Perpetuating Racism – Messages About Race that White Children Unconsciously Receive

Hopefully our previous post, How to Talk to your White Kids About Racism, discussed how important, and how complicated, the topic of racism is for all of us; and as white parents, the clear necessity but perhaps, uneasiness of, talking to our white children. Especially if this is something you may feel you are not fully informed enough about. This next blog includes some suggestions talking to your white children about race. Children have magical thinking: they see things and they interpret things and they believe things that may be based on myths they have heard. It is always especially important to ask your children what they think, and what they think they know first, given that children are absorbing messages about race unconsciously from an early age. From a developmental standpoint, the earlier your family begins to have these conversations, the better.

To continue the discussion, we have looked at three common myths that children often receive about race and how to respond to them.

Myth 1: Talking about Race is Racist

White students, in theory, receive color-blind messages; they come to believe that merely talking about race is racist and, therefore, something that should be avoided. Students need to learn that there’s a vast difference between talking about race and being racist. Racial talk leads to greater racial understanding and helps undermine the power of racist laws, structures, and traditions. Racist talk, on the other hand, helps to perpetuate the status quo and to further entrench racial myths and stereotypes. Avoiding race talk makes race itself unspeakable, which only perpetuates the atrocities. Racial tension is a reality, but so are cross-racial friendships and communities.

Instead, take every opportunity to talk with your children and celebrate diversity and differences within your community. Always encourage dialogue about these issues, instead of shutting down a curious or difficult question. You are developing a worldview in your little one, hopefully one that believes we are all human, and we all deserve to be happy and healthy. As your children get older you can begin to have conversations about their world, what’s going on in school, what are we seeing on the news? Find moments to expose racial biases.

Myth 2: Race is Not an Important Part of my Identity

Being white may have less meaning to some whites, but that does not mean it has no meaning. Race is a crucial part of everyone’s identity. All white people are white in the context of a society that continues to disadvantage people of color based on race. Being white, in essence, means not having to deal with those disadvantages and therefore not having to notice them. That is a privilege, to lead a life without having to question certain things because it doesn’t necessarily change the way you move in the world. The disparity is that white people can walk around without thinking of their whiteness (the privilege) because every system and institution was built around that very thing. Fostering awareness about the meaning of whiteness requires an understanding of systemic racism. White children need to know that the reality in which they are embedded ascribes unearned privileges to their whiteness. Seeing themselves in a larger racialized context assists white people in understanding how they can work to change racism — and change what it means to be white.

If you have older children or teenagers, spark a dialogue about the history of slavery and its legacy, that is exposed, in every corner of the United States and its systems. Additionally, delve into Black and African histories pre-slavery - there are many narratives and history that have been lost to our problematic text books and media depictions.

Myth 3: There are Only Three Ways to be White: Ignorant, Color-Blind, and Racist

In her book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?, Beverly Daniel Tatum suggests that in the traditional context of race, with these three options, namely: to be ignorant, color-blind or racist - who would choose to identify with their whiteness? She suggests that we have to create a fourth way to be white: the antiracist white identity.

For more information on being a Anti-Racist White Ally - The Dismantle (white supremacy) Collective, is a great place to start:

*and they have an excellent multi-media resource list (books, articles, films, videos) on their homepage.

With your child, encourage action, try to look at everything with a critical eye, racism exists in so many places - open up and be sensitive to it in the media you are consuming. Talk about this with your family. Continue to educate yourself, and if you see something, say something, stand up to racism, that is the power of the ally. Together, we can fight for justice, happiness, and respect for everyone in our global community.

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