As a young white child, I remember noticing differences in people as early as three years old. Having been raised by an African American woman I called “Nana” while my parents worked full time, it was easy to see that I was different from the family who I spent most of my time with. I remember when we would be out in Nana Alice’s neighborhood playing, kids would make fun of me for playing with “those people,” and when I would ask Nana Alice about it, she would just say, “Baby, you pay them no mind, and you just be kind.”
I look back now and see she was protecting me from what she experienced on a daily, if not hourly, basis. When I would ask my parents questions about other races, I would get “shushed” because it wasn’t “polite to talk about that” or they would say, “That’s how God made them.” I know my parents had good intentions and were trying not to offend anyone, but they really missed an opportunity to educate themselves and me on the beauty of differences and the need for equality. Staying silent is no longer an option. I want to make sure that my children grow up seeing differences in others and practice inclusivity with everyone they encounter. This can only happen if we talk about it, educate and model for our little ones.
Here are some ways to teach your children about racial injustice that have helped me. Let’s vow to raise up world changers that believe in equality for all races. Let’s teach them to not just befriend those who do not look like them, but stand up for them when they are judged or hurt for the color of their skin.
1. Educate yourself first
It’s great that you want to teach your children about racism. But you can’t teach what you don’t know. Where do you start? Well, you have to start with conversations, and not just one. You have to make this a regular topic of discussion. Look within your circle of friends. Are they all white? Talking about it is important, but it’s even more important to include Black people in your conversation. Hearing different perspectives will be so helpful. When you do sit down with your Black friends, make sure you actively listen. What does it mean to actively listen? It means that you are not thinking about what you want to say. You are listening to every word that your friend is sharing. You may ask questions for clarification or to go deeper, but you don’t turning this to be about you.
There are so many books to read and movies to watch that can help you with this. Titles like I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown and Be The Bridge by Latasha Morrison are a great place to start. Take notes, highlight, reread and then lend those books out to your white friends! Movies like Just Mercy, Selma and 13th are great movies to watch to learn about systemic racism and the history that has always been way before George Floyd was murdered. Educate yourself and then be sure to humble yourself. It’s a lot of information to take in. You will sometimes want to be defensive and you will be appalled by the facts. Stay humble.
Still need more resources? Well, how about reading THE source, the Bible. Read about Jesus’ example of speaking up for the marginalized and justice for those who are treated less than. He was seen with people that were different than Him even though it was against the norm. He loved them and treated them just like He would have them treat Him. His example is the perfect model for how we should be.
2. Have age-appropriate resources for your kids; not just around holidays or crises
While you are educating yourself on how to be that bridge for stopping racism, it’s important to sit your children down and start the conversation. Try not to make this a “one and done” like the “birds and the bees.” Those are just awkward and forced, and children do not really get much out of them except to be embarrassed. Open up a conversation that is ongoing. Start at the basics by asking if they know what racism is. Read stories about it on their age-appropriate levels. Don’t be afraid of “taking away their innocence.” Ignoring the problem and pretending it doesn’t exist will never foster change. Making it a normal part of your day to talk about uniqueness, differences, cultures, etc. will be a good way to show your children that all races, backgrounds and differences are to be celebrated.
CNN just partnered with Sesame Street and had a great hour-long conversation on speaking out against racism. I highly recommend watching it as a family for anyone age five and above. Record it and keep on your DVR. Watch it multiple times and then have a conversation as a family. What questions do they have? Pray together and explain that you will keep the conversation open to dialogue about this from now on.
There’s a great age-appropriate guideline that has helped me gauge what age can understand at different levels and what we can do about racism at these age levels. This guideline starts as young as two years old and goes all the way up through adolescence. There are also many social media accounts that are worth following as a white mom trying to raise an anti-racist child. Accounts like The Conscious Kid and Curious.parenting will help you with visual perspectives to know how to raise children who are anti-racist.
