Every highly publicized incident of racist police brutality brings public recognition of The Talk so many Black families have with their kids. The “how to try to stay safe despite racism” talk. The “how to take responsibility for other people’s violence” talk. But while Black people have been having that talk for generations—and non-Black people of color have been having their own versions of conversations about racism—white parents also have a responsibility to talk to their kids about race and racism. It’s a different talk, but it’s an important one, too. As Tabitha St. Bernard-Jacobs put it at Romper: “How are you educating your child so that they don’t end up with their knee on the neck of a black man begging for his life?”
Even if your kid isn’t going to be the victim of racism (and no, reverse racism is not a thing), you bear the responsibility of talking about race and racism. No pretending to be color-blind, no pretending it’s enough to avoid overt racial slurs. Anti-racism has to be an active set of decisions you make and actions you take, because it is not enough for Black families to have The Talk. That won’t keep their kids—or Latino kids, or Asian kids, or Native kids—safe if white people don’t fix their own issues.
St. Bernard-Jacobs has some important questions to challenge white parents. Not easy questions, not questions you can address with one conversation or by reading one book. Questions like: “Do black people exist in the life of your family, and if so, what roles do they play? Are these roles only in service to you as a white family or are they genuine friendships and is this the perception of the black person, as well?” Check out her whole piece.
And while that question shows the scale at which white parents need to think about teaching their kids in every corner of their lives, you can find a lot of tip sheets and advice articles online. Here are a few:
- 10 tips for teaching and talking to kids about race, by EmbraceRace and MomsRising
- Resources for talking about race, racism, and racialized violence with kids, by the Center for Racial Justice
- 4 things we should all teach kids about racism right now, by Black Girl Dangerous
- Talking to small children about race, by Anne Theriault at The Washington Post
- Children’s books can help start a conversation about race. Parents have to continue it, by Jason Basa Nemec at The Washington Post
Sometimes it’s difficult to translate the broader points into concrete conversations, though. This list of 100 race-conscious things you can say to your child to advance racial justice is really helpful in that it suggests direct things to say about different situations, and while I can’t quite imagine every single thing on the list coming out of my own mouth, many of them give me ways to think about boiling down complicated concepts to age-appropriate discussions with my own kid.
If you want to get deeper into the ways the lives of privileged white families leave kids with lessons about race that can be very different from the things the parents imagine they’re conveying, read White Kids: Growing up with privilege in a racially divided America, by Margaret Hagerman. As Hagerman explains in this piece discussing her research, talking isn’t enough when it comes to teaching anti-racism—as St. Bernard-Jacobs’ challenge to parents to consider if and how Black people “exist in the life of your family” also makes a point. This approach poses really big challenges to white parents—but we’re talking about a really big problem here, so taking on big challenges is necessary.
(Note: This is all complicated for me personally as the white parent of a half Indian-American child … who looks pretty darn white. I don’t want to talk to him as if he were simply white, but it’s also important to acknowledge that his situation is very different from that of his Black peers. Also, he’s four. Complexity is difficult. But that’s yet another reason it’s important to be thinking it through, actively, right now.)