Raising Awake Children in the Age of Black Lives Matter

Our country is standing at a pivoting point. #BlackLivesMatter is the anthem and our nation is singing in the face of injustice. For all lives to matter, black lives must matter. 

Protests and acts of unity that stand as the bridge for change are happening around the world. We are stronger together, and here are just a few examples throughout our nation:

High school senior Jalen Thompson orchestrated a protest in St. Louis, MO where, in less than 48 hours, 1500-2000 people showed to stand united, including O’Fallon police chief Tim Clothier. 

STL Protest

A group of African American men created a human barricade in front of a lone Louisville Metro Police Officer who had been separated from his group.

A group of African American men created a human barricade in front of a lone Louisville Metro Police Officer

This was taken at a Birmingham Rally for Justice & Peace. “Today our children learned how to peacefully protest.” Her sign says it all.

Love is action - protest

Winston-Salem police chief, Catrina Thompson, made an emotional plea about police brutality as a mom of a black autistic teenager. Thompson began by saying that the actions of former police Officer Derek Chauvin, who was charged in the killing of George Floyd, do not represent the majority of officers in the United States.

In her words, “I sincerely want you to know from the bottom of my heart, as a mother of not just a black male but a black male with autism who may not be able to respond to an officer telling him to put his hands up, because he does not understand that even at 15 years old, I would not stand here in this position and support anybody in our organization if I believed they would bring harm to my son or any of you.”

Winston-Salem police chief Catrina Thompson at protest

Race and Racism 

Some Americans view colorblindness as helpful to people of color by asserting that race does not matter (Tarca, 2005). The truth is race does matter. It affects opportunities, perceptions, income, and so much more. Instead of being an “enlightened” position, colorblindness comes from a lack of awareness about racial privilege (Tarca, 2005). 

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To “not see color” is to become blind to the wholeness of who someone is. Color and diversity are beautiful, something to be celebrated rather than avoided. In order to talk about and understand race, and to change the country’s views on racism, we must first see that it exists. 

Talking With Our Children

Some parents may feel uncomfortable having conversations about race and racism with their young children in fear of not having the “right” words, or that they do not fully understand it themselves. But the goal in having these important conversations is not perfection, it’s just to start where you are. 

“Most parents want to raise children who treat individuals fairly regardless of the color of their skin, and they want children who embrace diversity and are successful at building relationships with others from backgrounds unlike their own,” said Rebecca Bigler, a professor of psychology at University of Texas, Austin.

“And many believe that they can achieve these goals by avoiding discussions about race altogether,” she continued. “Research suggests, however, that children whose parents do not talk about race typically fall short of these goals.”

At What Age Can Parents Start?

Experts urge parents to begin teaching children about race and racism from the youngest of ages, even before a child can speak. Studies have indicated that infants as young as 3 months old can recognize racial differences, categorize people according to race, and spend more time gazing at faces that match the race or races of their primary caregivers. As their brains develop, their understanding of the world stems from what they observe in their parents and others around them.

“Overall, it is important for parents to speak with their children in a way that they understand and that is developmentally appropriate,” said Eboni Hollier, a board-certified developmental and behavioral pediatrician in Houston. “As children get older, the way you communicate and engage with them needs to be reflective of their evolving language, cognitive, and social-emotional development.”

Teaching Ourselves and Our Children

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Systemic change will require more from people than not being a racist. Change requires anti-racism the practice of identifying, challenging, and changing the values, structures, and behaviors that perpetuate systemic racism (Ontario Anti-Racism Secretariat). Anti-racism is an active way of seeing and being in the world, in order to transform it.

Here are 10 ways families can take action:

  1. Start in your heart. Examine your personal beliefs and behaviors to ensure you are promoting the same values that you want your child to have.
  2. Listen more. Pass the microphone to someone living a different experience than your own. Pass it on, and then listen, really listen. 
  3. Educate yourself. Learn about the history of racism in this country, oppression, and white privilege to better understand those living a marginalized experience. 
  4. Model inclusivity. Treat all people with respect and kindness, regardless of race, gender, religion, preferences, or ability. 
  5. Teach children empathy. Work with children on the ability to name their own feelings, while also modeling compassion for the feelings of those around them. When children are confident in feeling and speaking their emotions, they become more confident in doing so for and with others. 
  6. Celebrate differences and recognize similarities. Show your children that while people are different from them in some ways, they also are the same in many ways, too. Encourage your child to ask questions about the differences and similarities they notice. Bigler advises, “Use this opportunity to explain the racial differences that your child has noticed ― including what such differences do and do not mean.” Hollier adds, “It is equally important to talk about how those differences may cause them to experience life differently.”
  7. Expose children to diversity. Visit cultural museums, learn other languages, encourage play with racially diverse dolls/toys, read books with differing cultures, and allow your children the opportunity to be around people from different backgrounds. Organizations such as We Stories teach families about being race-conscious through children’s literature. 
  8. Discuss recent events. Use recent events as a platform to discuss what you have learned about race and racism. Encourage children of all ages to ask questions and take the opportunity to talk about your family’s values surrounding inclusion. 
  9. Spread the peace. Create sidewalk art or post signs using art or photography for #BlackLivesMatter. Find small ways to connect with and support those who are different from you within your community.
  10. Encourage activism. As a family, find a way to get involved. Join protests and support local black-owned businesses. Teach about legislative changes such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and write your own letters to legislators. Possibly the biggest way to take action is the very way you live your life — share your knowledge and lead with love. 

Children are curious, open-minded, and follow our lead. As we educate ourselves, open our hearts, and stand for change, our children will do the same. Maybe then future generations will know a different reality – one where diversity is celebrated, and equality becomes a reality for all.

Fryberg, S. M. (2010). When the World Is Colorblind, American Indians Are Invisible: A Diversity Science Approach. Psychological Inquiry, 21(2), 115-119.

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