3. Look around you and expand your circle
If all of your friends are white and your church is mainly white, and your neighborhood is mainly white then your children will never fully understand how to celebrate differences. You have to change that narrative for them. Enroll your child in programs that have ethnic diversity. Choose a diverse church that serves in the community and is outward-focused. Expand your circle of friends, and have play dates for your children with children of other races. Having your children consistently surrounded by other races and backgrounds will create a normalcy and an understanding that no one race is superior. All races are equally important, needed and beautiful.
In the next few weeks, I plan to have two of my best girlfriends who are Nigerian and South Indian-American sit down with our families and have a conversation about race. All of our children range in age from five to 11, and I think it will be powerful and insightful. We plan to ask hard questions, show grace in our answers and learn from each other. We have been close friends for so long, and we talk to each other about racism a lot, but we have never included our little ones in the conversation altogether, so I’m really looking forward to my children hearing the perspectives and experiences from their friends. Who can you sit down with and have this conversation?
4. Overhaul your toys and home library
Are all of your child’s dolls Caucasian? Are all of your Barbie dolls white? Are all of your legos and action figures with light complexions? If so, change that. Have multicultural dolls, toys and books in your home. Purchase construction paper that has all skin tones, crayons and markers that have all shades of brown. While it is important to have books about Martin Luther King, Jr. and books that revolve around Black History, I encourage you to go deeper than that. Don’t just have books about Black holidays or books about racism. Don’t just read them on January 19 or the month of February. Add books that show different eye shapes, hair texture, skin tones and family dynamics. Read books that celebrate differences and highlight the beauty in being unique. This should be normal to have all year round. There are so many titles that you can start to purchase to build your home library.
5. Make it an everyday and normal part of your life to be inclusive and unified
If you weren’t already doing these things, then it may feel hard to jump in and be consistent. But just like any new habit, it has to start somewhere. So, make this an everyday, normal occurrence to be inclusive. Talk to more people who are different than you. Have intentional conversations more and more so that they start to be part of your routine. Who is someone in your life that does not look like you that you want to get to know better? Send that person a text and invite them to have coffee with you. Your children will be able to witness you living out what you are teaching them. Make sure this is genuine and not a “project” for you. This is not something to do so you can check off a box. You are doing it because it’s something you should have always done.
6. Watch what you say and what they hear
Be mindful that you may say things that are subconsciously racist. If you lock your doors when a person of color walks by, that’s a problem. If you clutch your purse when someone who looks different than you walks toward you, that’s a problem. If you say things that are derogatory and demeaning about people who are not like you, that must stop. The little humans in your life are always watching, always listening. They will pick up on tones and body language. Your actions and words will become their inner voice, so be sure to check yourself on this. Eliminate racist and bias language from your vocabulary. Give someone who you trust in your life permission to call you out on it if you cross that line. Be mindful of podcasts you listen to, shows you watch, news channels that are on in the background. If they are using language that is not inclusive to all races, change the channel permanently.
7. Teach them to stand up to injustice
It’s not okay to just raise non-racist children, but instead, anti-racist children. There’s a difference. Non-racist has the passive narrative of, “I love all races, and I will treat others, no matter what differences we have, the way I would like to be treated.” While this is important and good, it’s not enough. It is too passive. We must raise children who stand up against racism. An anti-racist child will see racism and do something about it. He will take action. She may tell a grown-up. She may walk over and tell the person saying racist things to stop. Our children know all about bullying by school assemblies and training by their teachers. Well, we can’t wait for schools to add anti-racism to their curricula, although we should push for it. It starts at home, and it is up to us as parents to teach our children how to be loving and anti-racist.
We have a lot of work to do. But there is hope. Our children are that hope, and if we take the time to really educate ourselves and teach them to stand up to racism, then I truly believe our world will provide justice and equality for all. It seems like a big task, almost impossible. But if we start with ourselves and then our children, we can truly raise a generation of world changers who seek love, justice and mercy. You’re going to mess up. It’s going to be messy. Stay humble, forgive yourself and seek God for words to say and actions to take. But do something.