Updated: February 5, 2024
By Ocean Noah, contributing writer
February is Black History month in the U.S. During this month, major U.S. museums join together to pay tribute to generations of African Americans who have struggled with adversity. It’s also a time to celebrate the achievement of Black Americans and learn about African American history.
Yet, while this is a good opportunity to discuss Black history with your children, this can’t be done without talking about racism in America. And, if you are a Black parent, you don’t have the luxury of choosing whether or not to discuss racism.
So, for white parents, this is the ideal time to talk to kids about racism. But where to start? Well, we’re here to help!
Do Your Own Crash Course on Racism in the USA
Before you get ready to talk to kids about racism, take a little time to learn about institutional racism. If you haven’t seen the documentary 13th on Netflix by Ava DuVernay, watch it. Then, research key terms to understand racism, such as the war on drugs, the prison industrial complex, white privilege, and so on.
Also, read books like How to be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X Kendi or Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria by Beverly Daniel Tatum.
If you’re thinking something along the lines of: Racism is pretty easy to understand. I’m progressive, and I have no problem with black people so I don’t need to learn anything more about this topic, don’t listen to that thought!
Racism is rampant in this country and it is everywhere. No one is immune to it. It’s in your neighborhood and the school you send your child to. So yes, even a woke liberal has something to learn about anti-blackness.
Please know that this is not designed to make you feel guilty. But, when you educate yourself on how racism works on a systemic level, you’re going to feel more comfortable talking about it. Many non-black people – and especially white people – tend to feel defensive and fragile when discussing racism. So, it’s also important to note that while there are things you can do to fight racism, racism is not your fault. You did not personally oppress a whole race of people.
On the other hand, once you understand how racism is enforced in American institutions, you will likely feel more comfortable discussing the topic without being distracted by strong feelings of guilt or defensiveness.
How to Talk to Kids about Racism
Whether your child is two or 18, it is crucial to talk to kids about racism. You can start by reading a book.
Maybe it seems like it would scare them or it would be too complex for them to understand. But, first remember this: Black parents already have these conversations – this is part of their life experiences.
Second, imagine if you didn’t talk about it. What would your silence say? People are dying every day because of the color of their skin. Without addressing the issues at hand, you indirectly teach your children something negative about the value of Black lives – lives that may be different from their own.
While this conversation may be uncomfortable, it’s critical. Here are a couple of tips to get started:
- Be honest. Now that you’ve done your best to educate yourself on the issue and ground yourself in all that is happening, you are ready to share it with your child. While being gentle and considerate of their emotions, don’t be afraid to tell the truth and answer whatever questions they may have. Encourage curiosity and meet it with honesty.
- Use the knowledge your child already has to explain racism. Kids can grasp and connect with the idea of fairness. Erin Winkler states in her article Here’s How To Raise Race-Conscious Children: “Give children balls of string and ask them to move around the room unraveling their balls of string to make a very tangled web. Once they are finished, ask them to untangle it. They will soon find that it is much more difficult to untangle the web than it was to create it in the first place. Then explain that working to make society fair is a lot like untangling this web.”
When you think of activism, images of people meditating might not exactly pop up in your head. But meditating and practicing yoga with your kids can help!
For starters, mindfulness keeps you centered and grounded in the present moment. When you have tough conversations, you’ll notice that maybe you’re getting clammy or your breathing is becoming shorter. That may be anxiety because these are scary times! But instead of judging that feeling, know that it’s understandable to feel this way, and then carry on with your discussion.
Practicing mindfulness can also help you become aware of what’s happening all around you. Have you ever noticed that the default emojis in our phones are white (or yellow, but not brown) or that people of color are not represented in children’s books? It takes mindfulness to see these things – and to make conscious decisions to change this.
For example, perhaps you can try using brown emojis every once in a while. Even though I am biracial, I decided to exclusively use brown emojis for a few weeks. It was a game changer. At first, it felt strange. But after a while, it was totally natural and brownness became a little more normalized in my life.
Here’s another one: How many television shows or movies have you watched with a Black lead actor? How about a strong Black female lead? There are so many excellent TV shows with leads like these that represent Black lives – not in the context of racism or persecution, but in light of their everyday lives. Why not watch these programs? Easy shifts like this will make a huge difference for your child and for you too!
Lead by Example
Talking to your child about racism may leave them feeling confused, hurt, or hopeless.
But thank goodness, they have you! You can be a role model for them to understand how to cope with the feelings racism brings up, as well as how to take action and make changes. On top of experimenting with the emojis you use and the television and books you consume, talk to your kids about vigils or peaceful protests. Tell them about the Black-owned businesses you are choosing to support. You are your child’s first and primary informant, and what you say and do influences their worldview. Use that to introduce them to activism and human rights.
Black Lives Matter. So Do These Conversations
Pretzel Kids yoga is here with you while you navigate these tough conversations. Stay informed, honest, and mindful.
And remember: You are ready to do your part in informing the next generation about equity and human rights! It’s powerful and a little scary, but you’ve got this!
Ocean Noah is a content intern at Pretzel Kids. Originally from Los Angeles, Ocean moved to San Francisco to study creative writing at San Francisco State University. She writes fiction, blog posts, and op-eds. Ocean is thrilled to write for Pretzel Kids, as her mother is a yogi too!