Dear White Parents,
Are you still talking to your kids about race?
None of us could have imagined summer 2020. Wrought with anxiety and uncertainties due to COVID-19 — to day camp or to expand the pod? To work from the bathroom or the closet? — parents all over the country are experiencing a summer made from the stuff of bad dreams. Despite this universal reality, white parents raising white kids are experiencing a summer simultaneously blissfully absent of the fear of losing a child to white supremacy.
While white supremacy has always run rampant in America, the combination of the viruses of racism and COVID-19 seemed to be the recipe that tipped more white parents to finally join the call for anti-racism after the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Nina Pop, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd and the vile whiteness of Amy Cooper. One couldn’t scroll through a social media feed without seeing a black square, the number to call to arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor, or another white mom sharing an anti-racist children’s book list. (#guilty).
But now it’s August. And what never should have been a trend in the first place has totally left the building. White parents, in a move that’s not new but sadly the norm, are now eerily silent not only in social spaces, but in minds, conversations, and modeling. I know because I am a white parent raising white kids & I’ve got a lot of work to do here as well.
I am not an expert in the life’s work of becoming anti-racist or parenting with an anti-racist lens. But I am a white parent raising white children who understands that my silence around talking about racism is violent. Natasha Cloud reminds us that white silence allows the ‘normalcy” of white supremacy to flourish. When whiteness flourishes, Christian Cooper gets the cops called on him, Emmett Till gets killed, wealth will continue to be unequally distributed, education remains inequitable, and too many Black and brown people languish in prison (to name just a few things).
At no time does a Black mother get to not talk about race with her children. Audre Lorde says, “Raising Black children in the mouth of a racist, sexist, suicidal dragon is perilous and chancy. If they cannot love and resist at the same time, they will probably not survive.” White parents and/or people raising white children have the privilege of choosing when — IF EVER — to talk to their children about race. I can’t imagine how exhausting it must be to be a BIPOC parent — undoubtedly noting the surge in activism early summer — maybe even having a glimmer of cautious optimism that THIS time would be different… only to greet August replacing Black Lives Matter conversations with school supply lists.
Maybe you’ve got a super woke follow list and still see calls for defunding the police on the reg. Good for you. But, statistically speaking, even if white parents are saying the right things (whether in media platforms or in real life), our behavior doesn’t add up. A qualitative study by Sarah A. Matlock and Robin DiAngelo exploring how white parents who identify as anti-racist apply anti-racism principles to parenting their white children indicates significant inconsistencies between anti-racist values and parenting practices. “Although antiracist White parents overall conveyed an awareness of racism as a system of unearned privileges, there was minimal modeling of antiracist action,” they found.
Hmmmmm. Fellow white parents: We MUST do better.
Not because we need to save Black people and not because BIPOC parents haven’t been leading this fight for centuries. We need to do better because we need to save ourselves and our children from the ways whiteness diminishes our ability to be fully human. We need to do better because a world free of racism, bigotry, and hate requires every single one of us to get on board.
I don’t actually care if you never make noise on a social platform again (though, combined with modeling, practice, and funding it’s not a bad idea!) What I DO care about is that we continue to show up to the every day, life-long work of anti-racist parenting. What this looks like will vary vastly from home to home. Here are a few suggestions:
1. Remember that you’re only an anti-racist parent in so much as you’re an anti-racist adult. Keep learning from, listening to, paying, centering and building power with BIPOC.
2. Talk about race, ethnicity, skin color, facial features, and hair types. No, for the millionth time, they’re not too young to talk about this stuff! Studies show that as early as 3–6 months of age, babies begin to notice and express preference by race. And as anti-racism educator Monique Melton reminds us, not talking to your kids about race is talking to your kids about race.
3. Don’t let your fear of not knowing it all (or enough! or anything!) paralyze you from beginning the conversation. Remember, white parents will never be experts. But our obstinacy to begin the conversation is violent and privileged. Practice saying, “I don’t know the answer to that, let’s figure it out together.” Or, “I know we haven’t talked much about white supremacy in the past, but I’d like to start now.” Whiteness tells the story that we have to have all the answers. Demonstrate that you are also always learning and evolving.
4. Model, model, model. Don’t just say Black Lives Matter to your kids. Show them what that means to you as a family. Does it mean that you bank at a Black-owned bank? Worship at a place with Black leadership? Meet up (for socially distanced hangs) with ethnically diverse people? Speak up when something racist is said? Invest in Black causes and organizations? Kids are always watching. Model anti-racist behaviors and lifestyles.
5. Create a family pledge and manifest an equitable, anti-racist society. Dr. Kira Banks tells us that, “We can create an equitable society. It will take intentional work and deep community and learning. It will take being adults who cultivate an equity mindset in themselves and kids.” Your pledge might include things like: “In this home we …. Black Lives Matters means to us that …. We believe in …. And against… We imagine a world where … We work for ….” If you’ve got artsy kids have them turn your manifesto into a collage that you can hang around your table to serve as a daily reminder of the world you wish to bring about.
6. Ask questions. Ask what they know or think about what they’re reading on twitter, watching on the news, or seeing in the streets. Let their questions guide an intentional conversation about anti-racism. Use every moment as an opportunity to talk about racism, not only when you’re headed to a protest or when another Black person dies.
7. Remember to talk about racism not only on the individual level but also the systemic level. It’s one thing to tell kids to be nice to everyone no matter their skin color, it’s a whole different thing to talk to kids about how racism causes deep structural inequalities that must be addressed through policy and culture change. As Ibram Kendi says, “not talking to our kids how bad policies cause inequalities between identities — is like refusing to give our children the glasses they need to see the roots of our world of inequality.”
9. Watch and discuss together the KidLit4BlackLivesRally from the Brown Bookshelf and Raising Antiracist Kids: Ibram X. Kendi with Derecka Purnell.
Come on, white parents of the world. Black and brown people are still disproportionately dying of COVID-19 and at the hands of white supremacy. We’ve been nauseatingly quiet. (Again.) But there is still time. September is coming. The children of the world are watching and listening, and WE can be part of making a change for good.
Before you go, check out these beautiful children’s books by Black authors: