As if COVID-19 weren’t enough, the Black Community had to endure the horrifying death of George Floyd at the hands of a White police officer.This event not only shocked the United States, but it reverberated across the world, spurring protests, passions, and reigniting a movement that began almost 7 years ago in July of 2013.
InPart 1of this 2-part series, guest author, Andreana Mabry, LMFT, shared with us 11 tips for the parents of Black and African American children on how to begin conversations surrounding racial injustice. If you missed it, you can check it out here.
In this post, I will be tackling the broader topic of how to discuss racial injustice with your child, regardless of how you or your child racially identify. With that said, let's jump right into how to talk to your kids about racial injustice.
***Note: This is a 2-part series. Part1 is written by Andreana Mabry, LMFT. Part 2 is written by Krystal Dreisbach, LMFT.
Defining Race & Racism
Let's start with the basics. When I teach my own children anything, I always start with the simplest lesson first, setting up a good foundation for later learning. If we are going to talk to our children about racial injustice, then we need the right building blocks for the job. That means we need to begin with the topic at its most basic.
Research conducted by Rebecca Biglerat the University of Texas at Austin found that the parents of White children are less likely to discuss the topic of race with their kids, taking a "colorblind" or "colormute" approach. This is in comparison to the parents of minority children, whichresearch has shown are more likely to discuss race and ethnicity on a more regular basis.
As a parent, you might be wondering why conversations around race should be had with your children. Several reasons can be stated, such as creating a shared value in diversity, developing respect for other cultural, racial, or ethnic groups, or simply wanting your child to have a deep, scientific understanding about skin pigmentation or facial structure.
Only you can decide whether or not you want to have these conversations with your child and what your reasoning is. But, with so much media attention on the Black Lives Matter movement, it is my recommendation that you consider having a dialogue with your child, no matter your racial background, and here's why....
Children will always come to a conclusion, whether you want them to or not.
Regardless of how young or old your child is, they are watching, listening, and absorbing the world around them. We often fail to give our kids enough credit (especially the little ones). And now with the increased use of electronics, kids are exposed to more now than ever before, and at alarmingly younger ages.
It's been my practice as a mom to try to beat the World to the punch, and educate my children about sensitive and hot topics before the World does it for me. And it will do it for you....
Whether it's a classmate, a school teacher, commercials, a well-meaning family member, or just your child eves-dropping on a private conversation, your child is going to be exposed whether you like it or not. The question then becomes, are they hearing the message you want them to hear? Unfortunately, the answer is usually no.
Opening Up Conversations about Racial Injustice
As always, my goal is to help you become the best parent you can be, taking my classic Wholistic Parenting approach to whatever topics and tough times come our way. With the horrible events that have been occurring over the last month, there is no time like the present to open up a conversation about parenting and racial injustice.
With that said, let's review how you can begin (or continue) having these conversations with your own family.
1) Don't ignore or shy away from the topic. Did you know that children as young as 6 months of age show racial-bias? Research conducted at the University of Toronto found that children show racial-bias in favor of individuals of their own race. And this isn't the only one. There are more studies out there that have discovered similar results.
Kids aren't blind. They are biologically wired to recognize and differentiate people who look like them from people who don't. This isn't a good or bad thing... it's just a biological process stemming from more primitive days. This means that ignoring the topic or shying away from it isn't particularly useful. If you do, you risk your kids coming to their own conclusions, which may not be the results you're looking for.
2) Let your children ask questions... lots of them! Questions are good! They demonstrate a desire to learn, grow, and to become better informed. Allow your children to ask lots of questions. In fact, don't just allow, but encourage them too!
Remember, as a parent, you are your child's first and most influential teacher. You have a great privilege and responsibility to help your child grow into a person who is responsible, respectful, well-informed, and a positive member of society. And one of the easiest ways to accomplish this task is by allowing your child to ask questions.
