As a white parent of white kids it would be very easy to ignore the police murders of black people and other people of color. However, as a halfway decent person who wants to raise kids who are not monsters I believe that as white people talking to our kids about white privilege and what is happening in this country to people of color is the literal least we can do. I know it can be difficult to know what to say to kids and how to talk to them about these events, but it is imperative that we do. Here are some tips that have worked with my kids, but of course all families and kids are different so feel free to use what’s useful and discard the rest.
1. Remember Your Privilege.
Many white parents are scared that talking about police killings will traumatize their children. I can relate to this fear but it is important for white parents to remember that this conversation is nothing compared to the conversations Black families have to have. We need to prioritize creating white co-conspirators/allies and be constantly aware that other families are being torn apart by the police and the prison industrial complex. For us, parents of white kids, the stakes are really low and while of course we don’t want to traumatize our kids on purpose, if we are really going to try to work for a more just world it is a small price to pay.
2. Kids are Weirdos
Another note on being scared about traumatizing kids: kids are little awesome weirdos and they tend to be traumatized by things that you would never imagine and take other things in stride. For example, I watch tons of true crime shows and my kids have no issues with it, but if there are deer in the backyard my oldest son loses his shit. While of course talking about police killing Black folks indiscriminately should elicit some strong emotions in kids, having feelings about the horrible things happening in the world is not a bad thing, it’s part of being human.
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3. Don’t Forget to Focus on Black Resistance
If you just focus only on the ways that Black people are being victimized you may leave kids with the feeling that white people need to “save” them, and that is obviously not what you want the ‘takeaway’ to be. Black people have survived and fought against continuous threats to their survival in this country and continue to be the primary force working against racism and other injustices. The Black Lives Matter network and the Movement for Black Lives is a great place to start and you can also give kids some concrete ideas of things you can do together as a family to support Black led movements. However, it’s also important that you talk about the resistance movements of the past such as the fight against slavery, the civil rights movements, and the Black power movement. There are endless examples of Black resistance and resilience, make sure you include them.
4. Kids Understand Unfairness
It may be daunting to think about having these conversations with young children, but you may be surprised at how quickly they understand. Kids are often more attuned to inequality and unfairness than adults. Children are naturally attuned to justice. If you ever doubt that try giving siblings a different amount of candy. Though this is much more serious, it is also very simple: Black people are treated unfairly with consequences up to and including death.
5. Kids Also Know About Death
Kids at different ages have different understandings of death, but even at three or four they understand that death exists, though they may not understand it is permanent. Either way, talking about people being killed is something that kids will have some kid-type concept of already and they will likely be able to fit this new information into what they already know.
6. Make Showing Up An Expectation
In our family we have set the expectation that our kids should say something or do something to combat racism whenever possible. This can be really complicated and nuanced as a white person of any age, and we all mess up sometimes, but I think it’s important that they understand that doing nothing in the face of injustice is not acceptable. Older kids will probably learn about bullying and not being a “bystander,” i.e. someone who allows bullying to go on in their presence. This framework has given us an easy way to talk about what we expect from them, but we also talk about the importance of following the lead of the people most affected.
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7. No Matter What – Keep Talking
White privilege, racism, and police brutality is not a conversation you can have once and stop there. Unfortunately, there are plenty of instances in the news you can use as a jumping off point for these conversations. Even if conversations don’t go quite as you planned, make sure to keep talking to your kids. They may not understand everything right now, but as they get older they will slowly get it.
It cannot be stressed enough how easy we, as white people, have it and how much racial privilege we have. I’m extremely open to hearing any critiques or comments about this list. As white parents we are given a really easy opportunity to help to make change and anyone who cares about justice can’t afford to keep quiet.
[Feature Image: Black and white photo of a person with long dark hair, wearing a dark shirt. A child,with dark hair, is sitting in their lap. The child is wearing a hoodie. They are both sitting under a large outdoor tent and are surrounded by people. Source: Francisco Osorio]