How to Talk to Children About Racism

Step One: Acknowledge reality.

By Courtenay Rogers

Girls To The Moon Co-Founder

A man tends a candle at a vigil for those who died and were injured when a car plowed into a crowd of anti-racist counter-demonstrators in Virginia. (Win McNamee / Getty Images)

We can’t ignore what took place over the weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia. On Friday night, white supremacists marched with tiki torches, openly chanting Nazi slogans without covering their faces with hoods.

On Saturday, surrounded by militia men carrying automatic weapons, the white supremacists assembled with swastikas and Confederate flags fully visible. David Duke was there, along with other representatives of the Ku Klux Klan.

As counter-protesters drew closer, a man drove his car into the crowd, murdering a 32-year old woman and injuring 19 others.

Here’s an article from the perspective of students who were at UVA during the incident. Got 22 minutes and an empty stomach? Watch this video from Vice. It’s nauseating and incredibly well done.

What transpired in Charlottesville is all over the news and social media, and it’s hard to explain to children. As former President Barack Obama tweeted this weekend:

Racism is taught. Anti-semitism is learned. Fascism is the antithesis of freedom. None of this is how we’re predisposed to thrive. It isn’t encoded into our DNA. If children hate others, it’s because an adult taught them to do so.

So how do we talk about what we’re seeing on the television this week with children we are teaching to love?

It starts with knowing that you MUST talk about these things, and it’s okay if you don’t have all of the answers.

Policemen are lead a group of black school children into jail, following their arrest for protesting against racial discrimination near the city hall of Birmingham, Ala., on May 4, 1963. If you’re a white person, stop and think about these kids here before you feel worried about talking to your kids about racism.

 

Don’t be afraid to have these conversations

GTTM alumni and friend Krystal Clark shared some incredible resources with us that we’d like to pass on. In a blog post she wrote last year, she had this to say about talking about race and ethnicity in America.

“If you truly care and you want to know more and be an active part of creating a better environment for all people, then it would be helpful if you used your Google finger to lead you to material that will aid you in ways that will create internal growth and change.

“(These are) texts that can serve as a medium that will help you stock your toolkit with answers to the questions that are marinating in your head. This foundation will also help you start a conversation with someone in your life who’s open to chatting about the hard stuff — you know, the stuff you were probably told not to talk about at the dinner table.

“Oftentime, we cite fear as being the reason that we don’t move towards learning and engagement. ‘What if I say the wrong thing? I don’t want to be called a racist.’ The question becomes, do you care enough to face your fear? Ignorance isn’t bad, it just means that you don’t know and we all need to support each other in the fight to alleviate ignorance.”

Helpful books and articles

In this same blog, Krystal shares a curated list of books and articles that are helpful for adults to read. These resources are meant to guide you as caregivers to learn and help you feed your mind and empower yourself to dig into topics that are tough.

Following the events in Charlottesville, The New York Times compiled a list of books that you can read with your kids that we highly recommend.

We shared another list a few months ago in our newsletter that includes 7 books that teach kids about social justice and activism.

Age-appropriate guides

It’s hard to believe that we’re seeing the words Nazi so often in the year 2017. If your kids have learned about World War II, then this isn’t a new term. But for some of the younger kids, this may be new to them.

The United State Holocaust Memorial Museum has great resources, including guidance on age-appropriate content and steps they recommend when approaching the topic with kids.

A poignant message that stands out in the Holocaust Museum materials is one that resonates with us today: “The Holocaust took place because individuals, groups, and nations made decisions to act or not to act. Focusing on those decisions leads to insights into history and human nature and can help your students to become better critical thinkers.”

We must help our children and young adults become critical thinkers who will grow up to be the helpers. Please take some time to gather your own thoughts on what’s happening in our world and then open the conversation with your kids. Here are a few more resources that will help you with these difficult yet extremely important conversations.

10 Ways to Fight Hate: A Community Response Guide

Standards Institute: Disrupting Inequity: Having Brave Conversations About Bias

The Aspen Institute: 11 Terms You Should Know to Better Understand Structural Racism

Vanderbilt’s Office of Inclusion Initiatives and Cultural Competence Diversity Toolkit

Please let us know if you have other resources that we can share. Send us an email: info@girlstothemoon.com

Sign up for our newsletter

Receive more content like this, and find out how you can help support girls in our communities. Sign up for our Girls To The Moon newsletter. It’s free!