Raise a Confident Black Kid: Talk to Them about Racism
Your heart will get broken—very often.
Young kids have no filters on what they say, and where they say the things they say, and they will ask you questions that will break your heart. You can teach them what is and is not appropriate to talk about in public, but be prepared to answer some tough questions at home. Questions like: “Why do they hate me for something that’s not my fault?” or “Why do the police want to kill me?” Stay supportive in your responses even when the conversations are deeply disturbing and troubling.
CNN and Sesame Street partnered to create a town hall on racism, which aims to help young kids learn how to stand up to racism; it is available online. Raising Race-Conscious Children (www. raceconscious.org) has curated a list of “100 Race-Conscious Things You Can Say to Your Child to Advance Racial Justice,” and the quotes on the website model language that has actually been used in a conversation with a child regarding race (and other identity markers such as gender and class); it’s an excellent resource for parents who want to get the conversation started. Embrace Race (www.embracerace.org) also has a series of webinars and action guides for talking to kids about race, and The Conscious Kid (www. theconsciouskid.org) offers kids’ books, interviews, and other critical conversation-starters.
It gets easier.
Learn to live with the discomfort you’re feeling, and how to corral that energy in a positive direction. Teach your kids how to do the same. Teach them they can talk to you about anything. We’ll look more closely at how to handle some of the more day-to-day problems your kids might face further in the book, and how to address these with constructive conversations.
Don’t give up.
Black kids need help developing self-esteem. As a parent, you’ll want to raise a child who feels confident and secure with who they want to be, despite other people’s racist attitudes. It will require a lot of work on your part to counter the negative messages they may be receiving from people around them. Remind them that it’s “not about you,” and encourage them to forge their identity as an individual as much as you can.
Pay attention to how you talk about other races in front of your kids. If you laugh at racially insensitive jokes or mock other people’s accents, knock it off. Kids are sensitive to bias, and they depend on you to model proper behavior. I grew up in an Afro-Caribbean community where calling someone “African” was considered the ultimate insult, and grown-ups thought it was okay to make fun of the “chintok.” On many occasions, I’ve been told, “You’re pretty for a Black girl”—and often it came from Afro-Latinx people.
We MUST do better.
Parents sometimes express understandable trepidation at the thought of initiating talks about race because of the impulse to protect their child’s innocence. However, a study from Developmental Science has shown that that children as young as three months old are already beginning to make distinctions about race, physical differences, and cultural differences and show preference for faces of their own race.9 Racial stereotyping begins very early. By the time a child reaches toddler age, they are noticing race and drawing conclusions, based in part on cues they receive from their parents’ body language and level of tension. They look to you for approval in a variety of ways, including who they have interactions with during playtime—and if your reactions are affected by the race of other people, they notice that too.
But racism is something that can be internalized by about the ages of two to four without any input from you, based solely on how prevalent it is in society, so it’s important that you remain vigilant and prepared to counter the messages your kids are receiving from around them every day.