To my fellow white parents: how to talk about racism with our kids

White adult hands cradle white child hands that are holding a dandelion

In 2012 when Trayvon Martin was killed, I was sure Zimmerman would be convicted. I realize now how naive that was. His murder was a catalyst for my anti-racist journey, and if you, white friend, are reading this, then you’ve likely experienced a catalyst too. In 2012, my oldest child was only one, and I had no clue what we would eventually discover when he started school.

We’re a white family living in the suburbs with a lot of other white families. When we moved here because of a job, I didn’t know why that was the case. I taught karate at after school middle school programs for a while until I was too pregnant to teach, and didn’t understand why I’d been warned off one school as containing the children who were “difficult.” That school had a much higher percentage of black students for our county than the other two I worked with. I still needed to learn that “good schools” was code for “white schools” and that discrimination in the system becomes clear even amongst the peers of my son as he started kindergarten at the local elementary school. By then I’d learned to see many of the little and not so little things in the system that weight society against a black child from the moment they make their debut in the world.

Different encounters and stories from my five year old made me realize that anti-racist education must start early because the presumption of white innocence and black guilt starts early. Black students even in kindergarten and preschool are more than twice as likely to be suspended as their white or even Hispanic peers. White children are perceived to be more innocent and even seen as younger than their black peers, while black children are often perceived as older and therefore more culpable and are punished more severely. This is seen most drastically in incidents such as the murder of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old child playing with a toy gun, as indeed my boys like to do, who was murdered by the police before the car even came to a complete stop.

The officer who murdered Philando Castile in cold blood for following the law and declaring he had a lawfully owned gun in the car at a traffic stop was acquitted because the jury found his defense that he had been afraid for his life reasonable.

Both of these incidents are just drops in the bucket in what could be a very long list of white people seeing black people as dangerous. Trained officers shooting down a child because his skin made them so afraid, they couldn’t even put the car in park to assess the situation.

And if you are justly horrified by all of this and asking what you can do, I’m saying part of the answer is talking to your white kids about racism.

Perhaps some of your thoughts are like mine were along the lines of, but why should I be the one to destroy my child’s innocence? They shouldn’t have to deal with things like this. I struggled with this as well until my kid encountered racist ideas from his classmates and possibly his teachers and I realized that unless I actively taught my children to be anti-racist from young ages and to break the cycle, our culture in this country will teach them to be racist from the start.
White supremacy is programmed into the very DNA of our nation from the stolen indigenous lands on which we reside to the stolen people from Africa we brought here by force and who built the economy that continues to benefit white people more than black people. Black parents start talking to their kids around the age of five about how they will be seen as different, and if black parents have to talk to their kids about this, white kids shouldn’t be exempt. In fact they can’t be exempt if we want to break the cycles and hopefully build a world where one day, none of us have to have “the talk” with our children on race.

There are so many resources out there on all of this if you haven’t done a deep dive into this yet. I’m writing to you today to share some ideas and resources specifically to help white parents talk to white children about race.

The easiest way is to make sure that they are reading and watching shows that have people of color as protagonists. From Doc McStuffins, to Elena of Avalor, to Molly of Denali, the children’s shows of today are beginning to not only be more diverse in their representations, but also to talk frankly about racism. One of the first episodes of Molly of Denali deals with her grandfather being forcibly sent to one of the boarding schools that the colonists imposed on native children where they cut their hair and punished them for singing and speaking in their native language. The episode is beautifully done and led to an age appropriate discussion about stolen land and boarding schools.

For 8-year-olds or older, “Raising Dion” is not only awesomely written, but deals frankly with racism in schools as experienced by a black child of that age. Shows with representation teach children that all stories are equally important, not just white stories. Shows with representation that also talk about race from the characters perspective are even more invaluable for your child’s anti-racist journey.

One book that I’ve found invaluable to help talk to my now 9-year-old is Not My Idea: A Book about Whiteness. Laid out like a storybook that he could have read by himself, I still sat down and read it with him because we had to stop every few pages and talk through the content. It is a fantastic tool for conversation.

We are the Change is a beautifully illustrated book with quotes from civil rights leaders with short blurbs about who the person was and what they were fighting for. It’s not only inspirational, it can be a great jumping off point for research about the lives and struggles of the people in the book.

Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson is a powerful piece on the Birmingham Children’s Crusade in 1963. It’s told from the perspective of one of the marchers and highlights just how powerful children are in the struggle for social change. Plus if those kids faced hoses and police dogs and spent time in jail while white adults responded by bombing Dr. King’s brother’s home, I think our kids can handle learning about it.

She Came to Slay: The Life and Times of Harriet Tubman by Erica Armstrong Dunbar is written on a fourth grade reading level or so and is a wonderfully concise biography that adults could learn from along with their children.

