My life is dedicated to working toward equity for all and speak, train and think about racism. I work to be anti-racist daily. I have been a parent for just over 21 years and have three kids ages 21, 15, and 12. Raising kids is the most difficult and important job we are given. I acknowledge my weaknesses and struggles and work hard to be better and do better each day. The events bringing racial injustice to the forefront of our communities emphasize the need to get involved. Therefore, we must educate ourselves and our children to work toward a more equitable tomorrow. It is time to be and teach our kids to be anti-racist.
My parenting has always included teaching my children to treat people with kindness and respect. It did not always include work specifically intended to be anti-racist. That has changed. I am now very intentional about conversations, educational opportunities and engaging in hard conversations about racism with my kids.
What is an anti-racist? An anti-racist is a person who takes an active stand against racism. They don’t simply talk about not being racist, they actively seek out ways to interrupt the continuance of racial injustice. In other words, it requires one to be performative, not passive, to be anti-racist requires action.
7 Ways to Encourage Your White Children To Be Anti-Racist
My family is white, our identities as white people living in America present us with unearned privileges. We can choose to acknowledge or to dismiss this, that’s privilege (for more on that read my earlier blog). I choose to use our privilege to benefit others and work toward a more equitable world. Focusing on these 7 points better equips my family on our journey to become anti-racist.
Empathy is an important life skill for a multitude of reasons not just to be an anti-racist. Empathy is the ability to place oneself in another person’s experience and to understand or even feel what a person is feeling. By teaching your children to understand other’s perspectives and feel what others feel, your children can begin to comprehend how injustice, including racism, harms people.
Empathy for others contributes to one’s emotional intelligence (EI). Having a high EI makes work in justice, diversity, equity and inclusion more sustainable (look for more on that here). With this in mind, if we teach our children how a person feels about something, we can begin to understand situations better and with this comes a more comprehensive approach to situations.
Teaching this is not specific to race. For example, when you see a homeless person, don’t ignore the situation. Instead, talk to your child about how that person might feel standing on the side of the street asking for money or food. Sure you can assume what you want about their circumstances. You could also look into the eyes of this human struggling in ways you are not. Talk to your child about how cold/hot it must be in the weather and maybe how lonely it seems. Talk about this and then show compassion and care (empathy) for the person in the hopes that it demonstrates to your child that other peoples’ feelings matter. Having empathy can be a great first step toward realizing the impact of racial injustice on other people.
Be Anti-Racist & Talk About Racism
Yep, talk about racism. In the open, on a regular basis even when it’s uncomfortable. I understand it can be hard and maybe you don’t know what to say. Teach yourself, research a little, check the internet for resources, there are so many ways to learn. Check out this great resource from PBS or this one from UNICEF before you start talking about racism. Don’t shy away from the conversation.
Your kids know and hear information about racism all the time moreover they absorb biases from the day they are introduced to our society. Like most topics, they are not only formulating their understandings and assumptions about race based on your actions, they are also listening to outside influences and learning how to respond. Not talking about racism with your kids doesn’t make it go away or not exist within their world. As a matter of fact, it is and will continue to be ever-present in their lives. Help your children understand and be curious about how they can interrupt racism in their experiences.
Identify Their Privileges
We are ALL born with privilege, no matter who you are, what your identities are or how you live, privilege exists in our lives. For this reason, we should talk about privilege and what it means. Having privilege means you receive unearned advantages for something outside of your control. That is to say, our privileges can provide us with opportunities others may not experience. Sometimes others have to overcome barriers to gain access to opportunities we have, simply because of life circumstances out of our control.
For instance, I was born with the ability to hear which means I can more easily navigate the world generally created for hearing folks without barriers those with hearing impairments must face. This is an example of ability privilege, I did not earn the ability to hear, I was born with it.
It is important our children understand privilege exists and it exists differently for each person. When you’re aware and can acknowledge your own privileges, you can learn how to use privileges to ensure other people are treated equitably. To demonstrate we can revisit the situation with a homeless person: show your child how to use the privilege of access to warm clothes on a cold night by creating care bags with warm socks, gloves and toiletries you can give away to homeless people.
Point out to your kids what privileges they have and how they benefit from it in different situations then help them see how they can use these advantages to help others. When we do this in all types of situations, it will be natural for them to use their white privilege to interrupt racism.
Expose & Engage in “Different”
This point is universal for much more than race! Engaging with and exposing your children to different experiences outside of their own traditions and culture are beneficial in a multitude of ways. It just happens to be helpful in anti-racist education as well.
