Updated: Aug 10, 2021
Many parents want to know how they can raise the next generation so that they will not carry forward the mistakes of past generations. There are numerous resources you can find on how to talk about the current protests with your children (CNN, ChildMind, New York Times), but what do we do after all of this calms down? How do we continue with these important lessons and conversations about race without overdoing it to the point that our children tune us out?
When the word “racism” comes to mind, the first thought is of the more explicit racism of negative comments or slurs, but much of the thoughts and messages that underlie racism are given to us implicitly throughout our childhood. Implicit bias “refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control. Residing deep in the subconscious, these biases are different from known biases that individuals may choose to conceal for the purposes of social and/or political correctness. Rather, implicit biases are not accessible through introspection.” (Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, 2015) These implicit biases are pervasive, and in some ways, more insidious than explicit racism because it may not align with our declared, or conscious beliefs. They are ingrained throughout almost all aspects of society and in order to create effective change we need to address them in all areas.
Take a closer look at your children’s toys and books. Do all their dolls, figurines, or book characters represent the diversity of America or do they only represent your home? The types of toys and books your children are exposed to give messages about what is beautiful and accepted. Consider expanding them to include varying races and abilities. Add books that represent diverse characters and authors. Similarly, be thoughtful about the TV shows that you watch together as a family and the characters represented on those shows. Commonsense media has compiled a list of shows with diverse characters and includes age recommendations for each show. In LA, we are so lucky to have access to some of the most diverse neighborhoods from Little Tokyo to Little Ethiopia to Thai town. Order from, and one day visit, smaller restaurants that provide more authentic ethnic culinary experiences, rather than the more commercialized restaurants that have Americanized much of the decor, menu, and staff. It may feel uncomfortable to venture into neighborhoods in which you are a minority, but that’s an important experience that helps to create perspective and empathy on what many minority groups feel in their school environment or workplace on a daily basis. Discuss your children’s experiences afterwards, asking them what surprised them or what they experienced or learned. Reflect upon what it felt like to be within the minority and discuss with your children how many people of color experience that feeling on a daily basis, as they walk into restaurants, coffee shops, schools, and workplaces.
While scrolling through Facebook, the comments that stand out the most are not the ones with the most vitriolic language, but from people who are unwilling to engage in any dialogue that differs from their already-established perspective. Because negative stereotypes are largely passed onto us implicitly, being unwilling to challenge our own beliefs is ultimately the most dangerous fuel for racism. The most important step that you can take is modeling humility and willingness to engage in discourse and self-reflection. Its most obvious application is how we may talk about politics or news in our homes in which we may speak with absolute fervor that the other side is being “so stupid!” We feel very strongly in our opinions and often (implicity) continue to read or watch news that confirm our beliefs. We readily share articles that support our opinions and are less likely to fact check them. However, we need to model thinking critically about ALL of the news or media that we consume. If your child asks you a question about an issue, look it up together and teach them how to verify that a source is legitimate. Point out how the same story can be reported in different ways and discuss how the wording of a headline can influence how we think and feel about an issue. Show them how to look at multiple sources before formulating an opinion and talk aloud your thoughts as you process the varying pieces of information.
On an everyday basis, you can show the same humility, open-mindedness, and self-reflection within the mundane interactions with your children. As we are going throughout the day, and asking them to do various tasks, in a fit of frustration we may ultimately respond to refusals with, “because I said so!” This type of response is asking your child to unquestioningly obey authority, while also showing that as a parent, you aren’t open to hearing any other ideas but your own. While you may not be able to have a discussion in the moment, later on, take some time to ask your child why it is that they don’t want to do a particular task, if they have their own ideas on how to do it differently, or give them some say in the order of their schedule. Within that discussion, you can model listening to a different idea, consideration of what they are trying to communicate, and a willingness to try something different if that isn’t working. Statements such as “Help me understand...” and “Do you have some ideas on how to do this differently?” can create an environment that supports open dialogue. To be clear, questioning authority differs from disrespecting authority in that “Disrespecting authority is refusing to treat a person in power with respect, while questioning authority is questioning why something is happening.” (Gustason, 2019). When we develop children’s ability to question authority, we are supporting an important step in moral development (Confident Parents Confident Kids, 2020) and building the skills that will one day enable our children to identify and stand up to systemic injustices.
Racism is a complicated issue that has its hold across every aspect of society. We will not be able to effectively address it unless we target the sources of our implicit bias. If you are seeking out more information on how to directly discuss racism, you may find the following sources helpful: