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Talking to Our White Children About Race

Updated: Jul 31, 2020

Also listen to my latest podcast episode with fellow parenthood coach Rachel Maietta about the same topic here.

Then, register for the Joyous Parent's Raising Antiracist Children Forum, an Ongoing Panel-- a community platform for parents raising white children, by registering here or reaching out to me at


When George Floyd was murdered, I couldn't hide my despair, anger, and disbelief from my child. The feelings were too big, the shock at watching the events that followed were too strong. My feeling of helplessness was a giant lump in my throat. And when my 3 year old asked me what's wrong (as kids inevitably pick up on), I told her.

I said, "I'm sad because another black man was hurt by the police. He was killed."

She immediately responded with, "well, then we need to do something about it! I'm going to write to Trump and tell him to make them stop hurting people of color."

She also asked what his name was. I told her.

Then she added, with calm authority, "we should also write notes to polices that hurt people. Let's see what polices hurt people and write them a note that says, 'stop being so bad to the black people.' Lots of scary things are happening here but not scary things are happening to us, just black people, and that is not fair. But all of us are getting boo boos sometimes. Both white kids and black kids are getting boo boos and that's more fair. But it's not fair that black people are getting hurt. That's what I wanted to tell you."


As a white parent of a white child, I have a moral obligation and responsibility to talk about race with our children. People of color don't have the luxury of postponing this conversation. We don't either.

The overall narrative right now, rightfully so, is make space for black voices and much of the information and resources that I will highlight here are messages from the POC community. AND I believe that we white people also must talk about racism with other white people. This is a yes, and. When one is a parent of a white child, this responsibility becomes a yes, imperative. So I speak out.

Jennifer Harvey, author of Raising White Kids says it much better than me:

Why Parents Should Talk About Race

So while many of us sit in isolated quarantine and watch the turmoil around us we still must find ways to talk with each other and with our kids about what is happening and then do our part. And since I am action oriented and always want to leave you with practical ways to learn and grow, much of this post is packed with things that can be done here and now in addition to the talk.


Now, there are many reasons why white parents say they just can't have those race conversations with their children. They're too sticky. Too hard. Too messy. But in the current climate (and honestly, when has the current climate NOT been a reason to uprise), we have a moral obligation to do things differently with the next generation.

So here are some myths we have around the reasons we DON'T have the talk and the busters that explain just how imperative it is that we DO:

So now that we have that down, let me share a lowdown on child development to further dispel the "my child is too young" argument:

  • Child is born. By age of 6mo they can already tell the difference between skin tones.

  • Child continues to grow, hearing, witnessing and experiencing constant cognitive distortions from almost every snippet of society. Think: the band aide matches my child's skin. Ever thought about the fact that it doesn't match many others? Think: the POC wearing the hoodie. Think: the "unsafe" part of town. Think: I can't send my child to THAT school.

  • Child grows to age 4. They now understand that differences mean something. Their brains are pruning and reinforcing repeated experiences.

  • Child is completely in tune with their environment. They know when the mood in the room has shifted or the energy has suddenly turned negative. But they're told not to ask and the adults speak in hushed tones. They learn that a good person is not a racist.

  • Child is now age 6. Their thoughts are already capable of reinforcing and connecting to assumptions and prejudice. But they still don't get to talk about it.

  • Now add in the media. And the books we read. And the songs we sing. And. And. And.

  • Racism talk becomes taboo. Forget action.

  • Systemic oppression lives on.

Here are some more truths about race from Anthony Peterson in his TEDtalk "What I Am Learning From My White Grandchildren." In his talk, he reinforces the ideas above and states, "if we're careful, we can catch our children in mid-indoctrination."

So there is NO sheltering possible in the year 2020. Racial disparity, injustice, and systemic oppression have been EVERYWHERE for quite a while, I dare say forever. Not just in the story we have inherited (while being taught a very different tale). It is in the songs we listen to and the nursery rhymes we read. In the house we get to live in and who helped us (or rather, didn't block us from) getting there. In the school we go to and who attends it. In the dolls we carry and the food choice we have. And on and on and on. Our children are taught we deserve all that we have attained because of our God-given strengths and talents. But there's a big hole in the picture, isn't there?


Now, I grew up in the age of the "rainbow of colors" and the "we are all equal under the same sun!" myth. I was taught about the big guns: MLK, Rosa, Malcolm. I stood proudly and sang songs and made posters during the month of February and then moved on every year through my childhood. And honestly, I cannot recall myself, not even once, truly trying to engage or attempting any sort of friendship with the three people of color that I grew up with from day one. To this day I cannot tell you who they really were other than standouts on the fringes, anomolies with whom I held no grudge but no interest in either. I sang about "their people" and they learned about mine while tasting latkes. But we were still separated by a deep invisible chasm of inequality despite all of the good efforts around us. I still believed there was a "bad side of town" where all the Mexican people lived that I shouldn't go to. And I still also believed the story that we are all equal.

But equality is not equity. And fair is not everyone getting the same exact thing, it is everybody gets what they NEED. And in the case of racism, oppression and social justice work, we white kids who now many of whom have become parents of white kids have a different obligation. And that is one of modeling and teaching inclusion.


Before we can discuss inclusion, let's better understand the root of racial injustice in this fantastic TEDtalk by Megan Ming Francis.

So let's talk about inclusion. The first step is noticing what possible thought patterns 6-year-old us was taught. In every event, there is a thought. Attached to that thought are emotions and body sensations. We experience these unconsciously and then are triggered and act. All of this is fueled by a cognitive distortion, or thinking error, that we have learned by society and experience. It is human nature and it happens to us all. BUT here's the thing: we a capable of changing our brain wiring!

When we begin to notice a thinking error that leads to an assumption, a bias, a microagression, a wrong conclusion, we can catch ourselves and search for evidence for and against that thought. Once we do that, we can challenge the truth and accuracy of the stories of our minds and make a shift into a NEW thought and emotion.

And then, we do things to create a more inclusive space, environment, approach, and narrative.