Sometimes, as parents, we can feel intimidated by questions because often, we don't have the answers. That's OK! You're only human, and you won't have the answer for everything. When this happens, don't be embarrassed or ashamed to admit that you don't know. Instead, be honest, share that you don't have the answer, and then... here's the tough part... collaborate with your child on discovering the answer they seek!
This last part is super important! Don't just leave your kiddo with an "I don't know." Do the work and help them find the answer to the question. Here's why... just like we talked about before, children will formulate their own conclusions! Here's a great example to demonstrate:
In Part 1 of this series, Mrs. Mabry, shared the following: "When 9/11 occurred, very young children thought that airplanes were crashing into buildings over and over again because the news coverage was on a loop." Since no one was talking to their young children about what was happening, these kids formed their own conclusions, and they weren't accurate.
3) You should ask questions too. How else will you know what your children are thinking and understanding about the events occurring around them? I always tell my kids, "I might be very good at being a mom, but no matter how hard I try, I just can't seem to master mind-reading." They usually get a laugh out of that, and then proceed to tell me what's on their minds.
Just like you want your kids to ask you questions, you should be asking them questions too. Check in with them, see what they know already, and make sure that the answers they have are accurate. This is a great way to open up conversations on really tough topics such as racial injustice.
4) Become better in-formed yourself. None of us know everything, so it's particularly important to recognize that we all have lots to learn. Commit to being a student for life, and never stop learning! Remember that different media outlets will take sharp political slants, twisting statistics and even the truth, to get a better story.
As such, media (i.e. social media, news channels, radio shows, etc.) can be one source of information, but should be balanced with other informational sources, such as scholarly journals, articles from experts in the field of interest, and even qualitative information, such as the testimony of those who experienced the situation in question. Use these different sources of information to come up with your own conclusions.
Another aspect to consider is your own biases. Remember when I stated that even infants show racial-bias? That's true for us adults too. We need to remember that we all have these biases. None of us are immune. This doesn't make us good or bad... it just makes us human.
But we can't just stay there. We need to push ourselves to ask questions, to learn, and to evolve so that we can all help push our children into a better tomorrow. A really fascinating, free test you can take is by Project Implicit. This online quiz helps to identify a test-taker's biases between European American children and African American children. Check it out and you just might learn something new about yourself.
5) Become aware of your language. Language is powerful. Read some of my parenting posts and you'll see how important and impactful language can be in your parenting. I attended a psychotherapy training once by Elliott Connie. He stated:
"Language creates reality."
What he said struck a cord with me, and I've remembered it ever since. Take the time to become aware of the things you say. Do you use racial slurs? Perhaps crack the occasional racial joke? These things can be hurtful to the people around you and send an unspoken message to your children about these groups and how they should be thought of and treated.
It's time to clean up our act! Start training yourself to pick these things out of your vocabulary and mental catalog. It's a small act that we can all do toward treating our fellow human beings with respect and dignity. If your child is already using racial slurs or cracking racial jokes, etc., there's no time like the present to help them clean it up and get with the program too!
6) Affirm the right to existence and freedom. We all have a right to be free: freedom to make choices, freedom to speak our minds, freedom to practice our family cultures, freedom to practice our religion of choice, freedom to a life without prejudice or injustice, freedom to receive and give compassion, empathy, and love, and freedom to equal and respectful treatment. We have a right to existence on this earth.
Affirm to your child their right to freedom, and affirm the rights of others too. Teach your child theGolden Rule, a value followed by many religions around the world, including Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Even if you are not religious, hopefully you can see the inherit value of this Rule. If we can all come to practice this simple teaching, perhaps we will find ourselves, one day, in a truly harmonious and peaceful world.
7) Encourage your child to be a leader for equality, justice, and love. Give your child permission to develop friendships with others who place value in the right to freedom and existence. Let your child know that they don't have to remain friends or spend time with peers that consistently seek to discriminate or mistreat others.
