How To Talk To Your Kids About Racism And Being A Good Ally

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Talking To Kids About Institutional Racism: How To Be A Good Ally
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Talking to kids about racism can be difficult, but being a good ally means doing it anyway.

In light of recent protests, riots and political unrest following George Floyd's death in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are understandably feeling increased anxiety, fear, uncertainty, and frustration.

White parents and caregivers may find themselves at a loss regarding what to cover during conversations with their children about institutional racism, not knowing when or how to begin talking to kids about racism, and lacking sufficient information to feel as thought they can fully address such a complex, emotional topic.

How can you teach your kids about George Floyd, institutional racism, Black Lives Matter, and being an effective ally?

When talking to kids about racism, what is often discussed is the information that is already readily known — the superficial.

Although most of us learned about racism in school, we often learned what we did from people who haven't been directly impacted by racism themselves or who view race through a lens that's been heavily influenced by the majority world view — meaning, people who are not of color and people who are typically privileged.

So prior to engaging in conversations with your kids about racism, it's critical to first educate yourself about issues of culture, race, religion, and systemic oppression.

You cannot teach or provide good information from a place of ignorance.

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What tends to be discussed depends on a family’s make up and the community in which they live, which may or may not be culturally or racially diverse.

Those who live in a community predominantly made up of people of the same race, culture, religion, socioeconomic status, etc. typically lack opportunities to engage socially with people who are different from themselves, thereby limiting their knowledge and experience of BIPOC.

It's OK to acknowledge limitations in your information about another person's race, culture, ethnicity, or worldview.

What is not OK is judging any whole by the actions of a few.

As a reminder, black people were historically counted as three-fifths of a person in the United States.

So while every life is valuable, unfortunately, not every life is viewed that way.

We all matter, but we speak out in protest by saying Black Lives Matter because our lives have too often been viewed by too many as having no value, and we've been subjected to abuses and violations that many others have not experienced.

RELATED: 8 Helpful Ways To Support The Black Lives Matter Movement

Talking to children about racism is not easy, as children don't see the world the same way adults do.

Children see the world with infinite possibility, from an angle of hope and optimism. Those views can change negatively when they are taught things that are contradictory to what they have yet experienced.

Children typically look to their parents and caregivers as experts, so if you continually label a particular group "bad" or "dangerous," you children will take on that point of view as their own, despite having no having personal experience of their own or understanding of why that individual or group is being labeled this way.

As parents, we must be cognizant of both our verbal, as well as our nonverbal, behaviors.

If we tell our children to respect all others as we wish to be respected ourselves, we must also model this value through our own behavior.

The behavior displayed in your actions is usually the attitude your children will pay the most attention to.

We cannot tell them to respect another person's differences when we tell thoughtless jokes, laugh at these jokes when told by others, or clutch our purses when in the company of someone who looks different.

We cannot say we stand for equality when we create or support barriers to equal education, employment, and housing.

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As a black woman, I have strong opinions about this, as I have experienced both overt and covert racism.

I have viewed homes that were initially up for sale, but once I arrived to view the home, was told that it was "sold."

I have been hired for my expertise on mental health when an agency was in the process of applying for a grant that services individuals and families of color or those that are marginalized, only to then be let go and replaced by someone without as much training, education, or experience, simply because they didn’t look like me, when I was no longer needed as a symbolic offering.

As a human race, we need to do better.

We need to acknowledge both our active and nonactive roles in racism.

George Floyd was not the first person who was killed or handled aggressively by police because of the color of his skin.

The difference is that now this abusive, violent behavior is being recorded, allowing others tto see the things that have been happening for far too long, but were previously swept under the rug.

We all have the capacity for love and acceptance.

I remember reading a story about two five-year-old best friends, one black and one white.

They decided to play a trick on their teachers by cutting their hair in the same style and then asking the teachers to guess who was who. Of course, the teachers were easily able to tell them apart, but the parents of the children, knowing what their kids were up to, asked the teachers to play along.

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This story more than any other story brought joy to me; the innocence and ready acceptance of children is without bounds.

This can continue only if we are willing to show love and compassion without restriction.

Follow these 10 tips to have effective talks with your children about racism and being a good ally:

1. Start early, and talk often. Parents and caregivers should begin the conversation around the age of two. Children began to make distinctions in color by 6 months of age, so you want to start having child friendly talks early on.

2. Teach them the importance of having compassion for and understanding of people who are different from them.

3. Talk to them specifically about issues of race.

4. Acknowledge the simple fact that inequality and bias exist.

5. Explain that different means different — not bad, less than, or better than.

6. Educate them (and yourself) about racial differences using materials and resources created by people who represent the race, culture, ethnicity, religion, etc. in question.

7. Teach them about the history of racism and why it is still prevalent today. This should cover slavery, the concept of separate but equal, the Civil Rights Movement, etc.

8. Keep discussions about racism developmentally age-appropriate.

9. Make your discussions of race and racism an ongoing conversation, not a one-time chat.

10. Discuss stereotypes, including why they start and why they are so hurtful.

Above all, remember that in order to change the world, we must see and acknowledge what currently exists and why.

You cannot change something that you are unaware of.

Can you imagine if we all closed our eyes and were led by our heart what an amazing world this would be!

RELATED: 13 Best Books, Movies & Podcasts To Educate Yourself About Racism

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Dr. Tarra Bates-Duford is a psychologist who focuses on relationships, dating, and personality issues, as well as a Certified Relationship Specialist with Diplomate Status, and an expert with the American Psychotherapy Association.