Lessons white parents can teach white kids about racism

If you are like most people I know, hearing about racial tension in our country makes you sick and disheartened. You love and enjoy people for who they are, not the color of their skin. You can’t imagine disliking, let alone hating someone, because they look different or come from a different culture. You worry that talking to kids about race will make them pay more attention to something that maybe they shouldn’t. It would be nice to protect kids a little longer from the horror and embarrassment that is racial injustice, racial inequality and racial discrimination. Rather than telling kids the wrong thing, many of us err on the side of not saying anything at all. 

Here are 4 things white parents can tell their kids about race.

  1. Value diversity. Encourage your kids to seek out friendships with people who look different. Look around at your own group of friends and see how ethnically diverse it is. Think about branching out and expanding your circle, not just to include people of diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds but different political, religious or socio-economic backgrounds as well. Learn to value diversity to expand your own horizons, buck stereotypes and show your kids how we are more alike than we are different.
  2. Allow your kids the opportunity to be a minority. It is really hard to know what it feels like to be a minority until you’ve experienced yourself. Find cultural festivals in your area and take your kids to them. Sign them up for a class or camp where they are the only one of their race, religion or gender. Talk about how it felt and how they coped with that environment. How would it effect their personality if they lived that way everyday? What could the other kids do to make them feel more comfortable?
  3. Watch out for fear. When you see scary things on the news, it’s natural to catastrophize and think the whole world is going to hell and we are not safe. This sends our reptilian brain into a tailspin looking for more things to worry about and evidence to prove the world is a dangerous place. What researches know is that fear leads to hatred. When we don’t feel safe, we look for someone to blame. We lose access to our higher selves and our logical brains. For those of us who find it easy to love people of all races, the most important thing is to keep our hearts open. If watching the news increases fear, don’t watch. Continue to believe the world is a loving and accepting place and act accordingly. If worries and fears have taken over your brain, read The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris, Phd, the best book I’ve ever read for decreasing anxiety and fears. 
  4. Teach your kids to stand up to racist humor. Tell them that saying nothing means you are saying racial discrimination is ok. I have managed to surround myself with people who know not to make racial comments or jokes around me but teenagers get a lot of it and they don’t know how to react. The “teenage experts” I consulted (currently in the back seat of my car) say the best way to teach other teens their jokes aren’t funny is to not laugh. When someone is trying to be funny and you give a serious look and say “that’s wrong” or “not cool” or something similar that changes the energy to a serious tone, they will get the message.

We think our kids will pick up on our open-hearted feelings but I believe it requires a more deliberate approach. Racism is a part of our past and our present, whether we like it or not. Honestly addressing it, and giving our kids tools for stopping it, will help all our kids feel like they helping it not become a part of our future.