TALKING WITH YOUR CHILD
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. —Lao Tzu
Though it can be hard to know how to take the first step when talking about such a big subject.
Talking with your child about race and racism is similar in many ways to talk with your child about sex. Just as sex can be a beautiful and fulfilling part of life, embracing our racial and ethnic differences can also be beautiful and life-enhancing.
But sex, when misunderstood and misdirected, has been turned by some into an ugly and destructive force. Our differences in skin color and ethnicity (among other differences) have likewise been twisted by misguided people, who use them as justification to claim advantages for some groups and to push other groups down.
The “sex talk” and the “race talk” are complicated but critical components of helping our children stay on a path that leads to safety, joy, and fulfillment in life. We don’t want to get it wrong, but we worry that we might. Discomfort causes some of us to avoid the subject for as long as possible.
Often we rely on role models from our own childhood to guide us as we raise our children. While some white families have actively promoted bias against other races, many well-intentioned white parents have adopted the “colorblind” approach, saying little more than “we are all the same”. That approach has not produced the intended result of equalizing the playing field. Children in families of color learn early on that all are not treated the same, and parents must address the things they need to know to navigate obstacles. Families of color find it difficult, but they have never been able to opt-out of the race talk. Many white families have avoided bringing it up, and for them talking about race remains uncharted territory.
If you choose to go down this path, you will make mistakes. And that is okay—just part of parenting. Your child will ask a question, and you will not have an answer. So you can tell them you do not know, but together you can try to figure it out. You may tell your child something that you later find out is actually incorrect. So you can revisit the subject and tell them you need to make a correction. Your child may witness you do or say something that you later wish you could take back. So you can tell your child you regret it—or better yet, let them see you make amends. As parents, we will never be models of perfection, but we can model the persistence to do even better. No one—not even an expert in the field—has all the answers.
You and your family will embark on this journey together. Plan it as you would any adventure. Find an appropriate starting point given your child’s age and developmental abilities. Take it at your own pace. Look forward to the experience as a great time to bond with your child and explore together. Be as prepared as possible, but don’t be daunted if things take you in a different direction than you anticipated. Let your child help navigate. Enjoy opportunities to cross paths with other families on journeys of their own. Join now.
“I hope in the year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing the world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.”—Neil Gaiman, children’s author