The Top 5 Reasons Well Meaning White Parents Do Not Discuss Race With Their White Children

This is a post for well meaning white parents of white children and I’m going to cut straight to the point. The time to ask, “what can I do?” in response to the overt and insidious forms of racism and violence against Black and brown people is over.

We know what to do. We’ve been told again, and again, and again, and again.

If we want to raise anti-racist children, the ask has been and will always be to work to dismantle white supremacy within ourselves and our families. As parents, this means we must reject colorblind ideology and talk explicitly with our kids about race and racism.

But we aren’t. We don’t. A recent study found only 6% of white parents discuss race often with their children. And we have a litany of excuses for why we won’t.

For the past five years, I’ve co- facilitated a Race Conscious Parent Collective in Atlanta, a group designed to support the ongoing development of white parents and educators of white, multiracial children, and children of color, who are seeking to unlearn and dismantle white supremacy within their families, schools, neighborhoods and faith communities. The same themes come up over and over again around why white parents do not talk to their kids about race.

I thought it worth sharing the top 5 reasons well meaning white parents tell me they don’t talk about race with their children, with the hope you see your excuse dismantled and you get to work.

1) Talking about race is developmentally inappropriate/my kids are too young

This is the most common excuse I hear offered from well meaning white parents. The delivery varies, but might include commentary like, their kids are “only 5” so clearly too young, or the parent is a counselor and has studied psychological development and believes kids shouldn’t be exposed to injustice before the age of 10.

First of all, psychological developmental standards were developed by white men for white people. And believe me, the founding fathers of psychoanalysis were not anti-racist. You can read more here and here.

There is a growing body of research and evidence supporting the need for parents of all racial and ethnic backgrounds to name race and discuss racism early and often. When kids are left on their own to figure out the world around them, they develop biases.

Parents of Black and brown children cannot and do not wait to educate their children about race and racism. Yet the average white family doesn’t discuss race until their child is 13 and only 6% of us talk about race and racism often.

Talk to your kids about race and racism.

kids and race

2) Childhood is fleeting; I want my kids to remain innocent for as long as possible

This is the less intellectualized, more emotional version of the psychological standards excuse above. Innocence and understanding race and racism are not mutually exclusive. My children live wonder-filled lives AND they learn about and we discuss race and racism. If I deny my children the opportunity to understand race and racism in the name of innocence, I’m perpetuating white supremacy. Full stop.

Prentis Hemphill, a Black movement facilitator, Somatics Teacher and writer just wrote about white identity and innocence:

“Innocence and exceptionalism sit at the core of white identity and will only be undone in responsibility, action, risk and care. It will only be undone through a systemic uprooting of all that enforces its myth making violence.”

My kids will be okay knowing the truth about the world. White supremacy ensures that.

Talk to your kids about race and racism.

3) My kid is too sensitive/has other issues

Stating the obvious, Black and brown children have ranges of issues and challenges outside of their racial identity, whether it’s learning differences, mental health issues, illness and more. And yet, their parents must figure out how to balance who their children are AND to help them navigate and survive life as a Black or brown person in this world. They are told about race and racism. White parents can and must do the same.

My kids cried when I shared history about Native American genocide. They cried when I showed them pictures of protestors in Minneapolis being sprayed with tear gas. They cry when they see me cry. This is okay. My children are showing empathy and an ability to recognize injustice and the harm it causes. I’m here to tell you, their tears dry and they are okay. White supremacy ensures that.

Pathfinder, community curator and storyteller, Mia Birdsong, taught me to lift up the freedom fighters when discussing oppression with my kids. This helps them know for as long as injustice has existed, so has resistance. I ask my children to brainstorm what actions we can take as a family to give them agency and teach them they have the power to be change agents.

Talk to your kids about race and racism.

4) I’m worried naming race and racism will make my kids racist

There is research that shows when white parents do not discuss race and racism, kids develop racial biases that do not necessarily match the values of their parents. Why is this? Because we live in a white supremacist culture. The only way our kids have a fighting chance at becoming anti-racist is through explicit education about race and racism and constant interruption of racism in their daily lives.

Do you let your kids play cops and robbers? Do you let them play “jail” where they put the “bad guys” in jail? Do you let them watch Disney movies with racist stereotypes? Do you let them watch one of the many cartoon shows glorifying Law Enforcement?

These are all examples of how white supremacy infiltrates our children’s lives. I must actively interrupt and educate my kids about race and racism every single day because they are receiving racist messaging every single day.

