Talking to Kids About Race & Racism
Our hearts are broken. We at Veronica Beard stand in solidarity with our Black community. Our strength is in our diversity and we all need raise our voices against racism, injustice and inequality. We need to listen, learn, take action. As a company, we vow to educate ourselves and be accountable for the responsibility we bear as a business, and as individuals.
Many of us are mothers, too, and know that to build a truly inclusive society where everyone is respected and valued, the work begins at home and with our own families. It may not be an easy conversation to have—but it's important one. Here, we speak to pediatric psychologist and parent coach, Dr. Ann-Louise T. Lockhart, who shares her advice on how to talk to our children about race and racism. All families, no matter what background or skin color, should be having these conversations.
Kids should love everybody, but the fact is that they notice skin color. By six months of age they notice differences between their caregivers and other people. By three years of age, they notice differences in skin color, and if they are not educated on these differences and taught to celebrate these differences, by three or four, they start to exhibit bias towards those that are different.
Educating them is not just sitting down a two-year-old child and saying, "Let's talk about ethnic differences." It’s so important to have toys and dolls that look different. It’s having artwork and books and movies that have people or are made by people that look different. It’s having friends that are different from you. I grew up in St. Croix and I had friends from Trinidad and the Dominican Republic. We all looked different and were different colors and we took pride in it. When I came to the U.S. when I was 18, I was in shock. I thought being Black and dark was good and it wasn’t the norm here.
Kids are observing things like whether their mom and dad have friends of different colors, or whether they watch movies that include Black people that aren’t stereotypes. They will notice if you are reading books about or by African Americans.
If you are a Black parent, I would want my kids to know more about Black history and celebrate it. If you are white, you can celebrate Black history and your own ancestry. It’s about learning about culture and ancestry and celebrating these differences in culture through food, art and books.
Because kids notice and develop bias, they are going to say things that are rude and inappropriate. If your child were to say something that seems racist or prejudiced, instead of punishing them and telling them to stop, approach it from a curiosity standpoint. I would say something like, “Those are interesting words—tell me more about why you believe this about this group of people.” You may be shocked or upset, but you don’t want to shut down the conversation.
People sometimes say to me, “Can’t we just teach kids to love everyone?” But that’s not happening in our own culture. People aren’t loving everybody and they are doing this based on superficial reasons. We need to teach kids empathy for differences, and that differences should be celebrated. Empathy is about teaching kids to be curious to ask about their friends' culture, and be interested in what’s different, and to know that these differences are not less than or better.
“People sometimes say to me, ‘Can’t we just teach kids to love everyone?’ But that’s not happening in our own culture. People aren’t loving everybody and they are doing this based on superficial reasons. We need to teach kids empathy for differences, and that differences should be celebrated.”
Fair and equal doesn't have to mean the same, necessarily. It just means you are treating people the way they should be treated. There is a viewpoint that Black people don’t deserve what white people do. I have always told my kids that just because they are Black, it doesn’t mean they are less then.
Books are a great start, especially because a lot of children’s books are written for children to understand. It’s also important that we make sure we expose them to a variety of people of color. For example, there are more Black people than just Martin Luther King Jr. who are contributors. Black people have done amazing things from the very small to the very big things in a variety of areas in history. It’s also important to push schools to bring in accurate history of Black people. Many schools are educating kids based on old information, and not what is accurate. For example, some books depict slavery as bad, but they will also say that most slaves were treated and were needed in order to build up the new America. This is bleached history and not accurate.
From a personal and professional perspective, kids 11 or younger don't need to be exposed to all the ugliness in the news. They are only kids once—they are innocent and don't need to be made aware of the news minute to minute. Right now, there are no sports, no tournaments, no concerts, and everyone is at home and we have nothing else to do and all of our attention is on this issue. But we need to shield our kids from all of this, and they don’t need to know all of it. If I educated my kids about every time a Black person was killed senselessly, they would be scared to death.
But at 11, kids are often talking on the phone, on social media and the internet, and may be exposed to the news. That’s when you need to have an honest, open conversation about what happened, and educate them about racism and prejudice.
“Empathy is about teaching kids to be curious to ask about their friends' culture, and be interested in what’s different, and to know that these differences are not less than or better.”
I think it starts with educating yourself on the history of police, and then educating age-appropriate kids. The police force was originally created to enforce slavery, and to bring runaway slaves back to the plantations. They would bring these slaves back and beat them so they wouldn't do it again.
There is also epigenetics, which is an amazing body of research that talks about how adverse child experiences can be transmitted into DNA and passed onto offspring. So if you have four or more traumatic experiences such as homelessness, mental illness, physical abuse or domestic violence, this will change the way your DNA is expressed and when you have a child, this will be passed along.
So when you think about the history of police force and transmission of experiences from slavery, it’s no surprise that when a Black person sees a police officer, he or she would get scared. I don’t feel comfortable around police personally; I don’t feel safer. It’s about teaching kids that some people may not feel positive about police, and this is why. It’s also important to educate kids of all ethnicities about the role of the police to protect and serve, and we need to be on guard to notice when things go wrong, and what we can do now that’s different.
I recently saw a post on social media saying there are only a few bad cops. But would you be OK with that in other professions? Would you be OK with getting on a plane with a “bad pilot,” or having surgery by a “bad doctor?”
It’s not about saying we don't want any cops at all. It’s important to have a deep conversation about the changes that need to be made in the system.
You need to come from an empathic standpoint and don’t be dismissive. It’s easy to want to shelter them or even say, “Kids will be kids, or they didn't mean that.” Instead, say something like, “I’m so sorry that happened to you and that sounds really hurtful.” Then I would have them explore why they thought a kid would treat other people that way. And after that I would probably say, “Unfortunately, there are people who believe that if you're Black or have a different skin color, you are less than. But we don't believe that.”
It’s important to help educate them that some people treat others this way, and that this is wrong. It’s also about educating them on how to tell people that racism is wrong. Oftentimes kids don’t respond to bullying because they don’t have a playbook on how to respond. If they had never had someone say something racist to them, they might not know what to do. So, go through the role play of “If someone says your skin is so brown and ugly, what do you do or say back to them?" Have kids explore all possibilities, such as hitting, or telling a teacher, or telling the other child that it’s rude to say that or don't talk to me that way. And then talk about the positives and negatives of each response. So physical violence wouldn’t solve anything but telling them that what they said is wrong or telling a teacher might be a better way to handle it.
Above all, it actually starts with the parent. It starts with you. You need to evaluate your own bias’ and prejudices. Not everyone is racist, but everyone has prejudices, whether they be about wealth, status or skin color. If you are educating your kids about something and don’t actually believe it, they will see right through it. So you have to do your work first.
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