Kids can feel pressured to follow the crowd, especially in middle school and high school years. Knowing that you are there supporting them to make positive, respectful, and loving choices (including who they spend their free time with) will go a long way in helping them to stand up for themselves and others. The more wholesome their peer group is, the better for your child (and you!).
With that said, help your child to stand up for themselves and others when they are being mistreated. The world is filled with bullies. From the school playground to corporate offices, bullies don't go away. Help your child practice assertive communication and learn when to use it.
Standing up for themselves and others is important, but they have to know how and when to do it. If you're not sure how to tackle this one, consider talking to a mental health professional to get extra help. We tackle this one all the time!
8) Learn about “The Talk” Black families have with their children. For those of us who are White, it's important to understand what others experience. "The Talk"is a conversation that Black and African American parents have with their children about the experiences they will have because of the pigmentation of their skin.
As a mom myself, my heart aches to think of what it might feel like to have this type of conversation with my children. To think that they may be judged simply for how they were born versus the content of their character.
I think it's important to note that a similar talk is given to the children of other minority groups too. Whether it's a Latino family, immigrant family, LGBTQ+ family, and so on, minority groups feel forced into having these types of conversations with their children in order to help their children understand their experiences (i.e. being teased, told to "go back to your country," being called racial slurs, etc.).
As parents, we can harness this knowledge to help us, not only better understand our parenting peers, but to help guide us on the conversations we might have with our own children about racial injustice, prejudice, and discrimination. Let's look at an example....
We all know that laws are written to be applied to everyone equally, but I think we can all agree that this isn't necessarily true. Think about celebrities that commit a crime and get sentenced to 1 year of incarceration only to be released 3 months later on "good behavior." No matter how much we want things to be fair and equal, they just aren't... not yet anyway.
The same is true for Black and African American families, as well as other minority groups. Although our laws are written to be enforced equally and fairly to all, the truth remains that many laws are manipulated or loopholes sought out to disproportionately affect minority groups in a negative way. As such, this is why minority families are forced into having "The Talk" with their children.
9) Monitor and filter what your children are being exposed to. As civil unrest continues all around the world, make sure your children aren't being exposed to too much. Older and younger children can certainly watch protests and benefit from conversations about the freedom of speech, as well as the knowledge that there are thousands of people around the world seeking to make the earth a better place for us all. Just make sure your conversations are age-appropriate.
It is not recommended that children watch aggressive and violent acts that may result from protests. As Mrs. Mabry shared with me, "Do not let them [children] watch burning and looting unless they are also old enough to understand the nuances of rioting (which many adults are also struggling with)." Just like our conversations with our children needs to be age-appropriate, so does the content of what they watch on TV or read.
I also want to add that you should be keeping a close eye on how your child is responding to the information, regardless of how old they are. If your child seems to be developing some anxiety or depressive symptoms, pull the plug! Take a break, and if need be, seek help from a professional mental health therapist that can help your child gain the tools they need to manage current events.
10) Do your best to embrace diversity yourself. As I mentioned previously, we all have biases and none of us are immune. This means that accepting the differences among us and embracing diversity is a never-ending task. Unfortunately, we must learn to accept that, as human beings, we are not born without bias. Our brains are wired to do so. This means that we need to always be teaching, practicing, and modeling tolerance.
Consider purchasing books by Black authors or featuring Black protagonists. In fact, spread the love and diversify your collection with works that represent other minority groups too! The same for TV shows and movies.
If the opportunity arises, diversify your peer groups too! Get to know other families with diverse backgrounds or go to events that celebrate diversity. Let your child watch you learn about others with an open heart and mind. The best way to teach tolerance is to practice tolerance.
11) When you're ready, get involved. We can all do something to help our world shift into a better way of being, one of respect and love for all. Consider including your child in age-appropriate advocacy projects that work toward reducing racial discrimination or other injustices.
For example, you might take your teenager to a peaceful protest while allowing your elementary-school-aged child to color your protest poster. Another example might be you and your child collecting donations for a charitable organization working to end racial inequality.
