By: Jason Newman, CEO, Boys & Girls Clubs of Muncie—
For the past three months, our kids have been scared, in some cases, terrified, about a deadly virus, that has changed their lives completely. Over the past two weeks, all of our media are talking about the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and most recently, George Floyd (and there are so many others, too many others). For those of us who are white, we are asking, should I talk about this with my kids? And if so, how? For black parents, many of them are just asking how? They already know that they have to.
To answer the first question. YES! We have, for too long, steered clear of conversations with our kids about racism, because they are hard. But it is because they are hard that we need to have them. Your white children go to school with kids who have the burden of having to think about structural racism every day. Our children need to know that and try to be good friends.
How is a much harder question. How much information can we share with our kids? How scared should they be? If they don’t come and ask me about racism, should I bring it up? A lot of my answers here are going to be, it depends. You know your child, and how much they can take. But the answer to that last question, should I bring it up? The answer is yes. Your child needs to know about the society in which they live. They need to know about the dangers that face them, and their peers. They need to know what burdens the children in their classroom face, every day.
So now you’ve decided to talk about racism with your children, how do you do it? Here’s where things get really hard, and a lot will depend on your child, their age, their levels of empathy, and strength. But for general rules, here’s a list.
- The most important thing to do is LISTEN. Listen to what your child has to say and validate their feelings. Your child may be angry, or sad, or terrified. These feelings mirror our own.
- Be open about your own feelings, model that it’s ok to be angry, or sad. Crying is an appropriate reaction. Be open, and honest with your child about how you deal with those feelings. About what you are trying to do to fix things.
- Be honest with your child. A question I hear from kids all the time about racism is, “why? Why do people hate?” Another question is “what can we do to stop this?” Telling your child, “I don’t know” is ok. It’s hard, as a parent, or a teacher, to show that lack of knowledge to our kids. But the truth is, while we all may have ideas on potential solutions, none of us know everything that we need to do.
- Allow your child some time to process things. Just like adults, children need time to process new information to get a handle on them.
- Keep having these conversations. You are not going to be able to fix structural racism, and your child’s life within it in one talk. You, or your child may have new thoughts about what’s going on. This is not a new problem, and it’s not going away without a lot of hard work.
- There are some very good books out there to help you talk about racism with your child. Let’s Talk About Race, by Julius Lester. Separate Is Never Equal, by Duncan Tonatiuh. Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters, by Andrea Davis Pinkney. Unstoppable: How Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team Defeated Army, by Art Coulson, are just a few. Talk to your teachers, reach out to the Boys & Girls Club staff, or visit your local library for more book ideas.
Our kids are always more aware of what’s going on than we think they are. Just as we are all talking about racism here, we need to include kids in these conversations.