Teaching Kids About Racism

I choose to stay out of the fray on the internet when it comes to heated, often unproductive "conversations." You know the ones I'm talking about- the ones when people come out of the woodwork to start name-calling and lobbing insults. I want no part of such disrespectful conversations. Different opinions? No problem. In fact, I embrace them, as long as the message is delivered respectfully.

So when George Zimmerman was found "not guilty," I remained quiet on-line. I watched as the internet and the news media exploded as did my Facebook feed. It's not that I don't want to be part of the conversation. I most definitely do. I just want a thoughtful, respectful conversation. I decided to wait until I was home from vacation to write a thoughtful post on the topic.

On this blog, I can control the overall tone. I choose to let all comments (by humans as opposed to "bots") get posted, and delete them if they are offensive, rude, or SPAM. Polliwog is meant to be a safe place with positive suggestions for parents, teachers, and homeschoolers. 
My son and his best friend
Photo by Alison Noyce

On the last day of our vacation, my husband and I sat with our children over breakfast and talked about Trayvon Martin and the events surrounding his murder. We discussed racism and white privilege. We discussed the Florida law called "Stand your ground." The most difficult part of the conversation was helping our son understand that his best friend WILL encounter racism. It already happened in front of him once and he was unprepared for how to respond. We're talking with him about what he'll do the next time.

This was a difficult discussion. How do you explain that a teenager was killed when he went out to buy skittles? How do you help your son understand that his best friend will be seen as a "scary black man" when he gets older? And what do you do to make the world better in the wake of such news?

For starters, you talk about it. If you are a person of color, you don't need to read my post. You know racism exists.  If you aren't a person of color, please open your eyes. Pay attention. Saying you don't see color is disingenuous.  As one African American friend told me, (I'm paraphrasing) "Black people talk about racism every day. We say, "listen to what happened to me today...' " If you have white privilege, you don't live it so you don't have have to talk about it. But not talking to your children about racism is dangerous. It perpetuates racism.

I also encourage you to make your children's lives as diverse as possible. If you live in the suburbs or a rural area like us, that can be a challenge. Trust me, I understand. But you can seek ways to invite a variety of people into your kids' lives. Our kids know and love a variety of people, which, for them, made our conversation all the more painful. When thinking about racism, they had to think about their best friends, their "Aunties and Uncles," and their family friends and imagine what they encounter every day.

On final suggestion is to read books with your children that feature diverse characters. Children learn so much about relationships and problem solving through books. I witness this with my kids all the time. Be careful to choose books that accurately portray people of color (or from other cultures). For help with this, see the resources below. I especially recommend books from Lee and Low, though they are certainly not the only publishers of great books about all kinds of people.

It turns out, in the time I chose to wait to write my post, many other people have written thoughtful posts with suggestions. Some of them are long. I know you may not like reading long posts on a computer screen. (I know I don't. I read some in phases). But please make the time. It's important. Our kids need you to read them and take action. Our world needs you to take action.

On the Lee and Low blog: How to Deal With a Racist Remark

On Rage Against the Minivan: What I Want You to Know About Being a Young Black Man in America. This man's story is not unique. A dear friend told me his mom taught him the same lessons, as did all his friend's moms.

On Under the Acacia TreeI am not Trayvon's Martin's Mom

And here are some sites that offer general information:

Teaching Tolerance: "A place for educators to find thought-provoking news, conversation and support for those who care about diversity, equal opportunity and respect for differences in schools." My favorite resource for educators on this topic.

RACE-Are We So Different? A new look at race through three lenses: history, human variation, lived experience. (Includes a section for kids aged 10-13).

Code Switch: Frontiers of Race, Culture, and Ethnicity

CBC Diversity: "Advocating for an inclusive and representative children’s publishing industry"

Coloring Between the Lines: Reflections on race, culture, and children's books.

I hope you'll add your own suggestions and ideas in the comments. Please do not debate the Trayvon Martin case here. Please stick to helpful comments and suggestions.