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Why Aren’t You Talking to Your Kids About Racism?

Why Aren’t You Talking to Your Kids About Racism?

True story:

Caucasian friend of mine, while watching his children play on the playground with a collection of children representing a plentitude of racial background says to an African American woman there with her young daughter, “It is really inspiring to see our children playing with seemingly no awareness about race or ethnicity.” The African American mother responds with a kindly, “That is nice for you. My daughter comes home and asks how we could wash the dark off of her skin.”

Not that we needed a new reason to talk about racial issues, but the recent killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida has brought the issue of race back into the forefront of the American dialogue. While the blogosphere and the televised news stream is rich with talk of racism and racial profiling, the talk between parents and children on this matter is basically nil – if you are Caucasian. While many African American parents routinely have “the talk” with their teenaged children (particularly their young sons) many, if not most, Caucasian parents of young and teenaged children believe that if you electively start talking with your children about race, you are creating a problem and disturbing your child’s innate “colorblindness.” Not so true. It has been shown that when we (and this goes for any parent) avoid talking about race, our children still think about and process issues of racial identity. And by not talking about it, we are sending the implied message that race is something that matters too much to actually discuss.

Recently, Anderson Cooper’s CNN program, 360, commissioned new research designed to look at the issue of how children view race. They found that many more white children interpreted a neutral picture of an interaction between two students of different races in a negative way. As reported in The New York Times, one of the researchers who created the study, Dr. Melanie Killen, believes the difference comes from those different approaches white and nonwhite parents have to talking with their kids about race. White parents, she said, believe children are socially colorblind. This is just not the case.

But if we were to begin the conversation, what should we actually say? Well, the Race Awareness Project is likely as good of a place as any to get the conversation started, with games, books, and even apps to help contextualize issues of race with young and teenaged children. But you may opt for a more direct approach, as in a conversation, which may be more illuminating (and shocking) than you had anticipated.

How do you discuss issues of race and skin color with your children? Do you find it a necessary topic to explore with your children, or something too unsettling to discuss? If you haven’t ventured into this territory, what is stopping you?

Read more: Blogs, Children, Family, Healthy Schools, News & Issues, Parenting at the Crossroads, Relationships, Teens, , , , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

59 comments

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7:51PM PST on Feb 1, 2013

we do discuss...along with importance of equality for all.......

8:35PM PDT on Jun 19, 2012

its heartbreaking that race has ANY bearing in ANY relationship of ANY kind in 2012. My heart breaks for the future. My son will not be raised to be blind to human kindness. we are ALL equal. skin color and cultures make us different, and being different makes us strong

5:02PM PDT on May 17, 2012

Kids reflect parents hidden attitudes.

2:09AM PDT on Apr 26, 2012

Well, just like we teach our kids at the library not to judge a book by it's cover, I teach mine not to judge a person by the color of their skin.

We all have our strengths and weaknesses. There are good people and bad people. Good people come in all shapes, colors, genders, sizes, etc, and so do bad people.

We live in a diverse neighborhood. Just on our block, there are a few Mexican families - some who are immigrants, others are American. Then there is the Puerto Rican/Mexican family. The new couple is Mexican and White. There are also black families and those that are mixed inter racially in all different directions. I'm half Asian myself. My son also has friends from all different ethnic backgrounds, and I think we're richer for it.

4:14PM PDT on Apr 21, 2012

Be an example to children by being willing to grow, let go of prejudices we learned at an early age, and the grace to say what we learned was not right.

8:31PM PDT on Apr 19, 2012

Never had to talk to them. They just followed my example. Treat all people like they would ttreat you. Grew up and went to school in a neighborhood all colors and nationalities. I remember one day in high school, a group of us said let's go to the beach and get a tan. Our black friend quipped "do I look like I need a tan"? We all laughed so hard. Yes, friends!!

10:06AM PDT on Apr 19, 2012

Why wouldn't you talk to your children about everything?

1:24PM PDT on Apr 18, 2012

Because YOU are racist?

8:31AM PDT on Apr 18, 2012

good reminder that silence hurts

8:23AM PDT on Apr 18, 2012

ty

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