I am not an expert on racial justice — I am a white woman trying to understand the ways in which I can listen to and support people of color during this painful time. I know I will get things wrong in my efforts (I probably already have in just one sentence), but the more I’ve read from antiracism activists, the more I’ve begun to understand that I am not expected to do this perfectly, I am just expected to work towards antiracism and try to raise children who are antiracist. All of us are beginning this work at different starting points, based on the color of our skin, our lived experiences, our education and training, our politics and our beliefs. We may not all believe in the very same things or have the exact same reactions to this particular time, but I have faith that we all believe in this: it is our responsibility to raise children who respect themselves and treat other people with respect, to repair our hurt of others and to act as upstanders in the face of injustice.
When I started listening to and learning from racial justice experts in recent days, I was so afraid of realizing how much I didn’t know. I was overwhelmed by my ignorance and by how far I have to go before I could be a true ally. But somewhere along the early steps of this long journey, I was struck by a couple things. One, that my ignorance was actually expected by those at the frontlines of this work and yet, it doesn’t prevent me from being an ally, even if I have much more work to do. Two, the more I listened, the more I realized that these activists’ underlying approach for teaching antiracism sounded familiar to me. I began to recognize that the principles they use in educating children and families on antiracism, share the same roots of social/emotional learning that underpin our work in classes, workshops and trainings at Dynamo Girl. A climb I feared would feel insurmountable, layered with my own shame at not knowing enough, actually began to feel like connected reverberations of the shared ways we work to empower, support and educate children.
Hear is what I have learned from racial justice experts in the past few days that have helped me overcome the shame of my own ignorance and allowed me to feel empowered to become a true ally to antiracism efforts:
It is never too late to start. We often talk about this with parents around our kids’ starting sports or discussing puberty in our homes because parents often feel like they’ve missed the boat and that it’s not worth starting now. But the message I have heard in this moment is that it’s never too late to start teaching our kids about antiracism. We all have to start somewhere.
I will do it imperfectly. One of my greatest fears as a human being, as a parent and as a professional, is that I will make mistakes. One of the cornerstones of our work with girls is to create a mistake-friendly environment in which people are willing to try things in order to learn and grow. I have always shied away from talking about race because I was afraid of doing it wrong, of messing up, of inadvertently offending someone. I have learned in recent days that I am not expected to do it perfectly, I am expected to try, keep trying when I make my (inevitable) mistakes and continue to learn along the way.
I get a do-over. In our work with parents, particularly in our puberty workshops, we often talk about the importance of a do-over. As parents, if we explain something incorrectly or wimp out on answering a hard question, we feel like all is lost. In our workshops we emphasize that we can always revisit a topic with our kids. The same goes for talking about race — as adults in the world and as parents to our children, we will screw up, we will fumble for words, we will get stuff wrong, but we get a do-over there too. We have a chance to go back, to repair someone we’ve hurt or to do better at educating our own kids.
They are never too young. Just as children are never too young to learn about consent, about respecting other people’s physical boundaries and protecting their own boundaries, so too is it never to early educate kids about race and about difference. When we teach five year olds about consent, we don’t teach them about rape and assault, we teach them what it means to have our own personal bubbles. What I am learning from antiracist activists is that there are equally important and effective ways to teach kids’ of all ages about race and racism.
Teaching antiracism is a partnership with our kids. We often explain in our parenting workshops that the more we can elicit ideas and questions from our kids on complex topics, the more effective our parenting will be. Instead of lecturing them and talking at them, drawing them out, hearing their thoughts and observations will create a partnership within our families. So too should it be in educating and engaging our kids about race. The temptation on complex parenting topics is to lecture, but instead, we should help build our kids’ muscles of exploring, questioning and understanding issues of racism and injustice.
Today’s newsletter provides resources for those of us early on our journeys toward teaching children about antiracism. If you have resources or experiences that you’ve found useful in working toward antiracism in your own homes, please feel free to share with us.
Resources for Talking to our Kids about Race
“How to Talk with Kids About Racism and Racial Violence” from Common Sense Media
“5 Ways to Teach Our Children Empathy in These Challenging Times” by Richard Weissbord
“Your 5 Year Old is Already Racially Biased” from Embrace Race
“How Do I Make Sure I’m Not Raising the Next Amy Cooper” from CNN
CNN and Sesame Street Event: Stand up to Racism
National Museum of African American History
Liz Kleinrock’s TED Talk: How to Talk to Kids about Taboo Topics