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Talking to Kids about Racism

Talking to Kids about Racism

In the crucial work to name and eradicate racism in our country, we offer these two excerpts on how to engage children and teens around racial injustice. Both excerpts are from When Kids Ask Hard Questions: Faith-filled Responses to Tough Topics.

Engaging Kids about Racial Discrimination
by Michael W. Waters
We have a sacred obligation of being truth-tellers to young people. While I recognize that I may be powerless to protect my beautiful Black children from experiencing racial discrimination, I also recognize that I am not powerless in preparing them for what they will face. Nor am I powerless in exposing them to others in their people’s glorious past and present who have dared to resist in the face of racial discrimination, and whose courageous sacrifices have blazed new paths of justice for us today.

In seeking to prepare our own children for coming of age as Black in America, my wife and I have tried to C.A.R.E.:

Conversation - We have intentional and honest conversations with our children about what they see and experience.

Action - We have allowed our children to take action, be it in their attendance at nonviolent direct actions such as demonstrations, marches, and rallies, or by taking them with us to vote.

Reading - We stress the importance of reading, and we read, as a family, books and other texts that speak not only of struggle but of those who have and who continue to courageously resist.

Exposure - And, we have tried to expose them to their history by taking them to visit cities and sites significant to the American Civil Rights Movement and by discussing the work and/or tragedies that took place there.

My son is now 12 years old. His young mind has been awakened to the racial disparities of his day. While saddened that these realities endure, I am grateful that, with C.A.R.E., my son is aware. In the end, it may save his life.
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Talking about Race with Children
by Alexandra M. Hendrickson
So what can a white person do who wants to work with children around the topic of racial justice do? How can you witness to the children in your life that you value courage and hospitality?
  • Be more than nice. Niceness is a way to gloss over, to trick ourselves, into thinking that things will get better on their own. Encouraging kind behavior in children is good, of course, but remember that mere niceness will never be enough.
  • Remember that you and your children need more practice just thinking about race. White children need much more practice talking and learning about race than nonwhite children. Children of color learn those lessons on a daily basis, as a part of their lived experience.
  • Educate yourself and your children about race. Paying attention to the local news in your community will reveal topics and issues on a daily basis. Read and discuss and learn alongside your children. Find books in the children’s section of the library written by people of color or that have characters who are people of color.
  • Talk about race. Out loud. In public. Even at your own dinner table. Find as many ways and occasions as you can to show your kids that you are willing to enter into conversations and discussions about race.
  • Internalize the fact that racism is systemic oppression. Racism is not just bad feelings or bad actions. Racism is embedded in the ways we’ve organized our society. Learn this. Know this. Believe this. As you learn more, you can explain these realities to your children.
  • Go back for more, even if your feelings get hurt. I know there have been many times when I’ve felt judged or misunderstood or accused of not understanding race and it has brought me to tears. My job, as someone who wants to strive for racial justice, is to move through those feelings, live with that embarrassment, and see what wisdom lies beyond my tears. Tell your kids about times when you’ve gotten it wrong about race and explain how you’re working to do better in the future.
  • Don’t expect others to do the work. Another common tactic is for white people and white institutions to invite people of color to come teach them how “not to be racist.” Instead, see how you can go to where people of color are and learn from their institutions.

For more help on talking to children and teens on these issues, as well as other topics you may be struggling with as a parent, teacher, or leader, purchase a copy of When Kids Ask Hard Questions: Faith-filled Responses to Tough Topics and/or The ABCs of Diversity: Helping Kids (and Ourselves!) Embrace our Differences.

Photo by Life Matters from Pexels

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