A Young People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn fills in many of the intentional gaps created by the white-centered history curriculums taught in schools and homeschools across the nation.

For more ideas and books with black leads, just google “books with black leads for kids” and you’ll see lists of them. Some of the lists are entitled as “books all black kids should read” but I would argue they should be read by all kids. The world in which we immerse them during these formative years is very powerful. I hope to give my kids a jumpstart on their anti-racist journeys so they don’t have as much to unlearn as I do. And if a lot of us white parents start doing this, I truly believe it will normalize anti-racist converstation and shift the culture. After all, in systemic racism, we are the system, and it won’t change until we change.

And if you think you haven’t gone far enough on your own journey to teach your kids, let me leave you with this quote from Ijeoma Oluo: “The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be an anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward.”

Cross-posted to Medium.

In my not so humble opinion

Some recent thoughts of mine that I hope fall into the passionate as opposed to preachy category… I have preachy tendencies, so sometimes it’s hard to tell… if you find it preachy, leave me hate comments…

Okay by now you’ve noticed that I’m interested in a lot of things, and some people have even expressed that I do multiple things well (Those are the ones who are desperate enough in this economy to accept the meager bribes I can afford, but who’s counting?)

I hear one thing a lot said in my direction and it’s started to bug me.  When people see my art whether it’s painting or photography or mixed media, or find out that I can cook (and in case you haven’t read, I can also plan a dinner party for 17 with 5, count them 5 courses! yeah, I know now you hate/admire me too…), or find out that I write, or am a martial arts instructor, I hear this one phrase over and over and over again.

I could never do that.

Pardon my french, but why the hell not???!?!??!  (scoop yourself up if you fainted, I needed the emphasis.  Oh come on, it’s not like you never swear… eh? That’s what I thought).

I’ve come to the conclusion that the only difference between me (somewhat excelling in several areas of interest) and some other folks (who think they aren’t creative) is that instead of approaching new things with “I could never…” I look at something and think, “I could do that, if  I learned how.”

Am I currently in the physical shape to climb fourteeners in the Rockies, not by a long shot.  Could I get there if that was my goal?  Absolutely.

Could you learn a form of artistic expression that goes with your personality? Absolutely! Not all of us were cut out to be Rembrandt or Picasso.  Some of us just need to explore our creative potential and let go of our notions of perfection.

See, I think the biggest hold-up to most of us discovering our creative potential… okay make that two biggest hold-ups… no, there are three biggest hold-ups…

Where was I?

Yes, the biggest hold-up(s) to discovering our creative potential are probably equally distributed amongst these things.

(1) The idea that there is good and bad art and thus if we don’t see perfection in our work, or rather we’re all too aware of the imperfections as we see them, we can’t make anything creative.

(2) While we all want art of some sort, we’re both terrified of being the starving artist and slightly superior feeling to those who attempt to make a living at art.  Although, no one said you had to quit your day job… AND that superior feeling comes from secret envy, I’m convinced 😉  By the way, I made the garden bench and you can tell by the picture that it’s not perfect (see the screw I stripped and then hammered sideways so it wouldn’t stick out? and you can tell it’s not perfectly level).  But you can sit on it.  And it looks pretty cool.  And I made it with my own two hands (and some power tools! I love power tools :-) )

(3) We don’t actually feed our creative side with enough raw material, and thus we starve it into submission so we can get on with the more “productive” parts of our lives.  (more on feeding our creative selves to come).

Why do I think this? As someone who’s been theologically trained and who despite my use of a swear word above is with God’s help a faithful and devout Christian, I have to say it goes back to being created in the image of a creative God.  If God is creator God, (which I think most who call themselves Christians can affirm despite one’s favorite origin of the world story), and if we are created in his image, then we are creative by virtue of being his kids.

Think about it.

Here’s some resources to feed your creative side.  Yes, they’re books.  What can I say, I have book issues… But these books have lots of pictures, bonus right?

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.  Don’t miss the accompanying Journal and Workbook to go with this exploration of art and spirituality.

Taking Flight by Kelley Rae Rogers.  Get your creative juices flowing with this inspiring book that come complete with step by step instructions from multiple artists on how to complete one of their favorite projects.  There’s all kinds of cool ideas in here…

The Secret of Rusty Things by Michael de Ming.  I love rusty things… this is one I wish I owned… feel free to buy me a copy when you buy yours 😉

Like soft things instead of rusty things? Try Fabric Art Collage by Rebekah Meier for some projects that have to do with, well, fabric, and art, and er… collage.  Descriptive title, don’t you think?

And last for today is a book that looks at trends in Mixed media art as well as sharing ideas and techniques.  It’s appropriately titled Exploring the Latest Trends in Mixed Media Art: Projects and Techniques (I promise the stuff inside is more creative then the title!)