nations (this weekend), Sister City Celebrations (often part of Aquatennial), libraries often offer cultural program, and many churches have festivals where we can learn a little about another culture while getting to know our neighbors. We were reminded not to make cultural exploration all about food and music and not to promote stereotypes — such as leprechauns on St. Patrick’s Day.
These eight suggestions were only the tip of the information that was loaded into our 75 minute program. If you are interested in learning more, the YWCA offers workshops regularly. They can be a bit pricey, but they do offer scholarships and will do their best to be accessible to everyone.
This article was written May 1, 2015