If you think the conversation about the killing of unarmed black men and the uprising in Baltimore is only for black parents, think again.
The other day while at an event with my sons, a white woman who I was conversing with asked me what do I tell my teen son about the recent killings of unarmed black men. My response to her, was “What do you tell your son?” She was taken aback by my response. I’m guessing that as a white parent it didn’t dawn on her to have this conversation with her son.
If we’re to start a conversation about racial injustices and our broken judicial system, it begins with educating ALL kids about how these affect families, communities and our society. Every man involved in the death of an unarmed black man is someone’s son.
Thinking that the unarmed killing of a black man doesn’t affect society is a major problem. Everything that happens in our country and the world affects us directly and indirectly. While we may want to shelter our kids from violence, fear, and injustices, we cannot raise them with blinders to the realities of life. It takes more than just posting quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to address the racial disparities in our country.
Speaking to children about the killings of unarmed black men is just as important as talking about the unfortunate devastation of natural disasters. It’s easy to click the “Donate Now” button to send money for relief funds or electronically sign a petition, it’s more of a challenge to start a conversation about race because it requires cognitive and emotional empathy to understand the plight of racial biases.
If we are to change the legacy of our country and raise men and women who will work together for moral justice, it begins with all parents. The onus of protecting black girls and boys from racial biases and injustice is not only on black parents. As we learned from the Sigma Alpha Epsilon incident in Oklahoma, kids repeat what they hear and history repeats itself unless we address it.
Ensuring that policies are changed and, that broken economic and political systems are fixed is everyone’s responsibility. We can’t change the future if we’re pretending the present isn’t screwed up or that our past didn’t exist. I’m looking at you, Ben Affleck. We can’t negate or ignore that our country’s historical birth of racism. Yes, slavery happened over 400 years ago but its effects are still being felt today.
Being silent about issues that don’t directly impact your life our community may send your child the message that you are indifferent to what happens to people outside of your race or culture.These conversations are uncomfortable and awkward particularly for parents who in the past have expressed no concern about these race relations. So how do you have a conversation about race and racial biases? First, know that conversations about race are ongoing and complex.
1. Be Honest
Kids, especially teens can smell insincerity and hypocrisy from miles away. Be honest about your discomfort with speaking about race. Be honest about your family history with race or racism. If you don’t know or understand a situation, let your child know but don’t stop there. Find resources or organizations that can help you.
2. Don’t Make Assumptions About What Your Child Knows
You can’t assume that your child knows about race and race relations in our country. Start the conversation in a casual manner and ask open-ended questions. The idea is to find out what your child knows and how they’re processing the information. Find teachable moments when watching a television show or movie with our child.
3. Avoid Generalizations
Be specific when addressing an incident. Don’t use words like “all” “they” “them”. No group is homogeneous, therefore, be mindful of how you’re referring to any group.
4. Address Your Own Biases
We want to present our best selves to our children, but we’re human and every one of us has biases. If you can’t be open with your children about how your biases shape your perception, you’ll lose their trust. Talk to them about how judgments and stereotypes influence how people interact with other races and ethnic groups.
5. Listen to Your Child’s Opinion Without Imposing Your Own Opinion
If your child doesn’t share your view, forcing your agenda on them will not resolve this issue. Listen to why your child has these opinions and dig deeper to find out the root.
If you still think that what happens to black people doesn’t affect your life, keep in mind this quote from Mamie Till, mother of Emmett Till, a black teen murdered in 1955 by two white men. “When something happened to the Negroes in the South I said, ‘That’s their business, not mine.’ Now I know how wrong I was. The murder of my son has shown me that what happens to any of us, anywhere in the world, had better be the business of us all.”
Photo: Fibonacci Blue/Flickr