There are many ways to get involved no matter how old or young you and your family are. Just remember to make advocacy projects age-appropriate, and be sure to always talk to your kids about these projects. Make sure you are explaining the importance of respect, justice, equality, and love for all. Provide them with the context of what you are doing and why (just make sure it is age-appropriate!).
This is a big topic, and I wish I could cover every inch of it. However you choose to get involved, make sure to encourage your child to be allies for their minority counterparts and each other. At the end of the day, as parents, we are trying to raise our children to be positive members of society. That means helping them learn to embrace diversity and treat all of humanity with love, compassion, and respect.
I hope this series was helpful to you, and that you feel as though you have a better grasp on how to teach your children about the Black Lives Matter movement. To further assist you, I have gathered all the resources presented by Andreana Mabry, LMFT from Part 1, as well as additional resources to help further your own learning. These resources should help further guide you on this important topic. Please note that this list is in no way exhaustive, but it should serve as a spring board in helping you grapple with the tough road ahead.
Good luck and Happy Parenting!
"The Talk" video- A video that helps explain"the Talk" Black and African American families have with their children.
Target Practice- In a similar vein as "The Talk," this is a short film to help others understand what it feels like to be a Black or African American individual growing up in the world today. It's a short film, but it packs a punch, and I know I felt my own heart ache as I watched it.
The Race Test-A test created by Project Implicit to help individuals know their own biases between African American children and European American children.
Racial Equity Tools - "Racial Equity Tools is designed to support individuals and groups working to achieve racial equity. This site offers tools, research, tips, curricula and ideas for people who want to increase their own understanding and to help those working toward justice at every level – in systems, organizations, communities and the culture at large."
The Realities of Raising a Kid of a Different Race- An article written by Karen Valby discussing parenting multiracial children. Her article is particularly helpful for foster parents and adoptive parents who might be raising children that are a different race than their own.
13th-A Netflix's documentary that combines archival footage with testimony from activists and scholars. It looks into the U.S. prison system and at how the country's history of racial inequality drives the high rate of incarceration in America. This link will take you to a YouTube video where you can watch the full length documentary, free of charge. This is more appropriate for older children, teens, and adults. (Thanks to Netflix for allowing this video to be available to all!)
Scaffolding Anti-Racism Resources- This is a "living" document that is being updated continuously with resources to help facilitate growth and learning for White individuals to become allies and accomplices for advocacy work. At the time of this post, the last update was completed on 6/12/20.
Sesame Street & CNN Town Hall Meeting- Sesame Street and CNN hosted a Town Hall meeting to discuss racism and standing up for each other. In this clip, "Abby" from Sesame Street speaks on CNN about how she stood up for Big Bird when he was bullied by others because of his yellow feathers. CNN anchors praise Abby for standing up for others and then encourage her to continue to be a leader and support her friend, Big Bird. Following Abby's interview, CNN hosts a panel discussion to talk about White Privilege and how parents can navigate this, as well as prejudice against minority groups, with their children. Different Sesame Street characters, including Elmo, get in on the action too, asking questions and getting answers from the panel on this important topic.
Racial Trauma: Theory, Research, and Healing-A scholarly article from the American Psychological Association that discusses racism and racial trauma. It also explains how racial trauma impacts those who experience it. This is a particularly good article for mental health professionals.
Sesame Street Communities- This is a website put together by Sesame Street to help parents tackle a variety of tough topics, including Community Violence and Trauma. Children who experience prejudice and discrimination are experiencing trauma. Children that are being exposed to videos of racial injustice or are witnessing aggressive community acts (whether it's aggressive rioting or policy brutality) are experiencing community violence. This website can help you learn how to manage both.
Anti-Racism Educational Resources for Therapists and Clients- This is a collection of resources put together by the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT). Resources include training for therapists, articles for coping with racial discrimination for clients, and even podcasts! There's lots to discover here, and all in the spirit of learning.