When it comes to talking to our children about race and other forms of difference, as caregivers we get stopped in our tracks because of the complexity and the need to “get it right.” Yet, our perfectionism doesn’t serve our children.
As a person who is concerned about justice and inclusion, shift your focus from “getting it right” to equipping the children you love to live in a multicultural, multiracial world. Our children are much more capable than we might be giving them credit for, and in the absence of our explicit guidance, they will fill in the blanks with messages from a world that is constantly reinforcing white supremacy.
Why our children need to engage in conversations about race:
- If children are not prepared to engage in this multicultural, mulitracial world as it is, they will experience the same shame, failure and grief that we as adults experience because of our lack of understanding and skills.
- We can help our children avoid making preventable life-altering mistakes from unintentional (or intentional) racist acts.
- We can help them engage skillfully and compassionately with their peers at school and in the workplace. In other words, we can help them become better friends, better colleagues and bosses.
- We can equip them to be agents of solidarity and change as we help them see and name the dynamics of racism playing out before them.
In my book, Raising Antiracist Kids: The Power of Intentional Conversations About Race and Parenting, you will learn that as early as six months, babies are able to distinguish differences in race. By the age or two, they begin to develop skills of categorization. By talking about and celebrating differences, we can teach our kids that differences are interesting rather than something to silently overlook.
In Raising Antiracist Kids, you’ll find many tools to support you in this journey. Today, I’d like to share one that will help you foster a relationship with your child where it’s more likely to engage in difficult conversations.
Notice when you “shush” and “rush.”
When your child verbalizes something they notice that might feel embarrassing to you (i.e., “That lady’s skin is BROWN!” or “That man is FAT.”), resist the urge to shush your child and rush through the moment. Shushing may save you a moment of embarrassment, but for your child, it’s an opportunity to learn. Your shushing speaks volumes about what is “bad” to talk about.
Don’t wait for a better time to discuss your child’s noticing. Instead, take a deep breath, and validate what they see in a positive way. For example, “Yes, her skin is darker than yours. Isn’t it gorgeous? It’s fun to notice that everyone’s skin is different,” or “Everyone has different bodies: big, small, fat, thin, tall, short. Your body will change a lot over your lifetime.”
You will find that the times that you “shush” and “rush” are places where you have your own pockets of bias. Use your urge to “shush” and “rush” as an opportunity for your own self-examination.
We are all works in progress on this anti-racist journey. You do not have to have it all together before guiding your children on their journeys. They will benefit from seeing you learn openly from your own mistakes.