talking to children about race and racism

When to Start Talking to Our Children About Racism

Posted on Posted in Blog, Raising Children of Color

When to Start Talking to Our Children About Racism

Have you ever had to break the truth to your kiddo? If you sold Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny there came a day when you had to fess up. It probably hurt to tell the truth.  Maybe more for you than it did for them.  Were you prompted to tell because one of their classmates was the culprit who gave up the goods on Santa?  As mad as you may be at the little snotty nosed bubble buster this unwanted conversation about a nonsensical truth had to happen.
We didn’t have to break the news about Santa but there are other unwanted conversations we’ve recently had to have.  Our first reactions to watching video footage of incidents like the case in South Carolina, Mike Brown and Eric Garner spark involuntary conversations about race in our home.  The kiddos hear us, their grandparents and friends talk about the issues that perplex even the grownups. Not too different, I think, than when my grandparents and parents sat in front of a TV or radio and talked about the sit –ins and marches happening all over the nation.
My parents and in-laws from time to time comment on how the children’s lives differ from their own childhood experiences.  The children, like us, did not have to endure segregated school systems regulated by law.  They have access to computer labs and tablets instead of the worst of the worst leftover textbooks.  They go to school with white children everyday who invite them to their birthday parties and houses for playdates.  I think our conversations about what we see on the news contradict what they experience at school with friends.  But we talk to them about what they may have heard us say because we know that while they may be in contact with white people who are friendly, and see them as more than a color, they will not always be granted this courtesy out of the safe realm of friends.
We have every reason to believe that they could run into some kind of trouble related to racism.  A college student arrested trying to buy a belt in Barney’s, student’s told  Santa Claus can’t  be black, or school administrator comment about black boys dating white girls let us know racism is alive and well.
While we may want to believe that children always think in terms of snow cones and hide and seek the truth is that children are aware of race as early as three and most by five years old.   Plus talking about issues of race may help prepare our children for any incidents they encounter as a study revealed that students subjected to racism, prejudice, and discrimination are more resilient when they experience high expectations; have firm support from parents, school, and community; and have a strong sense  of ethnic identity.
Conversations about race and racism are nonsensical truths like Santa and the Easter Bunny.   A nonsensical truth we don’t like talking about but we have to.  We have a sinking feeling that they will encounter a culprit who will burst their safe race bubble.  They will learn with the pain of a gut check that everyone won’t see them and initially think the best. But hopefully our conversations over the years will help to soften the blow. 


How do you prepare your children for racism? Or do you?





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