Talking with (White) Kids about Race and Social Justice Issues (for families)

By Megan McQueen

As a white woman, I have benefited from the foundational white supremacy that infiltrates every system in our society. I learned that the civil rights movements in the 1960’s were important moments in history that solved many societal problems. The suburbs that I grew up in were somewhat racially diverse. I mistakenly thought that my friends and classmates had the same opportunities I did. As I began teaching in a racially diverse school, I realized I had a lot of unlearning to do. I listened to the families I worked with and began to understand that the civil rights movement was not over. I learned about my white privilege that has made my life easier than my friends of color. I want my white children to understand others’ perspectives and know they benefit from racist policies. I want to see them work to dismantle racism. 

My thoughts here belong to this moment in time. I hope that I will look back on this post and see that I have grown. I hope to amplify black voices and spark conversations. I hope you may see yourself in some part of me: a white person who wants to raise anti-racist children in a racist society. I am continuing my journey into unlearning, listening, and educating myself. As an educator, I have a responsibility to serve my students. All of my students and all parts of them. Hiding negative parts of the world is tempting, but disingenuous. Children deserve to know the truth and white silence upholds white supremacy. I urge you to seek out the words, experiences, and writings of people of color to learn from without burdening them. Analyze your books, social media feed, movies, influencers, and ensure that your heart is open as you continue this journey.

We know that race is socially-constructed. Differences and designations in race were created by people to create power structures. Race is also an important part of people’s identity and culture. Our racial identity impacts how we move through the world: our culture, our experiences, our perceptions. 

Start with yourself: I’ve always celebrated diversity with my students and children. But years ago I realized that I wasn’t addressing race or racism. It is lovely to share artists, authors, and musicians of color, but it is not enough. We can talk about equality, but we need to understand some history. Sign yourself up for some homework. Recognize that you have implicit bias. Read Between the World and Me, White Fragility, and How to Be an Antiracist for starters. Watch “13th” and “I Am Not Your Negro.” Begin to learn other perspectives and how our society got to this place. Know that white privilege does not mean that you haven’t worked for what you’ve accomplished or that your life hasn’t been challenging. White privilege means that you have generationally, systematically benefited just because of the color of your skin.

Start young: Children exhibit racist ideas from a very young age. They notice skin color. Acknowledge it! Name it. Let your kids know that talking about race is okay and something you will continuously do together. Many preschool and kindergarten teachers talk with their students about racism. Young childrens’ views can be changed easily. You can undo racist ideas quickly with several conversations. Also know it is never too late to start talking about race. You have tremendous power as a parent. Ensure that you are conscious of how you are using it. You have the greatest impact on determining if your child will be racist or antiracist.

Share positive stories: Share positive stories about people. Encourage diverse friendships (not as token friends, but remember to branch out of your neighborhood or school friend group). Read books with diverse characters and talk about their experiences. Take care that normal, everyday experiences are shared, not just stories of people to be pitied or saved. As Dr. Bloodline Barthelus said in a CASEL webinar, “Balance the narrative.” When people have strong connections with a cousin, uncle, neighbor, friend, they will easily understand why everyone is worthy of love and equal treatment. 

Encourage action: Children often feel powerless in the adult world. This is an instance where they have great power. When talking together about racism, your child may ask what they can do to help. Ask them if they have ideas. How can they help everyone in their school feel safe and celebrated? How can they interrupt racism when they hear it? Role play some scenarios together. When they notice a lack of diversity in books or toys or advertisements, encourage them to reach out to the company and ask for more representation. Your family can make signs and attend protests. Your children can research black-owned businesses in your town and support them. “Kids want to help,” says Dr. Deborah Rivas-Drake; prepare to support their efforts to take action.

Dr. Bloodline Barthelus shared a story from her graduate professor who asked, “How do you raise a racist?” The students answered in many ways to which the professor said, “No. You do nothing.” Be brave and start the work today.

Websites:

Books

Picture Books:

Middle Grade:

Young Adult:

For Adults:

*Please consider supporting black-owned bookstores when purchasing books.

Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, importing a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and pup.

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