“The Talk” White Parents Need To Have with their Kids

Many black parents have “the talk” with their children, preparing them for encounters with the police at a young age, but it’s time that white parents have a different version of “the talk” with their children. White parents can begin to share stories starting at a young age about how Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) face a higher risk of discrimination, validating concerns about police violence and systemic racism, and equipping kids to be anti-racist actors in their individual lives and within the structures around them.

It took me some time in my adult life to realize how atypical my experience was as a middle class white woman to have parents who talked to me regularly about race as a kid. I remember my mom coming home from work one night and telling me about a student of hers who was a black woman, who was pulled over by the police. She told me it was at night and as a black woman she made a point of driving to a well lit spot before she would stop out of fear for her safety. She wanted to make sure other people would be able to see her in case anything went wrong. My mom told me about how Black women have to take more precautions in encounters with the police than we would as white people.

I remember soaking it up the way kids do. I don’t think I understood the big picture, but it stuck in my mind clearly that “interactions with police are different for Black people and that as a Black woman taking extra precautions was the smart thing to do.” In psychological terms, it created a heuristic for me – “believe Black people, peoples’ experiences of the world are different based on the color of their skin, and sometimes the police aren’t to be trusted.”

It laid the foundation for building an awareness of race and racial disparities and importantly it was one of many interactions we had where my parents explicitly talked with me about how people are seen differently in our society based on their race, ethnicity, sexuality and gender identity. It was an on-going conversation with many touch-points, interactions, story books, and challenges to my assumptions.

Here are some places you could start:

Another thing my parents did, was to think about the kinds of books we had at school. I remember them donating picture books on LBGTQ+ families and on the AIDS crisis – as way to help dispel myths and open up windows into other people’s experiences. As parents, you can also be active in thinking about the books and curriculum at your children’s school, to ensure all students are receiving accurate information about race and justice in their instruction. It’s never too early to start these conversations – kids start noticing race by the time they are six months old.

White folks having these conversations with other white people is part of how we take responsibility. We perpetuate implicit biases and replicate racist systems, when we don’t actively work to dismantle them. And it’s critical that that labor not fall on people of color.

In this moment as more white folks are waking up to the role that race plays in policing and more broadly in our country, it’s important to create space for processing, but not to expect BIPOC to “teach” you.

A close friend of mine who is a woman of color said she’s had white people in her life who she hasn’t spoken to in years reaching out recently — to apologize if they’d ever done anything hurtful, but also to ask what they can do. Her response was “teach your kids — you can teach your white kids to be anti-racist.”

Kids take in everything – including your silence.

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