Talking to Kids About Race

Race was something I didn’t think too much about when my kids were little.  I didn’t understand the depth of its importance.  And that right there is the beginning of the problem.

I have heard the words “White Privilege” over and over again.  I wish I could say that I understood what it meant. 

Obviously I didn’t. Not until just a couple of days ago. When George Floyd was murdered. 

I’m here to say that now I’m starting to see.  But because I’m very white, I won’t ever (NOT EVER) understand what it feels like to be a black person. But now I’m starting to see the problem is me.

How do we talk to our kids about race?

family travel

“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.”

Let me tell you how we started the conversation at our house.  We have embraced the awkward. After I learned about George Floyd, I thought about it, prayed about it, and when the kids got up that morning, I said, “So I need to tell you something.” 

I also stated that I have no idea what I wanted them to take away from the discussion but they needed to know. 

I told them that a man was arrested by the police.  Whether he should have been or not is very important, but I wanted them to know what happened after the man was arrested. I then told them that the police officer used his knee to stop him from breathing even though there were many people asking him to stop and he was already handcuffed.  The man died because the police officer treated the man as if he didn’t have value.  The officer should have never been restraining George in the way or for the length of time he did.  And then George died.

I’m not sure if what I said or did to begin the conversation is perfect, but we started the conversation.  And I know you can, too.  We need to.

Hope

In May 2015, Joy attended a free seminar that the Children’s Theatre Company held that helped her understand how to start.  If you need a place to start, this list is extremely helpful.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. Expose Kids to Various Cultures: There are so many good ways to do that in the Twin Cities. Urban ExpeditionsFestival 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.

If you would like some books to introduce the topic, the St. Paul Library has created age-appropriate book lists or kids Pre-K through High School.

Race talk don't give up


Free OpinionThe CTC/YWCA workshop was a free workshop open to the public. Joy did not receive any consideration for this review.

This article was originally written by Joy Peters on May 1, 2015. 

It has been updated by Gianna Kordatzky on May 29, 2020.

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