The racial injustices that have hit our nation in wave upon wave feel weighty. We cringe at the latest videos of police brutality and vigilantes murdering a black man. We shed tears, we say prayers, and often, we don’t quite know how a white person like ourselves should respond to personal and systemic injustices.
I feel lucky because various shades of color sit around my living room and fight over the best seats in the family van. As a mom of white kids and black kids, I have an added incentive to do something about racial injustices.
You too, care about this issue. That is why we are here asking the questions What can we do? and How can our families be a part of the solution?
It can feel big and overwhelming, right? Where do we begin?
Chances are, you have already begun doing something to eradicate racial injustices by laying the foundations for these conversations with your kids. Perhaps the first two ways suggested will simply be reminders of what you have already been instilling in your kids and you will be ready to take the next steps.
I am the first one to admit I do not know everything about anti-racist work, but that should not hold any of us back from beginning and it should compel us to keep learning.
(This post contains many links; hovering over or tapping them will highlight the links.)
With that said, here are four ways we can talk to our white kids about racism:
1. We tell our kids what Jesus thinks.
Perhaps a priority for your family is doing things God’s way. If so, a perfect place to start this conversation about race is with reminding our kids of who God is and what he loves.
All humanity is created in God’s image (Genesis 1).
God invites us all into his family (Matthew 12:28).
God does not divide people by race (Galatians 3:28),
but God celebrates the variety of people he has made (Revelation 7:9).
God shows no favoritism (Acts 10:34).
God fights for justice (Isaiah 58).
God frees those who are held captive (Isaiah 61).
God defends the oppressed (Psalm 82:3).
God expects his people to stand up for the rights of the oppressed (Proverbs 31:8-9).
All people are equally loved and God is deeply concerned about justice. Our kids need to hear those words spoken plainly.
(BONUS: check out this short video that ties in with God celebrating the variety of people, Why I Don’t Think We Should Teach Our Kids to be Colorblind by Jennifer Borget.)
2. We teach our kids they are powerful.
No matter what shade of brown their skin glows, every kid needs to know that being made in God’s image gives them power and influence.
This works in two ways. As our kids grow in their understanding of their own potential, they will see unjust situations as opportunities and they will see themselves as world changers. When they hear racial slurs, and they will hear them, they will believe their voice is important and can call out said racism, physically come along side of the one discriminated against to offer friendship and solidarity.
The other way this idea of powerful kids works, is that they recognize others are powerful as well. The power does not reside in only our white kids but all are created with equal power. While it is true that our systems have restrained the power of blacks for hundreds of years and there will be times when our white children will need to use their influence for the benefit of their dark-skinned peers, they need to recognize that all people are equally powerful and white people are not called to be the saviors. There is one Savior named Jesus and his kids were created to share influence, king and queenship and power.
Every one of our kids, black and white and brown, are forces to be reckoned with, and together, they can halt injustice because of the God-given power that resides in all of them.
3. We color their world.
Let’s get really practical here and look at the shades of skin in our kids’ worlds. Some of our white kids may not have a lot of color naturally sprinkled throughout their days. Perhaps the small businesses, school playground and church family around you isn’t very diverse. While we might not be able to change our neighborhoods this week, here is what we can do: bring color into our homes.
Does our girl’s doll collection include brown and black bodies?
Does our son have the Black Panther action figure as well as Captain America?
Do our families listen to a broad range of music, including black voices?
Do our kids watch TV shows including PoC? Do our kids watch shows and movies where the PoC are the lead and not simply playing a supporting role?
Even decor such our nativity scenes and Santas can be brown and black.
All of those small but intentional choices reaffirm the value of PoC and can set our kids up to appreciate diversity. Light-skinned and blond does not hold the monopoly on beauty nor is white synonymous with leadership.
Here are some links for further diversifying our homes:
Brains and Beauty Dolls
Healthy Roots Baby Doll
Just Like Me Dolls by Target
Kids Like Me Toys
Diverse Kids’ Toys by The Every Mom
35 Black Kids TV Shows by Mater Mea
African American Children’s Movies by Voices of Black Cincinnati
Best Christian Rappers by Ranker Music
4. We check for hidden racism.
This one is hard; stay with me, parents. Confronting the deep places inside of our beliefs is scary and vulnerable and at the same time very important. We as parents must take responsibility for the prejudice and superiority in our own hearts as we help our kids navigate their own. If you are reading this, you care about racial equality and it may be quite hard to believe you yourself have prejudice. As a mom of an Ugandan-American and a black son, I too, was resistant to the idea that I was biased. But I discovered that I was. I still am. But bit by bit, I am scrutinizing my thoughts, assessing them and asking God to remove all racism.
