It’s time for white parents to have “the talk” with their kids

Alright white parents, it’s time to get real. First, you should read the following articles: this one on the root by Tonyaa Weathersbee and this one by Jennifer Harvey at the huffington post.  Both explore the nuances of how parents navigate conversations about race and racism with their children and to what effect.  A spoiler: it is largely to damning effect.

In short, Ms. Weathersbee argues that “the talk” black parents have with their children about not provoking white people, not doing those things racist dominant white culture deem “suspicious” just supports uninterrupted white supremacy. And gives white folks a pass to continue their violent legacy of racism.  On the other hand white parents fail miserably at cultivating critical thinking on racism with their white children. As long as we, as white parents, fail to challenge the racist culture we live in and teach our children to see white supremacy for what it is, this shit is not going to get better.

Let me draw a parallel that you might be able to connect with. Maybe you’re familiar with the idea that we need to stop blaming our daughters for dressing in certain ways or consuming alcohol or being friendly and instead teach our boys not to rape and assault our girls. Makes sense, right? We can get behind that, right? Well now i’m going to challenge white parents to step up and stop hiding behind the idea that black and brown people need to stop wearing hoodies or reaching for their wallets when stopped by the police or blasting their music or knocking on strangers doors when they’ve been in an accident. And that instead white parents need to start teaching our white kids not to be racist and kill black and brown people because of our white supremacist indoctrination that teaches us to fear and hate non white people.

It’s the same idea, really. Even if we don’t want it to be. In order to do it though we have to give up a couple of pretty lame excuses i hear far too often from white folks who claim to want to do this work. The first is that white people often feel like we need to be taught by people of color about racism.  As if as white people we have no experience perpetuating or benefiting from racism that we could use to work from, or no ability to look critically at the systems of power all around us.  Or no access to articles, blogs, news sources, comedians, etc. who are speaking from their lived experiences about racism in this country.  Not to mention the way this re-centers white need and forces people of color to not only live in our racist culture but also enlighten well meaning white folk about their struggle.  It is baffling to me.  The second excuse i hear is that we don’t know what to say, that we need some pre packaged talking points to get us started.  And then nothing happens.  We’ve stated our desires to work on this ish, but we have no tools and apparently no power within ourselves to take a leap and build as we go.  But we need to let go of our fear of not being the perfect white “anti racist,” because always saying the perfect thing doesn’t matter if we are letting it get in the way of doing anything to deconstruct the systems of oppression we. participate. in. and. benefit. from. every. day.

So white parents, it is our turn to tackle “the talk” with our kids.  To share the burden of unpacking racism with parents of color.  It is time we teach our white kids not to murder and fear kids of color.  Not to assume they are guilty, violent, lazy, stupid, drug addicts, etc. Because if Ms. Weathersbee’s analysis of historical patterns holds we are swinging back into a period of even more severe violence against children and women and men of color.  Soon #Every28Hours will be #Every18Hours.

And there is some good news for us, white parents.  Once you start to look for jumping points to discuss racism with your kids, you will find that they are nearly limitless.  Here’s an easy first step. Just take a look at any media that is relevant to your child(ren) and you are bound to find stereotypes aplenty or maybe just a palpable lack of characters of color, voices of color, etc. Media constructs a significant part of our kids worlds today and even if we’re groovy parents that limit visual media consumption (ya know because it teaches our girls they need to be rescued by boys, etc), there’s always books. My nearly 6y/o daughter will almost only consume books with rad female characters. If i pushed her i think she’d be able to identify that that’s because she can connect to those characters more easily than she can cool male characters. So what if i pushed her to consider how in these same books she loves there are very few characters of color? And asked her if she thought her friends at school would be able to connect to those characters in the same way she does. And when she says no, to encourage her to consider how that might feel. To be constantly unrepresented or stereotypically represented in movies, books, television shows, etc. It’s not a giant leap.

Or you could work with your child to analyze the ways in which we teach history in this country. You know, because we make it all sound so pretty when really our American history is an ugly parade of violence and white domination. As they come home from school with construction paper “native american” headbands, take a second to talk to your kid(s) about what really happened to those same native americans after the yummy feast was over. About how we killed native americans, pushed them from their lands, killed them a lot more and pushed them onto increasingly smaller reservations, then how we legislated their assimilation, stole their children and jailed them with impunity as they tried to resist and preserve their lives and cultures. School, i promise, will provide SO MANY OPPORTUNITIES to debunk the great white myth of our own superiority and fairness.

And while we can start small we MUST build up to the big stuff. We’ve talked to both of our kids about the murders of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis. The murders, mind you, the blatantly obvious murders. We’ve talked about how this happens a WHOLE FUCKING LOT. I’ve talked with our 6y/o about how she is the antithesis to a black or brown male. Cops will trip over themselves to save a pretty white girl, we are who armed forces have risen to protect throughout white history. I mean, damn, we’ve had whole nations going to war for us.

Explain to your kids that we fail to sentence the murderers of these children but conversely imprison and execute men and women of color for NON VIOLENT crimes. Explain to them the next time there’s a missing white girl’s face racing across every news outlet and computer screen that we do not do the same to find missing girls of color. Help them draw the conclusion that this means in our white supremacist culture that we just don’t value the lives of people of color. They will not need your help to know how utterly fucked up this is.

Our kids are bright and they get shit, they pick up on what’s going on around them. So let’s not hide them from the ugliness of the world we’ve built for them, but instead let’s reveal it to them so that they know what we’re up against. We cannot fight what we are not acknowledging. We cannot protect our own children if it means condemning other people’s children to a life of violence and a high probability of murder.

