The Kids Deserve Better: Teaching Kids About Racism By Becoming a Student

Inside: Learning from the experts on teaching kids about racism while confronting our own mistakes, silences, and lack of understanding.


Walking hand in hand with my five-year-old this past week, we chatted, laughed, and stopped to look at interesting flowers I couldn’t name. While I had him one on one, it felt like the right moment to change the topic of conversation from “second favorite ice cream flavors” to one about race.

I asked him if he knew that some people treat other people badly because of the color of their skin. He said yes, he knew that. We read about it in books.

It was a good start.

Then I told him that it was our responsibility to say and do something if someone was hurting someone or treating someone badly.

He paused on that one for a moment before saying, “But what if I’m scared that the person not being nice will turn around and do it to me?”

I responded that we needed to do things that scare us because of what is right.

Breaking Down the Pause

I then spent the rest of the day thinking about his hesitance and my response.

Many of my children’s best friends have different skin colors than they do. I don’t doubt that they have spoken up for their friends when someone else is not letting them play or takes their toy. In fact, I’ve heard about it in detail. My kids are big talkers.

Yet there was still a noticeable pause. And a fear that perhaps many of us have felt and then felt shame for feeling. As a parent, I need to address both.

My children are young. 5 and 4. But they aren’t too young for this conversation. I could have waited until they were 6, 7, or 8 to move the talking points from believing in equality to standing up for it, but there’s too much at stake.

I need to parent my children to not only be good people but to be good people who do things that scare them. I need to parent my children to be more afraid of what would happen if they don’t stand up rather than if they do.

The Hard Things, And The Not Hard Things

By pulling myself out of my bubble and doing some long-overdue reading and researching, I’m learning now that teaching kids about racism is not as simple as teaching kids about equality. We need to raise anti-racist children, not just “nice” kids or “kind” kids, but justice-seeking equality fighting heart-driven drivers of change. I need to think critically about when I have paused or been silent and do more hard things, just like I’m asking them to do.

This will mean doing the work of getting uncomfortable being too comfortable in my world of white privilege. It’s the work of having tough conversations, questioning the effort I am putting towards fighting injustice, and speaking up when it feels safer to stay quiet.

This also means doing things that simply aren’t that hard. Like getting more books in the bookshelf, more exposure, and more education. It will mean putting my money where my mouth is with donations to NAACP, Black Lives Matter, and Color of Change. It will mean showing up, speaking up, unlearning, and relearning.

What I Know and What I Don’t Know

I know well that you’re here for working mom humor and I sneak in the career stuff like medicine in peanut butter. It’s my way of sharing the bits of what I know in this world. But there is so much that I don’t know. So much literal life or death information that I have only opened half an eye to.

In teaching my kids about racism and helping them grow up as anti-racist humans, I won’t have all the right answers to the questions they will ask. Like “Why don’t all adults know how to treat people kindly?” and “Why would police officers hurt someone?” There is so much I don’t know, so much I need to learn from the experts listed above and many others in order to be the kind of parent I need to be and the kind of writer, coach, and professional I need to be.

What I do know for sure right now is that when I talk my children listen. Even though the toothpaste smears on the counter and toys on the floor beg to differ, the kids are listening.

So if they are listening, I need to learn more and say more.

They Are Listening and So Am I

In addition to saying more to my kids, I need to say more right here. To use whatever platform I have to amplify the voices of others, raise money, and spread awareness. To be more like St. Clair Detrick-Jules and use whatever talents I may have to make the world better.

Most importantly, I need to listen to Black men and women who are bravely telling their stories. I need to read more, watch more, hear more. To choose my media with intent, to be aware of the voices I fill my life with. The listening isn’t the hard part, that’s a choice we can all make

It absolutely should not have taken the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery to make me realize how much work I have left to do in order to be actively anti-racist and not simply a proponent of treating everyone fairly. They are different things and I understand that now.

For all of this, I apologize and will do better for you. I will do better for these kids. They deserve better.

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