Charleston shooting parents explaining racism to children

Explaining Racism to My Children: I’d Almost Rather Explain Where Babies Come From

Posted on Posted in Blog, Parenting's Not Easy, Raising Children of Color

Explaining Racism to My Children: I’d Almost Rather Explain Where Babies Come From

How do you explain racism to children?  Most times I don’t mind the kiddos asking me questions. There are those times when I do feel like ‘Enough with the questions already!’, but most times I am ready and willing to answer.  There are a few questions, however, I wish I could avoid answering. Like:
  • Where do babies come from (because eventually they will realize they came from the same place)?
  • Where do people go after they die (because I have no real proof… truth be told my answer is just pure speculation)?
  • Why is there racism (because the answer is so ridiculous that they will think I am making it up)?
If I had my choice and I only had to provide an answer for one I’d choose to take on where babies come from, it’s the easiest and most rational explanation.  But I can’t.  I am a parent, which means I am forced to cough up the truth on even the most uncomfortable of issues. 
We live not too far from where the tragic events in Charleston occurred.  My husband and I have always lived in a Southern state where we walk around with smiles and pass out ‘How ya'll doing’s’ as thick as Southern heat to most people that we meet.  But behind our Southern smiles we have always known there are unresolved issues centering around ‘us’ and ‘them’.  And I don’t mean Black and White us and them – well mostly.  But those of us who know something is not right versus those of us who think that the racial tension is the thing of the past, kind of us and them.  Regardless of what side you are on we all got a reminder last week that something is definitely still not quite right in South Carolina. 
Forty eight hours after the Charleston tragedy the hubby and I were of course glued to the news networks.  All of the coverage no doubt prompted my son to finally ask the question:
Why do white people not like Black people?
Sigh….and sigh again.
I tried to explain that not all white people dislike black people. 
I tried to explain slavery (not my first attempt) to an eight year old with no frame of reference (hmmmm…remember when I said I’d rather explain how babies are made).  
Then I tried to explain how America is full of unresolved issues (he looked at me as if I just tried to explain the Pythagorean theorem).
At that point I think I only succeeded in confusing him even more.   Finally I just had to say, ‘You know what, there is no real reason – it’s all stupid!’   
He slowly walked away, nodding a reluctant ‘okay’, but looking like ‘what the????’ I called him back and tried to explain again.  My approach? To offer a solution rather than a crazy explanation.
This time I tried to tell him that yes there are problems in America that make absolutely no sense when it comes to the color of someone’s skin, but there has been progress and that there are many on the case looking for a solution:
I told him:
We have people ‘fighting’ in education.
  • I explained that all folk need to be educated, about all things and this will help to end racism.  The good news is that there are parents and education change makers who are doing their best to make sure this is possible.
  • I explained that there are such people as doctors who try to fix the problems in society (aka social scientists) and that they do tons of research to bring the problems and solutions to light.
I also told him:
We have people ‘fighting’ in protests and politics.
  • There are people who look at injustices and march right up to the offenders ‘front door’ to confront them on unjust practices.
  • There are people who fight in the courtroom as lawyers and judges to make sure everyone is treated fairly and that issues like this are not ignored. I told him that not too long ago what happened in Charleston would have been celebrated but this time it was not!
My son may not have understood everything I was saying when I was through with my altered, albeit kind of long, explanation.  But at least he seemed to be a little less confused.  Who really knows?  I am more than three times my son’s age and I still don’t get it.  Hopefully he understands that when he gets to be his mama’s age he’s not powerless in this racism mess.  Our generation will pass the baton to his and he can choose which side of the solution he wants to be on.



How do you explain racism to children?





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