We Need to Talk About Racism with White Children

I am writing this as a White teacher working with predominately White families.

There is an uprising in our country. We hit a breaking point when four White police officers murdered Mr. George Floyd in the light of day while being filmed. We witnessed yet another heartbreaking death in a long series of killings of unarmed Black and Brown folks– within the same week that a White woman weaponized her whiteness to put another Black man’s life in danger. Black and Brown folks are exhausted, furious and grieving “a lifetime of rage, disempowerment and injustice.” (Roxanne Gay) Many White folks are glimpsing the depth of pain that our Black and Brown siblings have experienced their entire lives. Some of us are opening our eyes, hearts and minds to witness the grotesque racism that has been there all along. Sadness, anger, disbelief, powerlessness and grief stir within us. We may be glad to see the curtain pulled back. We may be relieved to see and hear the need for radical reform take center stage. As we move through our feelings, we can thoughtfully act in the service of justice.

Some White folks are asking what we can do to interrupt racism and to help end white supremacy. As a White parent and a teacher, I think about how we can engage the next generation to join this struggle. It is an ongoing, everyday process. There are no checklists. There are no clearly outlined steps –except to educate ourselves and to engage honestly with our children.

There are countless Black, Brown and Indigenous leaders, educators, filmmakers, artists and authors who we can learn from. There are White folks committed to learning our rightful place within this work.There are a multitude of resources available. We can learn about the histories, complexities and varied forms of racism. We can learn about our privileges and work to uncover our own biases.Then we can talk  with our children, sharing simplified information, while listening and lovingly responding to their questions. I am far from an expert and I am sure to be making mistakes along the way; but I love young people and I am committed to anti-bias education and to using my little bit of influence to help create change.

Here are a few things I have learned:

  • We live in a racist society that favors white peoples’ experience over people of color’s experiences. 
  • Young children notice racial differences and make meaning of what they observe.
  • Families and educators can give children a hand or leave them on their own to navigate one of the longest standing  pervasive, pernicious, oppressive systems.
  • Our silence will give children the message that nothing is wrong with the current reality that advantages White people and dismisses and oppresses Black, Brown and Indigenous people. 
  • Our silence is complicity.
  • There is no mistake we can make in our ongoing conversations with our children that is worse than our silence. (Katie Kissinger author of Anti-Bias Education in the Early Childhood Classroom: Hand in Hand, Step by Step).
  • We can support children’s racial identity beyond sharing one dimensional responses like “We’re all the same underneath our skin.” Instead we might offer, “We believe in equality and it’s important to figure out how to stand up for that when its not there.”  (Jennifer Harvey author of Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America).
  • We need to “speak out and renounce a system that perpetuates dangerous stereotypes, discrimination, and racism that is harmful to all of us.” (Ralinda Speaks/article below).
  • As we help children see what is wrong/hurtful/oppressive, it is our responsibility to also help them see models of activism/folks rising up to push back against that hurt.
  • We can help empower children to use their great minds, hearts and bodies and to nourish their identities as change-makers.

Recommended Children’s Books to Discuss Police Brutality:

Daddy, There’s a Noise Outside

Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness

Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice

Recommended Reads Regarding the Current Situation:

Black Parents Know About “The Talk” – White Parents, It’s Your Turn- Ralinda Speaks

“Don’t Understand the protests? What you’re seeing is people pushed to the edge”-Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

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