I am white and some of my children are black. I’ll never have experiences that they’ll have simply because of the different color of our skin. In some ways, precisely because of this, I feel it’s critical that I teach my children about racism.
But even if all my children were white, as a concerned citizen of a country I love and honor, I’d still find it necessary to have “the talk” about racism with my kids. Why? Because if we want racism to go away (which will take generations), we all need to actively recognize it and stop it – recognize and stop our own acts, words, thoughts . . . and intervene when we see a racist act or word.
I feel it’s my job to not only raise my kids, but to raise them in a way that creates a better world, and it starts with what I teach at home. In April 2016 I addressed why I felt it was important that we teach our children about racism. Last night’s episode of This Is Us reaffirmed this feeling in my heart . . . that we only do a disservice to our children when we avoid what will be a part of their lives.
A month after that article was posted, part wrote another article offering some ideas on how to have this discussion. These weren’t original ideas – it was advice I’d received from my friends who have experienced, and continue to experience, racism because they are black in America. They are also mothers and fathers and have had to teach their own children how to navigate these waters of blatant and subtle racism. I have used these strategies when speaking to my kids about “sensitive” issues and have always found this advice to be useful in teaching them and guiding them.
There were 8 key points that were suggested, but I think the 8th point, the last one, was maybe the most important: START. The truth is, if we never start, then we’ll never get a n y w h e r e. I recently fumbled through a puberty discussion with my daughter because I was unprepared. But guess what? Because we DID have that conversation, and the dialogue was initiated, we have continued to talk about it and it’s so much easier. Like . . . way easier! We are open and it’s given me opportunities to clarify or elaborate where necessary. Furthermore, she feels comfortable bringing up her own thoughts and concerns, experiences and questions. And that makes my job so much easier. And honestly, couldn’t we all use a little more “easier” in our lives? This concept is true when teaching our kids about . . . anything really. If we don’t start and allow the topic to be discussed in the safety of our own homes, then where will our children get the information they need in order to thrive in life?
When it comes to the dark topic of racism, it’s particularly important to me that my children feel their home is a safe haven from the cutting words and actions that they will encounter outside the walls of our home. Though I don’t believe they’ll be cut with racism as soon as they step foot out the door, I’m not naïve enough to believe that they will be immune from racism in their lives, just as I believe all women will experience varying degrees of sexism in their life. Let me be clear, as parents it is our job to ensure that our children are safe physically and emotionally within the walls of our home – something we so beautifully saw Rebecca take seriously in this past episode when she addressed her own mother.
So, it’s important to have “the talk” about racism with our children, and we need to start . . . but then what?
If you are stuck and are unsure where to begin, watch last night’s episode of This Is Us. In a short scene, we saw a pattern that we could use as parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, mentors, teachers when teaching our kids what racism is. If we use this template, we’ll have a great start in teaching one of life’s important lessons.
1. It doesn’t have to be a long, drawn out conversation. When Jack and Rebecca spoke with Randall, it took all of 3 minutes.
2. Talk about it when your kids are young. Jack and Rebecca took advantage of the right moment and it was while he was young. They didn’t wait until he was “old enough” to really understand it all.
3. Don’t get emotional about it. From the previous scene with Rebecca and her mother, we know Rebecca was very upset. But when she and Jack talked with Randall, it was matter-of-fact. It wasn’t emotional. It was just explaining and defining what he’d been experiencing with his grandma.
4. Find a common point of understanding. What do I mean by that? Randall wasn’t grasping the fact that his grandmother may be racist because it wasn’t blatant and obvious. “She never says anything mean to me about being black.” So to clarify it, Rebecca went back to a common point of knowledge and brought up Martin Luther King, Jr. Now, in this case, bringing Martin Luther King Jr into the conversation didn’t help, but what did help was when Jack compared how Randall’s grandma was speaking to Randall, and how Rebecca sometimes talks to Jack. It was a real-life example and something Randall could easily understand; he got it. If we can ever compare a situation with something that our kids know about and can understand, the lesson will be drilled in a little deeper because the bit of information we give them will be meaningful.
5. Say it like it is. There was no mincing or words or being super vague and hoping that Randall understood what they were getting at. Jack laid it out there and explained that racism isn’t just being mean to black people (and yes, let’s include all POC here). Jack used his example and so simply says, “They don’t always say it, but there’s this mean undertone.” How simple is that sentence? We often try to complicate things when it’s actually so simple.
6. Read your child. Randall got what his parents were saying, and was done. There really wasn’t too much more to add, but Jack and Rebecca were wise to let him go to bed when he decided he was done with the conversation. They didn’t ask how he was feeling or push the issue further. There may be times when we are prompted to continue a conversation, and times when what we’ve said it heavy enough and can be finished for the moment. But we must read our children to know when to continue, or stop.
I used to be so scared to have “the talk” with my kids. It was something I felt so uncomfortable with and didn’t even know where to begin. But I learned that there are many wonderful resources from children’s books to blogs and even to television shows that aren’t just entertaining their audiences, but demonstrating how simple it really is to just talk to our kids – open up the dialogue and just start teaching our children about racism.