Even a five year old can learn to understand the concepts of “white privilege” and “white supremacy”. White parents often seek to shield our children from these concepts, either unaware or uncaring that parent of children of color don’t have that luxury, that by the age of five many, many children of color have experienced racism, have had white privilege rubbed in their faces, have seen the naked face of racism directing hate at them and their families. We need to stop doing this, if we want our children to grow up valuing diversity and as active allies in building an inclusive world where all people prosper.
Some of us can’t shield our white children from white supremacist ideas because we have family members, community leaders, and even teachers that expose our children to these ideas despite our best efforts. Others of us make the decision to trust our children with difficult and valuable knowledge that begins the work of teaching empathy and compassion for people in situations that are not like them, or who do not look or act like them. Teaching children the words to understand what they are hearing from their own family members, playmates and their families, worship leaders and educators, and supporting them in learning how to counter those words with assistance from the adults in their lives teaches your child valuable skills that will be useful again and again.
Rule One: This is not just one conversation: You will be having the white privilege conversation over and over with your child. Sometimes just a sentence or two, sometimes, especially as your child nears their teen years, a back and forth lasting a half hour or hour. News and life will offer you ample opportunities for these discussions. Use them.
Rule Two: Take the time to explain terms in words your child will understand: Use words and concepts you know your child understands, and watch their face closely to see if they’re understanding you or just pretending to. Use examples from their favorite TV shows and games and books.
Rule Three: Build on your child’s natural compassion: When you’re describing events that happened far away, or in fiction, have your child imagine what it might be like to live through that (if your child has not been through similar significant trauma — don’t retraumatize a traumatized child) , or if that thing were to happen to a friend or family member.
Rule Four: Back up your child when your child has consequences from stating their convictions: Most American white people live in white dominated communities and white supremacy is the background radiation of those communities. That means when your child says something like “that’s racist” they are likely to get pushback not only from other children, but from adults in the community as well. Be ready to say something to adults the effect of “I’ve been teaching [child] about white privilege and white supremacy and how they affect the world, and one of the things I’ve taught them is how differently we tell stories about black protesters and white protesters. The media often gets a lot of things wrong about Black Lives Matter and I’m helping my child to figure it out. Please don’t contradict what I’m teaching them.” Or simply, “I’m sorry, I don’t teach my child to look down on Black people and other people of color. Please don’t say [racist thing] in mine or my child’s presence.
Some specific things you can say about white privilege, the Charlottesville rally and the violence that happened there:
- “Some people went there to talk about how they believe other people aren’t as good as them and shouldn’t have as many rights, and people who think everyone should have the same rights came there to stop them.”
- “A lot of the people who thought other people aren’t as good as them carried guns and shields and got very loud and angry, and the people trying to stop them also got loud and angry, and some people got hurt.”
- “You’re safe here in our house. I know some people got hurt and a person got killed at the rally, but I will protect you from that.”
- “Yes its not fair that people get treated differently. How do you think we could change that?”
- Show them the XKCD free speech cartoon and discuss it (mid elementary and older).
- “What would you like to do to try to change things? What do you think I can do?”
If you live in a mostly white community, your child may have significant consequences for speaking out about white privilege. It is a very personal decision to decide to do so, and I can’t make that decision for you or your child. You will have to weigh the rewards and dangers for yourself and your child, and make that decision for your own family. But keep in mind, as you make that decision, that a decision to be silent weighs on your neighbors and country men who are people of color, and makes their burden harder. And talk about that with your child, too.
If you like what I have to say and want to support further writings on social justice, mental health, and related topics, please, Become a Patron! or through PayPal. Thanks for stopping by.