Talk to your kids about race and racism.

5) I’ll make a mistake or get it wrong

Yes, you will. Again and again you will make a mistake and get it wrong. Which is why we need to be doing the work of dismantling white supremacy within ourselves every day. I am no good to my children if I’m not actively working on my own anti-racism.

Every morning, I wake up, look in the mirror and admit that racism and white supremacy lives inside of me and I commit to fighting against it. I look at my children and know that racism and white supremacy live within them and commit to fighting against it. This is a daily mantra and practice.

Kids do need scaffolding to understand injustice and systematic oppression. We can’t jump from zero to 100. Naming race and helping our kids understand skin tone and differences is the beginning. Understanding our country’s true history is next. Connecting our racist history to current events comes after and so on and so forth, in perpetuity.

I make mistakes. I tell my kids I don’t know how to answer their questions when that’s my truth. I am okay. My kids are okay. Parenting is a long game and I can do hard things.

Talk to your kids about race and racism.

There are many other excuses well meaning white parents tell ourselves to avoid talking about race and racism with our kids, but these are the ones I hear on repeat. Do you see yourself above? I sure hope so, because I certainly see myself.

The good news is, there is a massive body of resources to help us learn how to talk about race and racism with our kids. Books for Littles, EmbraceRace, Mamademics, My Reflection Matters, Parenting is Political, Raising Race Conscious Children, The Conscious Kid, Wee The People, book lists and more! The tragedy is, these resources exist and we’re flat out not using them.

The inconvenient truth is the work of dismantling white supremacy within ourselves and our children has to happen every day. Not just when a brutal murder captures our collective attention and triggers our outrage. I am not doing the work if I only grapple with race and racism in rhythm with the news cycle. White supremacy does not disappear when the headlines fall quiet.

And of course, talking about race and racism is just the tip of the iceberg. The start of an anti-racist journey. It’s the beginning, not the end.

White parents: No more excuses. We know what to do. We’ve known for quite some time. We know where to start.

Black Lives Matter AG

15 thoughts on “The Top 5 Reasons Well Meaning White Parents Do Not Discuss Race With Their White Children

  1. Diane Brown says:

    ‘I must actively interrupt and educate my kids about race and racism every single day because they are receiving racist messaging every single day.” i TOTALLY AGREE WITH THE WRITER AND APPRECIATE THIS ARTICLE!!!

    Like

  2. Kent says:

    with all the reasons of why well meaning whites do not discuss racism with their kids before a certain age… the racist whites are teaching their kids hatred from day one.. where as the black and brown families are educating their kids for survival purposes to educate them on the possibility of encountering someone who still or possibly do harm to them simply because of their beautiful skin color.

    Like

  3. JOYCE PRESLAR says:

    As a child raised in the South during segregation, I rebelled and was scorned for seeking to understand and promote racial equality. I rebelled and studied African American Studies at UNC-CH toward a degree. I rebelled and wrote two plays about racial incidents in N.C. Not all white, older Southern white women grew up to be white supremacists. I can’t think of any claim to supremacy that belongs to white people. We have to work against the tide.

    Like

    1. strivingshannon says:

      Thanks for writing. White supremacy lives inside every white person reared in this country. It’s internalized and we must battle against it explicitly. No one is exempt and none of us are perfect. I’m glad to be doing the work alongside us.

      Like

  4. urbankelle says:

    I’m so grateful for you. Thank you for lighting the way.

    On Fri, May 29, 2020 at 12:38 PM A Striving Parent wrote:

    > strivingshannon posted: ” This is a post for well meaning white parents of > white children and I’m going to cut straight to the point.. The time to > ask, “what can I do?” in response to the overt and insidious forms of > racism and violence against Black and b” >

    Like

  5. J. T. Shabazz says:

    We must also study religion as it relates to racial superiority. The image of a Caucasian looking Jesus Christ who is the son/sun of G’d the Creator and the related notions about the son of Noah, Ham, who was supposed to be cursed by G’d. To subject people to these powerful images for centuries has had a profound effect on both the racist and those who are victims of it.

    Like

  6. Priscilla Padron says:

    I totally agree with all that is said about race in this forum, but I can honestly say I have been privileged to live in a society where almost everyone is of mixed race (White, Native American and Black), The country is Venezuela. My former Venezuelan husband was of mixed race, and my children are as well.

    Like

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