While Black families must discuss racism as an unavoidable, and often frightening, aspect of their everyday lives, many white parents justify their silence by telling themselves that their children are “not ready.” But in fact, research demonstrates that children’s awareness of racial differences and the impact of racism begins as early as two years of age, when they begin noticing physical differences.
Jun 1, 2020 - The AAP recommends parents proactively engage their children around these traumatic events, taking into account their age and development. “ …
Jul 29, 2019 - The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) discusses how racial bias works in children, as well ... By ages 2 to 4, children can internalize racial bias. ... Tips for Talking About Racial Differences & Racism.
Avoiding discussions around race and racism is not an option. White people must take it upon ourselves to address these issues with our children early and often. The subject is daunting for many or most white people. We do not have practice. We do not have experiences that educate us. Therefore, we must commit to the conversations, with ourselves, and with our children, at any age.
Consider these topics when you begin:
1. Reflecting Upon Your Our Own Biases
Simply living in a society in which discrimination has played such a prominent role affects every one of us. But we know that biases are learned. The personal biases we hold as parents significantly influence what we teach and don’t teach our children about valuing difference.
We also know that we as parents impart many of the most important, lasting lessons in our children’s lives. If we hope to pass on lessons that emphasize acceptance and tolerance, we have to be willing to live those values ourselves. This calls on and requires us to take on the crucial work of reflecting upon and addressing our personal biases. It is work that is rarely easy — and work that must be ongoing.
Building a positive racial identity requires one to recognize and counter one’s inaccurate beliefs about race. It is critical to realize that no one is free of racist beliefs; therefore, the aim is not to not have them, but rather to recognize them and access the content and knowledge needed to refute them. Self-awareness about race is a lifelong practice that asks us to notice race and racial bias consistently and critically. It is not a passive act to recognize one’s racist and anti-racist identities. If we perpetuate the binary in which people are always either “racist” or “not racist” we deny important critical feedback that might challenge your understanding of yourself and support your long-term anti-racism work.
-figure from White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo.
2. Acknowledge the History of Systemic Racism
Understanding systemic racism helps change the conversation from one of individual culpability to one in which we are all heavily influenced by our position within a system of racial stratification. Acknowledge the history of slavery upon which our entire socio-political country is based upon.
3. Be Clear About the Meaning of Race
Race is a social construct, not a biological fact. But too many people believe the latter — confusing a few distinguishing traits with essential differences.
4. Acknowledge Difference & Speak Openly
Silence amongst white people about racism has two functions. Firstly, there is a significant lack of competency to even participate in conversations on race. But it also inadvertently sends a message that it is not something that White people have to worry about as individuals. Research on white racial socialization makes it clear that many white parents tend to believe its never the right time to initiate a conversation around racism, mostly out of fear: fear of perpetuating racial misunderstandings, fear of being seen as a racist, fear of making children feel badly, or fear of simply not knowing what to say. They talk to their children about race if it becomes relevant in their lives (mostly in negative contexts). Otherwise, they tell their children that people are all the same and that they should not see race. This is inherently problematic.
The intention of many white families, supported by our school system, is to raise their children “color-blind.” But this in fact perpetuates the problem of white people ignoring their own racial biases by telling themselves they are not “prejudice.” While white parents’ intention is to convey to their children the belief that race shouldn’t matter, the message their children receive is that race, in fact, doesn’t matter. The intent and aim are noble, but we have to acknowledge that in our societies, race matters immensely and we should celebrate our differences, not fear them. Silence is omission.
5. Challenge intolerance
Bryan Stevenson, head of the Equal Justice Initiative and author of the book, 'Just Mercy' says, “Injustice prevails when hopelessness persists.” So in order for us to see and work toward justice, we have to believe that change is possible. In order to see change, to avoid the learned helplessness of overwhelming injustices, we must: Keep talking. Stay involved. Educate ourselves. Encourage solidarity work. Commit to daily action. And use our privileges towards justice. Make a plan for change that is actionable and sustainable. This is a lifelong practice.
6. Learn How to Intervene and Model Positive Intervention
White people often lack the skills to recognize, name, intervene in, and/or reach out for assistance in racist incidents. The capacity to name it, to repudiate it, to ally oneself with the target, or to otherwise refuse to collude is critical to promote social change. For more information and tools on how to be a white accomplice, read “White Fragility,” by Robin DiAngelo or Me & White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad. Here are some more;
Guidelines for Being a Strong White Ally:
White Ally Toolkit:
Additionally, we will include a list of books for children about race and anti-racism this week. Many compilations already exist online.
More to come on this topic!