Race has been a point of contention in the U.S. since its inception. Parents of black and brown children already understand the importance of instilling a sense of racial identity in their children, and discussing how racism will inevitably affect them, are essential tools for survival in America. White parents and children on the other hand, have a more disconnected relationship with race that often allows them to ignore the harsh realities of how racism lives and thrives here in the U.S.
But as racist violence and the fight to combat it continues to dominate our daily lives, the necessity that white parents discuss racism with their children has reached a tipping point. As a white passing Latina, I can attest to the fact that unpacking these issues and our role in them, both conscious and subconscious, is tough stuff. But this work is ESSENTIAL. We have to recognize the ways in which we participate in these structures and how we benefit from keeping them in place. We’ve got to teach our children about race and what racism looks like so they can recognize it and learn to stand against it from a young age.
Common Sense Media, an excellent resource for parents to review the media their kids are consuming, has put together a list of ways we can discuss race and racism with our children. Television, books, movies and other media can be powerful tools in starting meaningful conversations that kids can understand.
Below are 10 suggestions for how white parents can use media to start talking to their kids about racism, via Common Sense Media.
Diversify Your Bookshelf
If you grew up reading Little House on the Prairie, you can still share these stories with your kids. But don’t stop there! Look for stories featuring and written by people of color. Here are some places to start:
Point Out Racism in Movies, TV and Games
It can be easy to let stereotypes fly by when watching the minstrel-show crows in Dumbo or exaggerated accents in The Goonies. But by pointing out when something is racist, you’re helping your kid develop critical thinking skills. These skills will allow conversations about race and stereotypes to deepen as kids get older.
Watch Hard Stuff
As kids get older, expose them to the harsh realities of racism throughout history and through the current day. That doesn’t mean nonstop cable news replaying gruesome details of violence but carefully chosen films like The 13th or McFarland, USA. You can also watch footage of protests to kick off conversations about anger, fear, oppression, and power. Be explicit about racism and discrimination being hurtful, damaging, and wrong.
Seek Out Media Created by People of Color
As you choose your family movie night pick or browse for books online, specifically look for authors and directors of color in lead roles or as fully developed characters. With older kids, take an audit of how many movies or books you’ve recently watched or read that were created by people of color. Discuss the reasons for any imbalance and the importance of a variety of perspectives.
Broaden Your Own Perspective
Follow and read black and brown voices and media outlets. Use what you learn to inform conversations with your kids. Some places to start – but by no means a complete list:
- Ava Duvernay (Twitter)
- Brittany Packnett Cunningham
- Franchesca Ramsey
- The Grio
- Ibram X. Kendi
- Indian Country Today
- Ricefeed (Instagram)
- The Root
Discuss Hate Speech and Harassment Online
Ask kids if they’ve seen racist language in YouTube videos or comments. For social-media using kids, talk about racist memes. Ask them to show you examples and aim to develop empathy without shaming them. Help them understand how following or sharing racist accounts helps spread hate. Brainstorm ways they can safely and responsibly speak out against racist imagery and messages online. Adapt this lesson on countering hate speech for your conversations.
Understand the Online Landscape
Read this account of a white mom parenting through her son’s exposure to online white supremacy. And read the son’s perspective. Learn more about places where white racist groups congregate and how they recruit, and keep discussions open and honest with kids who socialize on sites like Discord and Reddit.
Explore the Power of Tech Tools
Use recent examples of how phones, video recordings, and editing tools effect our understanding of race and racism. Discuss how the release of video evidence can spur action, like in the case of Ahmaud Arbery. Explore together how photos and videos can both reveal truth and hide it – especially when context is edited out.
Build News Literacy
Besides sharing news articles from different perspectives with your kids, use opportunities like protests in Minneapolis to discuss how news is presented. What kinds of stories get the most attention? How are language and images used differently to depict people and incidents depending on the news outlet, the people involved, and the topic? Look at news coverage of incidents where white people commit acts of violence and compare to when people of color do. Identify the differences and explore the realities of why the same situation is presented so differently.
Teach Your Kid to be an Ally
Learn how white people can support people of color by being allies and then integrate these ideas into your conversations and actions with your kids. Talk through scenarios your kid might encounter online and discuss (and model) when it might be best to just listen, to call someone out, to amplify someone’s voice, to share resources, etc. Share mistakes you’ve made around race and racism – in person or online – with your kids so they know it’s ok to not be perfect and that we can correct our behavior and do better in the future.
Original words & links brought to you by Sierra Filucci, Editorial Director at Common Sense Media.
XO, Fake Mom