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Talking to Your Children about Race and Racism

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Written by Crossnore’s Meredith Martin, Senior Director of Program Excellence, and Amber Rucker, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) Manager.

Meredith: 

As a parent of nine year old twins, my spouse and I have found ourselves “all in” at every stage of parenting. We went from never sleeping and spending all our money on diapers and daycare to teaching our children how to read and navigate remote learning during the pandemic. In each of these stages I have tried to access resources about “how to parent well.” (Whatever that means!)

A Missing Piece

As I look back on my parenting journey so far, I realize one major thing was missing from these resources: how to talk with my children about race and racism. My spouse and I are white, as are our children. We have tried to integrate conversations about race into our family. But I realized that unlike our friends in biracial families or families of color, this was something we could, in theory, shy away from if we wanted. This was part of our privilege. 

While I can’t go back and change my past parenting decisions, I can commit to talk openly with my children about race and racism going forward. It’s never too early! I’ve started to give children’s books about race and diversity to all my expecting friends as a way to encourage others to start these conversations with their children too.

My colleague, Amber Rucker, Crossnore’s DEIB Manager, has taught me a lot about this topic. She shared with me some simple steps to take as I continue to talk with my children about race and racism.

Know What the Studies Show

Amber: 

Studies show that infants can begin to recognize the difference of skin color and other physical features starting around 6 months of age. Infants can distinguish differences when opposite from their primary caregiver and family. (Winkler, E. N. (2009)). 

When is it too early to talk with your kids about race and racism? The short answer is, it is never too early. Studies show that by 5 years of age, children can begin to show favorability of one group over another. (York, S. (2016)).

Check and Confront Your Own Blind Spots

So how do you begin to explain the concept of race and racism to your child/ren? First, you must be aware of what biases you have as a parent. What have you been taught or what experiences have shaped the way you perceive a group of people? Before you can begin the conversation with your child/ren, you must understand your own blind spots and work to confront them. 

Meredith: 

My journey toward being an antiracist has been grounded in checking myself and seeing the many ways I need to grow. I have engaged in conversations with friends and colleagues from diverse backgrounds. I’ve read many books. I have spent time in conversations with my spouse about how we can continue to do better as parents in our journey towards raising antiracist children. This process has not always been easy or felt comfortable. But I have realized that it is a part of the process of unlearning the embedded aspects of racism in the U.S. culture.

Realize that Representation Matters

Amber:

Consider what exposure your child/ren has to different groups and cultures-in your home, community, school, extracurricular activities, books, and media. Remember representation matters. Not only does your child/ren need to be exposed to difference but they also need to be exposed to things and opportunities that represent who they are as well.

Meredith: 

As I began to take this work more seriously and examine the places my family needed to grow, my spouse and I felt very strongly that we wanted to move so that our children would be raised in a more diverse community. Both of us had been raised in racially diverse public school systems. We wanted that same experience for our children. 

This summer we moved. And we are excited that our children are now in school, extracurricular activities, and church with more families that reflect the beautiful diversity of the world. This is not a step all families can take. And it is not a necessary step for everyone. But, it was something that was important to us, as our children are in a formative time in life. We wanted to foster a love for the diversity of humanity. And representation was something they did not have. We needed to change that.

Be Open

Amber:

You do not have to know all of the answers. Parenting is a journey with your child/ren. Acknowledge that there are groups of people who are different from you and your family. Celebrate the uniqueness that groups who differ from you bring. Educate yourself on their history as a people.

Meredith: 

The more I learn (and unlearn!), the more I realize I do not have all the answers. I create opportunities to learn with my children about people who are different from us. We’ve diversified our home library, and the books we check out from the public library. I make sure we have books with protagonists of color. This list of books, curated by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, is a great starting point for parents who want to find great antiracist children’s books that you can share with your families.

Listen to Your Children

Amber:

Find out what their understanding of race and racism is. With exposure to loads of information in school, group play, and experiences with their peers, they are apt to gain their own perspective of groups that differ from their own. 

Meredith: 

Like many young families, we have two working parents and kids running different ways more nights than not. We try to eat together as much as possible and carve out quality time to listen to them. During some of these conversations I learn so much from my kids. 

Recently, one of my daughters told me two of her new classmates speak English as a second language. They moved here from India and Central America. As someone who moved herself over the summer, my child was able to respond emphatically to these kids over their shared experience of moving. Plus, she realized these children had the added experience of living in a different country, culture, and language. I was delighted to see my child quickly connect with these kids, welcome them to the USA, and appreciate them for who they are right now.

Be the Example

Amber:

As parents, we are their first role model. They are watching our body language and behavior. Our children are listening to how we speak each and every day. As parents, we are their biggest contributors to their development and view of the world.

Meredith:

Engaging in these steps with my family and increasing our conversations about race and racism have had profound impacts on our family. I invite you to consider which steps you are called to consider as a parent. This is a journey. Join me in it!