How to Talk to Your Children about Race, Privilege, and Inclusion
BY MELODIE DEL RIO
The MTS faculty have been engaged in a year of thinking and work around the topic of race. We have had a number of deep, eye-opening conversations about the lived experiences of people of different races. One of the common threads to these conversations are the privileges that white people, including myself, have simply because of the color of our skin. An experience that many of the white faculty members shared is that we, as faculty and parents, can easily avoid the topic of race. Unlike our colleagues and friends of color, race is not an obvious, common topic.
In my work and my life as a mother, I have found that parents, especially white parents, have a hard time talking about race. We often fear we may make mistakes or hurt our children with the harsh realities of racism. Furthermore, as kids, most of us were never given the language to talk about race. However, children as young as 4 or 5 notice preferential treatment that is based on racial differences. All children, including our students, are curious about race. Not knowing the right thing to say, we might tell our children to not talk about skin color because it’s rude. Or we might tell them that color doesn’t matter because we are all equal. The messages we inadvertently send to our children are that we are not supposed to talk about race and that racism or bias does not exist. If we don’t address race, though, we ignore the very real experience of our friends, colleagues, and community members. Color blindness is a myth and any attempt at not seeing color leads to people of color feeling invisible.
While perhaps not easy, it is important to talk with our children about race. These conversations can begin as early as 3 when they begin to understand the concept of fairness. Here are a few tips for wading into these topics:
Understand that you do not need to have all the answers.
Practice! When racial differences or inequality comes up in daily life, talk about it. Look for teachable moments in TV, books, movies, and current events. Talk about what happened, and ask your children what they might do in a similar situation.
Make it Personal: You can also help your children understand different experiences (by talking to them about your own advantages/disadvantages growing up) and encourage critical thinking.
Prompts to help engage with your children about race:
-I think that’s unfair. What do you think?
-Some people believe...but I don’t believe that. Instead, I think…. What do you think?
-Being kind is important to me. And it seems to me that ...is not kind. I don’t think it’s right. What about you?
It is also helpful to expose your children to different world realities and struggles related or unrelated to race. One way to do this is to sign up for shifts at a food bank or other age appropriate venue that offers a safe path into such conversations. I read this quote, and it resonated with me “teach [our children] that we should all be equal, we all have equal worth, but we don’t yet experience equality.”
Understanding white privilege is an ongoing examination. It is crucial that we teach our children how to advocate for others and to become allies to those who are different than them–to truly be inclusive. We must give a voice to those who historically did not have one. These conversations with our children are not easy. Let’s all work to make MTS an inclusive community and work together to help our children understand race and privilege.