How do we know if we have prejudice lurking in the corners of our hearts?
This racism scale is helpful for recognizing thought patterns. It points us from justification towards awareness and abolition. Take a look; it’s worth your time!
Here is another thought provoking chart, Overt vs. Covert White Supremacy by The Conscious Kid on Instagram. Note that all terms and attitudes are racist, just gradually less obvious.
If some of the language is unfamiliar to you, look it up. Be informed. Do the hard work of looking inward and then help your kids do the same. Take them through the chart, discuss what the terms mean. Be honest with them about racial tendencies you see in yourself and how you are making efforts to change.
Our kids are quick learners and may even end up teaching us a thing or two.
5. We Listen.
This one is big, parents. This one may be what takes us from spectator to ally: listening to the experiences of men, woman and children of color. Whether we are aware of it or not, we all wear different lenses that tint our vision. Our gender, parents, educational experience, majority or minority hood, come together to give us a unique perspective on the world we engage with. If we are willing to learn from others with different perspectives, in this case, those with different racial experiences, if we are willing to show up with a determination to listen, we can rest assured that our perspective will indeed shift.
One way to model listening to our kids is by reading them books about and by People of Color and seeing us read and listen to the same. As our kids become old enough to chose whom they will read and follow for themselves, we want to be able to point them to black and other minority voices.
Here are some great book lists:
31 Children’s Books to Support Conversations on Race, Racism, and Resistance at Embrace Race
Children’s Books by BlackBabyBooks.com
We Recommend (Books, Movies and Podcasts) by Be the Bridge
Let’s Talk about Race Book Recommendations from Here Wee Read
Please note: so many people like us are choosing to listen and learn that some of the top-selling anti-racist books are temporarily out of stock in some formats.
Here are some influencers of color we parents can learn from:
*Social Justice Parenting on IG
*The Conscience Kid on IG
*Wear Truth & Gold on IG
Black Coffee with White Friends on IG
Jemar Tisby on FB
Austin Channing Brown on FB
Jackie Hill Perry linktree
*Here Wee Read on IG
The Andre Henry linktree
Osheta Moore on IG
Latasha Morrison on Twitter at Be the Bridge
Wes Moore on Twitter
*Beleaf in Fatherhood on YouTube
Lisa Sharon Harper on Twitter
*specifically about kids and parenting
These lists of books and influencers are just a jumping off point or maybe a few more suggestions for your already diverse social media feed. Ask friends for recommendations or explore the suggestions Twitter is fond of giving.
The bottom line is to keep listening and keep learning from those who have experienced racial injustice for themselves and are courageously speaking about it. Our kids will benefit from this directly and indirectly.
Parents, I believe in us and I believe in this next generation of world changers. We can start teaching our kids at the very same time we are teaching ourselves. Let’s not put off these teachable moments with our kids until we understand everything or simply hope for the best in racial reconciliation. Let’s be intentional about teaching our white kids about racism.
Conversation Starters with Our Kids:
1. Have you ever felt that someone didn’t want to be your friend because of the color of your skin, your gender, your clothes or something else about you? How did you know they didn’t want to be your friend?
2. Have you ever been called ugly names? How did that make you feel? What would you have wanted your friends to do or say if they would have heard the name calling?
3. Are your closest friends similar to you in age, gender and race, or different from you? In what ways? Why do you think that is?
4. In what ways might kids of a different color experience school or church in a different way than you do?
5. Have you ever heard a racist comment being made to someone? What did they say? How do you think the person being discriminated against felt? Why might the person have made the comment?
6. Do you think racism still exists? If you have never noticed it before, do you think it could still exist?
7. When would be an appropriate time to tell an adult about a racist comment you heard?
8. Do you think it is your place to stand up to racial prejudice? Why or why not?
9. What can you do to help end racial prejudice?
(Blog post has been edited from its original posting in 2017.)