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Discussing racism & other challenging topics with our kids at meals, part 2

Updated: Jun 17, 2020

As we said in part one, we are combining the ideas and expertise of many wise people who teach about and have helped us learn more about race, racism and white privileged (such as Ijeoma Oluo) along with our own expertise in kids to bring you this post.

The previous post was about why and when to have challenging conversations with your kids about race. Let's continue by exploring what conversations about race with our young child might actually sound like at a meal.

What do I say to get my toddler/young child talking about race and eventually about racism?

If your child isn’t ready to answer questions or to say what they see, you can always start by pointing out what you see. It is easiest, in our opinion, to start a conversation in relation to something relevant which your child experienced and has some context (I.E. “Remember that book we read yesterday about the girl who was looking for a quiet place? I noticed that her she had beautiful brown skin.”) But it is also ok to just bring up a new random topic at the table (I.E. “hey I’ve been thinking about something and wanted to talk with you about it...“)

As we said in our previous post, we love starting with a book to introduce an idea that might otherwise feel a little out of context for us. To see which books we recommend, read our previous post here. For example you can say, “I noticed that in many of our books the characters have white skin, like us.” Pause. See if your child offers anything. Then try, “Have you noticed that?” If your child answers (yes or no) dig in there a little by asking a follow up question like: “Have you noticed anyone with different color skin from us in the books we have read? Tell me what you’ve noticed.” Literally the conversation can end there the first time. You’re planting a seed. You’re acknowledging what your child may or may not have noticed and introducing the very early ideas of differences in a simple and non-threatening way that most 3 and 4 year olds will understand. You can get to race, racism, empathy, slavery, white privilege etc. later because these conversations will be ongoing. These topics are long game issues of life-long learning.

The follow up to that conversation might come from your child asking a question a few days later or might come when you purposely read books that include characters who have skin or features that are different from your own. You don't need to expand on the conversation at every meal but you do need to be consistent enough to keep building on the ideas you bring up.

For example, a few nights later you could point out, “look at all these different foods! I think the meal would feel pretty boring if we only had one flavor.” Then reconnect to the conversation from a few days before with something like, “it’s the same with friends- differences in how we look and what we like make life more interesting and beautiful.”