- Eye Opening
- Concrete Examples
Children have the worst timing. They ask the most awkward questions at the most awkward times, and when those questions are about race, white parents often fumble through their answers. In one intriguing podcast, Hillary Frank of The Longest Shortest Time interviews child development expert Brigitte Vittrup on her research into racial socialization. Vittrup, a white parent of biracial children herself, offers clear and concise advice which almost all white parents can incorporate into their parenting.
- As a white parent, talking to children about race and racism can feel awkward, but families should have these discussions openly to raise accepting kids.
- Well-meaning white parents often try to teach children to be “colorblind,” but this glosses over the discrimination that people of color face in society.
- If their parents refuse to talk about race, white kids might think there’s something taboo about people of color or make their own conclusions based on biased information from other sources.
- It’s never too late or too early to have regular, age-appropriate discussions with your kids about race.
- If you don’t talk with your children about race, they may end up less tolerant of diversity than you are.
As a white parent, talking to children about race and racism can feel awkward, and many avoid those conversations altogether. Yet, families should have these discussions openly to raise accepting kids. Well-meaning white parents often try to make race a nonissue. However, child development expert Brigitte Vittrup says this colorblind approach can backfire because it ignores the discrimination that people of color face out in the world. White people have the luxury of not thinking about race, while minorities are constantly reminded of their skin color.
“Being silent is actually sending a message.”
Kids become aware of racial differences as early as age three. If their parents refuse to talk about race, white kids might think there’s something taboo about people of color. Without reflection in the family, children are also more susceptible to adopting stereotypes they hear elsewhere.
It’s never too late or too early to have regular discussions with your kids about race. Even talking to infants offers valuable practice to get more comfortable with the topic. Help five-year-olds understand, for example, that they can play with other kids of all skin colors and treat everyone fairly; you can bring up racism’s broader context in a conversation with teenagers. Don’t be afraid to describe people’s appearance. It doesn’t mean you’re judging them based on their looks. If you live in a predominantly white area, expose your child to diversity through museums, books and videos.
“As a white person in America, you have the privilege of not having to think about your race.”
White parents are often uncomfortable if their kids blurt out something about a person’s race in public. However, children are merely making innocent observations. Keep your answers simple. Don’t shush a child who comments on a black woman’s hair, because your child may take away that the woman should be ashamed of that hair texture. Simply explain that different people have different hair types.
One of Vittrup’s studies found 35% of white kids – whose parents considered themselves culturally open – either assumed their parents wouldn’t want them to have black friends or didn’t know if it would be OK. Therefore, “keeping quiet about race in an attempt not to seem racist can actually make kids less tolerant of cultures than you are.” Don’t be afraid to have the necessary conversations. It doesn’t have to be awkward.
About the Podcast
The award-winning parent podcast The Longest Shortest Time discusses the “surprises and absurdities of raising other humans.” Its creator Hillary Frank also hosts this episode. Expert guest Brigitte Vittrup is a Texas Women’s University child development expert.
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