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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 sivanne@thejoyousparent.com.



THIS TIME AROUND


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."


DEAR PARENTS OF WHITE CHILDREN


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.


TALKING TO OUR CHILDREN


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?


MULTICULTURALISM & COLOR BLINDNESS VS. INCLUSION


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.


TRUE 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.


Let's begin with some suggestions from a beautiful author of color, Ijeoma Oluo:



And let's say their names. Thank you, HELL YOU TALMBOUT and Janelle Monae, f. Jidenna, Wondaland Records


WITH THAT LIGHT, HERE ARE SOME THINGS I DO IN MY OWN PARENTING


Dare to mess up again and again. Dare to notice and rewrite the narrative. Ask people to call you on your assumptions and biases. Model gratitude when others tell you you've messed up. Do this in all parts of life but especially when it comes down to racism. Dare greatly to notice your racism. It is unavoidable as long as the system is dismantled. Your children will witness you paving another way and they will be better equipped to do it better.


Then, dare to begin the conversation. This will happen organically if you create entry points into it. The next time your child says that they are white, hold up a white piece of paper to your skin. Read "Peter's Chair" by Ezra Jack Keats and celebrate the simplicity of the story and enjoy the beautiful black characters. Enjoy "When Charley Met Emma" by Mary Webb and talk about ableism. Watch a movie that prominently features people of color. Ask them what they know about being white or black in America. You might be surprised by the answers.


Set up an inclusive environment. Build a home that values inclusion.

  • Grow a library that represents windows into other cultures and ways of being. Read, pause, take time to discuss.

  • Openly celebrate the beautiful shades of brown that there are. Read "Colors of Us" and add multicultural crayons, markers, and colored pencils to your art space. Buy anatomically correct dolls of different shades.

  • Ask questions and search for answers together with your child. Allow hard questions to have space.

  • Learn how to hold space for explicit, proactive language around race. More here by Raising Race Conscious Children.

  • Share the stories, music, art, creation of those who are underrepresented in our society. Make a point to seek them out and celebrate.

  • Share the current events in kid friendly language. Hold the space for disbelief, fear, shame. Share your true feelings. Be real.

  • Don't lie or suger-coat your answers. Tell the truth in a caring way. Mr. Rogers did it on national television so therefore so can you.

Begin to act. Do more than talk. Ask your children what problems in society they would most like to see fixed. Then invite them into ways to be the change they want to see.

  • Write letters to your representatives

  • Donate to causes together and explain why

  • Petition local leaders and school boards to require social justice training for all employees

  • Write petitions and canvas the neighborhood

  • Create signs for your windows and cars

  • Support a petition condemning police violence

  • Put ourselves in places and spaces (online or in person) where great and real connections can happen, big and small

  • Create access points to having genuine experiences and interactions with people who are different than us - they don't have to become a great friend; it can be a chat in the grocery line

  • Amplify and give space to black voices and create platforms in your home, entertainment lives, social gatherings, and narrative for black voices and stories

  • Join a protest if you feel comfortable

  • VOTE. Get to know your local leaders. Don't just vote on the national stage.

  • Meditate together around feelings of vulnerability, fear, white fragility and the injustice of it all.

  • Be ok with making mistakes and being called out on them. Do this in front of and with your children. Invite them to be an upstander, even if it means correcting you, their parent.

  • Mess up. Then try to do better. Then mess up again. Graciously.

In my learning and growing as a parent of a white child and as an educator of all children, I have participated in a myriad of race relations and social justice workshops, seminars, yearly shared learning commitments, triads, dialogues, and more. In the most recent retreat I attended in October, we discussed the work of intentionality in creating a new paradigm:


SO TALK TO YOUR CHILDREN


Talk about the messy. Talk about the hard. Talk about your feelings, helplessness, and despair. Then watch as they engage you in all the ways that things can be different. In my case, recently my 3 year old has informed me that she has magic powers that send pancakes to everyone in the world (you can't see them when they shoot out from her arms or travel, she says) and when they eat them, as they will be compelled to do by the deliciousness of her recipe, they will stop being "mean to people of color and all people." Also, when you eat them, the pancakes remind people that "there are no bad people just people who might do bad things," which she adamantly corrected me about the other night when she called me on asking her to send some to the "bad police in Minneapolis." My daughter simply has a different viewpoint on what the world can be. She knows it is broken. And she believes she has the power to fix some things too. So she has sent a magic pancake to Trump every day this week. She has probably already made plans to send one to you too, if she hasn't already.


And be on the lookout for that pancake to land at your doorstep. And when it does, take the plunge and hold that first conversation.


From my home to yours, in solidarity,

Sivanne

 

SOME RESOURCES

This is an extensive list, so pick and choose what feels right to you. But don't stop here. Try to make inclusion a part of your daily fabric in any way you can. Here are some ideas, resources, tips, and supports from a myriad of important voices.


More Information About Diversity & Inclusion



Dare to Begin


Important Reads For Grownups

  • White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

  • So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

  • Raising White Kids by Jennifer Harvey

  • Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saa.

  • If ready to face the truth around how systemic racism has seeped into every part of our culture, read White Rage by Carol Anderson


IG Accounts That Guide in Inclusion and Social Justice Work


 

Podcast episode with fellow parenthood coach Rachel Maietta here.


The Joyous Parent's Raising Antiracist Allies Forum, an Ongoing Panel-- a community platform for parents raising white children--registration to access all the information about our first meeting, set for June 13th at 11:30am, HERE.






 

If you would like to know more about how I help parents talk to their white children about race or want more information about my coaching services and Four Phase Methodology towards a Joyous Parenthood, visit here!

Sivanne Lieber is a parenthood coach and consultant for parents and caregivers of the soft years, ages 0-5 and beyond. She works with families to find the confident, calm, connected parenthood they deserve.


#raisingwhitekids #talkingaboutrace #antiracistactivists #socialjusticeally #raisingupstanders #empowermenteducation #whitefragility #courageousbvulnerability #changethenarrative





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