As more Americans wake up to the urgency of the Black Lives Matter movement, many of us are wondering how we can do a better job raising anti-racist kids. But the solution is way more complicated than attending a rally and diversifying your kids’ reading list. For non-Black (and especially white) parents and caregivers, the work should be deeply personal.
“Talk to your kids about race. Absolutely do this. But please, talk to your child about your whiteness first before you talk about my blackness,” urged Michelle Silverthorn, a diversity consultant, author, and TEDx speaker, in the Medium essay ‘Mom, Why Don’t You Have Any Black Friends?’
In her piece, Silverthorn encouraged parents to take a good look at their own racial biases. Most white Americans live in segregated communities without many Black friends, teachers, or neighbors—for a variety of reasons related to the history of systemic racism in this country. “This didn’t happen by coincidence,” wrote Silverthorn. “These were intentional choices made by legislators, mortgage lenders, school administrators, and company CEOs, but also by your parents and by you. And soon, these will be choices made by your kids.”
To get non-Black people to understand this series of choices in their own lives and families, she encourages them to engage in an 18-question exercise examining their own relationship with race. In addition to Silverthorn’s questionnaire, here are some other parenting-specific questions that non-Black parents should be asking themselves right now:
- How do you define a “good” school, and has that impacted the diversity your child is exposed to in your chosen school/program or neighborhood/town?
- How do you decide which neighborhoods or towns to venture to for family outings? Do you ever avoid certain neighborhoods based on perceptions of safety or your own comfort level?
- When you engage in casual chit-chat with other parents at family-oriented events, does their (perceived) race usually match yours?
- Who does your child most often have play dates with, and what makes you feel comfortable with these other families?
- What races are centered in your favorite childhood books, movies, and toys that you’re eager to pass on to your child?
The answers to all of these questions will help reveal to you how your children are perceiving race in the little corner of the world that you have chosen to expose them to. Because no matter how many times you say the words “Black Lives Matter,” what your children will really absorb are the daily choices you make with regards to race.
Share these questions with other parents you know well, and discuss the “why” and “how” with them. If you’ve realized that you’ve been raising your kids in a bubble where whiteness is the norm and the default, what are ways that you can help break this cycle?
Bearing all this in mind, your conversations about race and racism with your kids will need to include something about your own role in the ongoing societal perceptions of Black people. Feel free to start small, like talking about a book series or line of dolls you used to love but that you now realize had unfair and misleading representation.
Older kids can help you explore the answers to some of the bigger questions and come up with solutions for your family. You and your kids can learn more together by delving into personally relevant topics such as school integration, whiteness in Hollywood, and the criminalization of Black students.
Parents certainly won’t have all the answers, especially when you’re not used to thinking about your own complicity in racism. But, as with everything parenting related, the goal isn’t to be perfect. As Allison Briscoe-Smith, Ph.D., a clinical child psychologist specializing in trauma and issues of race, explained in a recent EmbraceRace webinar, “My encouragement is that this is not about being the perfect parent, it’s about being a good enough parent that can make a mistake and narrate that mistake, to be accountable and come back.”