Saturday, February 26, 2011

Ways To Talk About Racism With Your Child

Yep. It's uncomfortable even typing the title to this post.  Racism is an unpleasant subject and feels even more offensive when realizing when have to discuss it with children.  I know the ugliness of the subject gives me anxiety even thinking about it. So often we avoid talking about it.  We don't want to talk about it.

But we have to.

And it's important to discuss it before they experience it, which is usually in the early elementary school years, when children start noticing differences in themselves and each other.  Here are a few suggestions on how to open the door for conversation:

Tell you child she may get teased because of the type of hair she has or the color of her skin.  But it's not because there's something wrong with her.  She is doing nothing to cause the bad behavior on the other child's part.  The other child is responsible for her own thoughts and actions - right or wrong.

Even after having conversations from an early age, my Meg didn't tell me she was being teased at school; I witnessed it the first time while helping in her classroom.  I think Meg kept some of it from me because she sensed how upsetting it would be to me, (she knows she has a Mother Bear!) and it can be embarassing to feel as if you're reliving the bad experience.  Some kids may feel their Caucasian parents won't understand. These are all reasons that support talking this all through as early as possible, so no one is caught completely off guard.

There are all different families in this world.  And explain that while your family values and appreicate differences in culture and values, not all families do.  Explain that "sometimes people are afraid of things they think are different. They may say or do things that are hurtful because they are afraid.  Isn't that sad?"  and reinforce that differences are good.  "Our family is different and it's wonderful. I am so glad our family isn't afraid of people or things that look different."

Sometimes asking a child directly if they've experienced racism puts them on the defensive and shuts down further conversation. Instead, find ways to incorporate it gently into other discussions, whether a news story or something in your community, and say "I hope if something like this ever happens to you or someone you know, you will talk with me about it right away.  I may not know exactly how you feel, but together we can figure out the best way to handle it."  If your kids are like mine, they'll groan and say, "I know, Mom!" but it's just another reminder that the door for conversation - of any kind  - is always open.

5. And as always...BECOME AN ADVOCATE!
Even if you haven't experienced racism yourself, becoming an advocate and educating those around you, especially in your community, will only help diffuse future issues and increase awareness.  Being excluded on any level is never easy, but it's especially tough for transracial adoptees, who may begin to wonder where they belong. Do your homework, educate yourself, and become a credible resource.  Help your child understand that, no matter what is said on the playground, her place in the world is assured.  Reassure her that she is loved and safe with you, and help her grow into a confident young adult who, instead of being defeated by racism, sees it for what it is and knows how to live above  it.


  1. You have some really great recommendations / advice here, which at least address part of the solution. The other is realizing the root causes of racism.

    Every country deals with race differently. The two biggest mistakes in American history once one gets beyond slavery: (1) forced integration by court rulings - you can’t force people to want to associate with, get along with, or respect you; and (2) affirmative action - no matter how one looks at it, it smacks of unfairness and does not make people respect you.

    What we have today are simply the long-term ramifications of bad racial policies. What is perhaps more fascinating is that many think that 50 years of legal integration has somehow negated or counterbalanced the treatment afforded blacks prior thereto.

    The reason that society is incapable of addressing the racial issue is because we view it from a perspective which is not conducive to real analysis. We talk all around the fundamental, underlying reasons for racism, and make it an emotional issue. How does one expect to cure the cancer without focusing on the cancerous cells and the biological reasons for cancer? Focusing on the symptoms is an ineffective mechanism to employ. Racism serves a far more complex and pragmatic function than we are generally willing to acknowledge.

  2. I appreciate your comments and they really caused me to think far deeper into this important issue. Thank you for taking the time to write in!