For most of us, the company we keep often looks, speaks and believes like we do. This has tended to be true for my family. We live in a predominantly white neighborhood, most of our neighbors’ first language is English and we gravitate toward people whose values include a commitment to justice, diversity, equity and inclusion. We recognize our kids are in a predominately white school district. This makes it our responsibility to seek out opportunities that include greater diversity.
This is important because ‘different’ is often needlessly feared, easily dismissed or misunderstood. Race and culture can fall into this ‘different than’ category for those not venturing out of their bubble. When we experience more diverse interactions on a regular basis, they become our norm. Normalizing exposure to diversity provides an opportunity to observe, learn and understand and respect differences.
As parents and as a family, we look for opportunities to meet and interact with more diverse populations on a regular basis. We find it through sports and activities the kids are interested in experiencing, sometimes opting to play sports in more racially diverse towns. We also look for cultural events and opportunities happening around our area. It takes effort and research and it is worth the time spent. We have found great friends, new family traditions and discovered different in a way that has allowed us to gain familiarity with new things. This familiarity eliminates the uneasiness or fear often associated with the unknown.
Be Anti-Racist: Acknowledge Mis-Steps: Yours & Theirs
Here is a guarantee I can give you about working to be an anti-racist. You are going to have missteps, you will make errors and say the wrong thing at some point. It is bound to happen and it is part of the learning process. Let’s be honest, it really is a part of any learning process. What is important to remember, is you need to acknowledge the misstep and identify how you will not do this again. This demonstration will allow your children to see how we handle mistakes and how natural it is to make them.
If you say the wrong thing, or someone calls you out for something, take this as an opportunity to learn. Maybe that person is wrong or just has another perspective you can use to further develop your understanding. Either way, there is an opportunity to be educated. Acknowledge your or your child’s missteps with compassion and empathy, apologize when appropriate and commit to continued learning. Mistakes provide opportunities for growth, sometimes growth is hard and painful. Seize the opportunity to normalize making mistakes along the journey toward anti-racism. It will provide an example for your kid(s) and allow some space for you to realize the difficulty in the experience as well as your own growth.
Learning to be anti-racist together with your child is a remarkable experience. As you start to experience new information together, you have the chance to see the inter-workings of your children’s minds. I have learned so much and been reminded of important lessons when I explore new topics with my kids. When you start to observe your child as someone you can also learn from, great things can happen.
My kid’s perspectives are important for me to hear and understand. I have engaged in their schooling with discussions about what they are reading, learning and researching in school. I find this to be a time to talk about history that is often excluded in the traditional classroom. For instance, when they come home with a topic, we will sit down and research the perspective of marginalized people in that same time period or situation. We discuss the perspective of history they heard about in school and who or what might be missing to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the history lesson.
This exploration has provided as much new knowledge for me as it has for my kids. I realize how much I don’t know about history and whose stories I have yet to hear. Doing this work together provides a system of support, encouragement and accountability. I note my kids are a bit older than others and this helps with pushing me to grow. My adult daughter’s or teenage son’s perspective provides insight. I have not always been open to learning from them and as I have allowed for this to occur, they have appreciated the space to have open and honest discussions. I hope demonstrating ongoing learning to my children provides them with an openness to always accept there is more they can know and better understand.
Support Speaking Up
Let me start by explaining what I mean about supporting your children when they speak up. As you start to talk about racism, expose them to different and make an intentional effort to interrupt racism, your kids are going to start to notice instances of racial injustice. They might also start to point them out to you and to others. Support them when they do and guide them toward constructive ways to address racism.
If they ask questions about what they are or are not learning in school, help them inquire with the teacher. When they feel compelled to address what someone is saying in public, support them by asking and work through the situation with them. This one can be hard for sure, especially when your child speaks up and it embarrasses you or leaves you vulnerable. Don’t admonish or hush them to speak about it quietly or in private. Pushing their questions, thoughts or ideas aside could discourage them from speaking up or addressing situations in the future and your need for them to be active and engaged if you truly desire them to be anti-racist. The same goes for you!
Keep on the journey to be an anti-racist
The journey to be an anti-racist has no destination. It is ongoing, it is hard and it is of vital importance to creating a better world for our children. I hope you will embark on the journey for yourself and that you will encourage the same road for your kids. Find people and communities to help you navigate conversations and learning. If you are looking for a place to start, join others dedicated to becoming anti-racist on the Facebook Group I facilitate. It is called “Let’s Talk Racism, Bias & Privilege to Gain Understanding & Do Better” and you can join us here. We explore questions, learn together and journey together to be anti-racist.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent those of The We Spot, it’s employees, sponsors, or affiliates.