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Transcript here. Resources at bottom.

Talking to our children about racism and police violence is not just our duty to black folx as white allies, it is a service to our children. And yet so many white folx shy away from doing this hard work. Many of my acquaintances have told me their child was too young, or had too much anxiety or is just too sensitive and just couldn’t handle the topic of racism.

But black children are also young, have anxiety, and are sensitive. And they have no choice but to be educated at home about racism. Their parents MUST talk to them about racism and police violence to protect their lives.

If murder by police happened in your circle, you would be forced to talk to your small children about that death. It is a privilege to educate ourselves and our children about racism rather than experiencing it.

We want our kids to be resilient but we often overprotect them in a way that limits their access to learning strength and resilience.

We want them to be free and be critical thinkers but then we protect them so hard that they feel stifled and don’t have to learn from their own unskillful choices.

We strive to spare them anxiety and then we fail to give the skills to deal with the anxiety that will be absolutely inevitable in our culture.

We don’t talk to them early about hard things like racism and drugs and sex and death and police brutality and so we set them up for being blindsided and without words for their feelings when they find these topics out in the world or in media or misinformation from other adults.

We want children who are flexible and resilient.

We want children who feel intrinsically empowered to make their own lives better and the lives of others better- rather than feeling powerless.

We want children who are in tune with their empathy? Well Learning Empathy starts at 2.

White parents talking to white children about racism helps them to identify and challenge  complacency, powerlessness, pointless white guilt, painful white shame, and teaches them they can be empowered to put their voice out, their body on the line and their eyes stopping to witness and record injustice.

We’re in a time of revolution. This uprising is miraculous and something our children should see and be able to remember. This is a long haul fight and our children will have to fight it too. And ideally we will have a revolution to save the planet as well. That might not be pretty either, that might need riots too. In that scenario would you not understand your child’s need to burn it all down to attempt to protect their own exitance?!

So our white kids need to not be fragile, they need to be flexible and empowered and READY.

  • unafraid of receiving new information
  • informed with the times
  • aware of their privilege
  • aware and respectful of the power they have been given as a while person.
  • aware of how to leverage it to dismantle oppressive systems.

When we feel truly powerful, we don’t need to fear and hurt others.

Talking about race is really hard for white people. Let it be hard, we don’t have to do it perfectly. Let’s let our children practice it and fail at it home first so that what they bring into the world is more educated and thoughtful.

We don’t need to hide the shadow parts of existence from our children. Let them wrestle with and integrate the darkness of the legacy of whiteness with the positive uses of white privilege. And let’s let them see us do that work.

Yes, Mr. Rogers said just find where the helpers are. But that’s AFTER you explain the injustice. Yes, always end hard conversations with good news about the folks that are doing good work to make change and how we can support them as well as do our own family actions. In my own parenting this method of ending on a high note has been very effective in combatting anxiety and worry.

Yes, lets share our sad and rageful tears with our children so that they may learn empathy. Yes share in the joy and happy tears of humanity supporting humanity so they can feel inspiration and hope.

A Note on Police Violence:

Maybe you are ok with talking about race but you don’t want to talk about police violence because you want your child to still be able to trust the police. I get that because we all want to feel like there will be someone around to protect our children when we are not there. But we have to start thinking outside of the badge.

I urge you to Investigate why you want to protect the view of police as safe when clearly they often aren’t. For our country’s entire history we have watched white cops with blatant racism and black cops with internalized racism hurt innocent people. I have been in many protests where cops who are just people doing their jobs, with fear in their hearts -followed orders to hurt peaceful protesters. Recently, all over the country the police have enacted violence on peaceful protests under the guise of reinforcing an unconstitutional curfew. Humans are very susceptible to fascism and the police ARE the tool of fascism- even while they are at the same time the people you might have turned to- to protect your home, your business, your child. So don’t talk about individuals, talk about institutions. Which institutions could better help the situations that the police go into? What about learning little alternatives to police forces with your child? I just finished The End of Policing by Alex Vitale and We Keep Us Safe by Zach Norris and shared some of what I learned with my kiddo.

Some guidelines for these hard talks:

0-2yrs:

  • Exposure to a diversity of characters and stories and in an ideal world, actual people. Overhaul your bookshelf. There’s even a new book out called Anti-Racist Baby by anti-racism activist and author Ibram X Kendi. “ If you have dolls, diversify their skin tone so white isn’t default.
  •  If you live in a mainly white area, look for groups where folks welcome diversity and become a part of those communities as your child grows up. Moving to a black neighborhood is not the answer.

3-8yrs:

  • Model anti-racist attitudes and behaviors.
  • Ask your child if they want to know more when they have overheard the news your adult conversations about injustice. Create a culture of it always being ok to ask questions.
  • If they ask about what happened or what a word means, give simple facts. “A black man was killed by a white police officer.” And “The Police were hurting people protesting on the street”. Ask open-ended questions about what your child thinks about the situation before you TELL them. “What might be going on here?” “Why do you think that is?” Don’t make their guesses wrong. You can add answers to theirs.
  • Art projects can help us process difficult topics, letter writing can help kids feel involved.
  • Limit the time you are talking to 20 minutes. Continue only if your child takes the lead on the conversation.
  • Don’t be afraid to add extra screen time to share video resources made for children if you have a hard time starting the conversation or answering hard questions.
  • Follow up before bed and the next day to ask if they have any further thoughts or questions. Be okay with saying you don’t know and helping them find answers.
  • Continue conversations about racism and other injustices at least weekly.

9+ Years.

  • Have the conversations honestly and share your fears and tears and struggles.
  • Engage in activism together. Make a family plan about racism. What do you believe in doing, as a family, when you encounter racism out in the world? I showed my child images and videos of white folks putting bodies on the line to protect black bodies.
  • How are you engaging daily, weekly and monthly. Will your family start a fundraiser?
  • For teens, watch documentaries together like 13th, I am Not Your Negro, Let the Fire Burn and Whose Streets.
  • Let’s also investigate with our older kids the idea of reparations on large and small scales. This topic is controversial because white people don’t want to give up money and property which is power- but I’ve never been able to find anything wrong with helping people and extending kindness -especially because people are struggling and you might have the means because you’re benefitting from the systems that caused their struggle.

Obviously with any age of child, if they are going through a brand new personal trauma or having a particularly volatile day, it might not be the correct day to begin a hard conversation- BUT let’s be careful to separate the big feelings that come from hard talks from the fear of causing actual trauma to our children. Thinking that caring, open truth-sharing is trauma-inducing shows immense privilege.

And I want to make a feminist parallel. We always talk about how we should educate our male children on how to not rape rather than educating female children on how not to get raped. The strategy is the same here. The responsibility can’t be on the parents of future victims of racism, the responsibility to prevent violence is on us.

But what if our children get scared and cry when we have all of these talks? That’s good. Empathy is good. Feelings are good. Even guilt for the color of our skin and that our culture affords white skin can be good when you know how to talk about it and move through it. Black children are scared and crying about racism every day- scared for themselves and scared their grown-ups won’t come home. Let’s let our kids cry. How lucky our white kids are that we are alive to hold them while they process, and that we will be there for follow-up conversations. Remember that protecting people from thoughts, ideas and truth is itself fascism. Education and conversation and having big feeling together is gentle parenting.

Resources:

Sesame Street Town Hall on Racism 

Black Owned Bookstore with tons of children’s and adult books of black stories and on race: EyeSeeMe.com

Anti-Racist children’s books at Booklandia 

List of books from Oakland Public Library 

Exhaustive Resource List from Center for Racial Justice  including resources supporting familes and kids of color.

Talking about White Supremacy at Colorlines