Racism: What Do We White People Say to Our Kids?

Racism. Many of us are just learning that it still exists. What are we supposed to say to our kids when we ourselves are just learning?
Racism. Many of us are just learning that it still exists. What are we supposed to say to our kids when we ourselves are just learning?

The atrocity in Charlottesville should have more conversations about racism than ever happening in white families. It is uncomfortable, though. Many of us are just learning how we perpetuate racism and that we ourselves are racist. Shouldn’t we get a grasp of things before we start talking about it with our children?

The answer is crystal clear: we do not have time. Waiting is not an option. Our kids can come along on this journey with us and see how change happens.

Writing this piece and it is extremely uncomfortable because I am just learning about racism and my role in it. I stick to two or three topics here because they are the only ones I thoroughly understand. This one I do not thoroughly understand. I’ve been asked to speak out though, and so have you. I have been told that saying something, even if it’s wrong is better than being silent. So both here and in my family I am saying something. Here is how it went in our family yesterday:

We got back from swimming and the kids put on their iPads while I was making lunch. I turned on the Trump press conference about Charlottesville because I wanted to see what he would say. Owen came over and watched with me.

About half way through Owen (nearly 10) asked me what I thought, and this is what I said:

“To me Owen, it sounds like he is saying what he is supposed to say. I am just learning though, so when I watch something like this I try to just remember what is said. Then I go to some reliable sources to see what their commentary is, because I know that I do not understand most of what is happening here. I need to read the thoughts of people who do understand.
I will read or listen to almost anything intelligible because I think it gives context. There are some things I will not read or watch. But for a real understanding I have a few trusted sources that I specifically go to so that I can understand better.”

Should We Talk About Racism With Our White Kids?

Yes. Racism is a normal part of conversation in our all white, 1/2 male, 1/2 female household. My son is beginning to see his responsibility as a straight, white, english-as-a-first-language-speaking, cisgender, American male. My daughter is beginning to understand the injustice that too many of her friends face simply because of who they are.

I did not understand how I contribute to racism every day of my life until recently. Now that I am learning I can better guide my kids. I recognize that I mostly get it wrong. I understand that by writing this some may be angry because it seems like I am patting myself on the back. While I may be getting this post wrong, my intention is not to celebrate myself. I would much prefer not to post this and deal with all that comes with it.

I am posting this because I know racism is a conversation that is not happening in most white households. Some people do not want to admit their racism, so they don’t talk about racism. Some people think it does not apply to them, so they don’t talk about racism. Some people are ass holes, so they don’t talk about racism. Other people though, do not know where to start or how to begin, so they don’t talk about racism.

Like everything, I believe we just have to begin. It’s okay to tell our kids we don’t know. It’s okay to get it wrong. It’s okay to say “I told you something before that was inaccurate. I just learned something, can I share it with you?”

We do not have to be outraged or volatile as we commit to learning and change. We can just learn, together, so that change happens.

We will be embarrassed, ashamed even, at what we learn about ourselves. This cannot stop us though. We white people have a responsibility to right this injustice that we unknowingly perpetuate on a daily basis. We need to step up in front of our children to bring about faster change.

I posted this on my Facebook page over the weekend. I hope it reads as profoundly as I feel it. When it gets unbearably uncomfortable and I am certain we are doing more harm than good, this will be the question that steers me. Maybe it will steer you, too:

Right now, you cannot be on both sides. You are either on the good and right side of humanity or the other one. Make your choice and stand up for it, because there absolutely is no in between. Innocent and precious children and their mothers are waiting for your choice. What do you say to them?

Click here for excellent resources for getting started.

2 Replies to “Racism: What Do We White People Say to Our Kids?”

  1. Thank you for having the courage to write this. Sharing it in parenting groups now.