This blog does not begin to cover everything it needs to. But it aims to start a discussion and keep it going. #ItsTimeWhiteParents


7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Nexus
    Apr 12, 2014 @ 03:04:54

    “Maybe you’re familiar with the idea that we need to stop blaming our daughters for dressing in certain ways or consuming alcohol or being friendly and instead teach our boys not to rape and assault our girls. Makes sense, right? We can get behind that, right? ”

    No, it does not make sense, I cannot get behind it, and I have resolved to confront this hateful meme whenever I encounter it, which is approximately every day or two. Holding an entire demographic segment responsible for the crimes of a few, and treating all of them as potential future criminals is prejudice, or worse. Only targeting the boys for preemptive shaming leaves the girls off the hook, when stats from the CDC show that sexual assault by females occurs at a parity rate:
    Go to page 18 and 19.
    1,270,000 Women raped yearly
    1,267,000 Men forced to penetrate yearly

    Criminals don’t care about the harm they cause, and will not be persuaded by being taught not to, so the only ones who will heed the lesson are the majority who were never going to rape in the first place. For an abrasive hypothetical comparison, imagine if the Internet was abuzz with phrases like, “teach women not to shoplift”, “teach women not to commit arson”, or “teach women not to leave infants in dumpsters.”

    I support what you wrote here regarding race, only I would emphasize teaching ethics and teaching history, with the examples you suggested, and then the kids will have enough sense to put the two together and figure out for themselves what not to do.


    • Sara Tansey
      Apr 12, 2014 @ 14:06:14

      Nexus, i am not trying to criminalize little boys but i wholeheartedly reject your belief that we shouldnt be teaching our boys not to rape our girls. I was raped when i was 21 at the rainbow gathering by a boy it was CLEAR did not believe he had raped me. A few weeks later he sent me this totally upbeat, totally effusive email saying he hoped he could see me again. We teach our boys that good girls will resist their sexual overtures. We teach our boys that “no” means “yes.” I absolutely believe that when i said “no” three times tameron believed i was just being shy. That because i’d chosen to explore other physical intimacies with him it was a sign i wanted to have sex. When i say we should teach our boys not to rape our girls, what i mean is that we should be teaching ALL children really strong consent culture and strong loves of their bodies. I have also sat in restorative justice circles with sexual offenders. It is clear we are not raising a mass of criminal sexual assailants, but that we are wildly hindering strong communication about sex and sexuality. As for the rates at which women sexually assault others, i agree, we need to talk about that. But i was trying to offer a jumping board for the sort of liberal white parents who can get behind teaching boys (a dominant group) not to commit a violence men are committing against women (the non dominant group) are astonishing rates. Also i will have to follow through on your link that offers statistics supporting the idea that women offend at comparable rates. But i have to say i’m skeptical.


  2. Teagan
    Apr 14, 2014 @ 07:21:56

    We first need to learn to love, love that ideal world we are working toward where there is no skin color or race that draws lines and creates barriers btwn us, the world that children already live in until the day that we point out the existence of the social construct of race. I made it to age 9 before I was made aware of this country s legacy of slavery and oppression of black people, and I could hardly bear it, my reaction of complete hysterical outrage, of a flurry of writing with green marker in a yellow tablet about how the amount of pigment in your skin should not make you who you are to others, crying till I choked and threw things around my room. I actually wished I had a longer innocence about such things. Because it was the education about the history of racism that put racism into my heart where it hadn’t existed before, at least not consciously. you fight for what you love. And if you never have a period of your life was you get to fall in love with a color blind world then it’s hard to have something to hold on to when you have to fight against racism for the rest of your life.


    • Sara Tansey
      Apr 14, 2014 @ 15:36:34

      But our white innocence turns into ignorance. Little kids of color do not get to live in the period of innocence you want to protect. Because from a very young age they are made to feel inferior and bad for their blackness. That’s the whole point. As white people we can CHOOSE to recognize racism or we can ignore it. Your outrage is noble but it helps no one unless you’re willing to strike back against the legacy of racism that stems from slavey in this country. You can cry your white woman’s tears but we need to be teaching our kids about the reality their friends and neighbors face. They can learn a radical love that comes from honest empathy and compassion. They can learn a love that is born of solidarity.


  3. Rachelle
    May 01, 2014 @ 19:22:38

    I’m the only black commentor on here and I have to say that I agree with what Sarah writes and am pretty disappointed but not surprised by Nexus and Teagan’s comments. I think their comments really show the defensiveness that can help racism proliferate in white radical/liberal circles. “You can cry your white woman’s tears but we need to be teaching our kids about the reality their friends and neighbors face.” I mean that’s the whole point. That’s the truth. Being hurt over racism doesn’t stop racism and teaching a child, in 2014, to “not see color” is just a bliss bunny cop-out and dangerous.


  4. Evelyn
    May 12, 2014 @ 15:36:20

    I first want to thank Sara for posting this because it is something that I always wondered about families of other races. Being a black female growing up in a small town in the South has taught me a lot about racism first hand. I have been called out of my name on several occasions with racial slurs, talked down to about my hair, and have always felt like I don’t necessarily have a winning chance with employment opportunities because I was not as marketable as someone of another race would have been. Being that I grew up in a mostly white area I went to Elementary School with mostly white children. I was also blessed to be in the advanced classes and accelerated courses so there were even less black children in my classes (3/22 to be exact). The others were boys and being a girl, I wanted to be around other little girls. My absolute best friend was white, we are still great friends to this day but I will never forget a situation that happened when we were children. I went to spend the day at her house and we were listening to a radio station that played the top hits. I remember that an Usher song came on and she had the radio turned all the way up and her much older brother who was in high school screamed “Turn that n***** music off”! I was so hurt and I did not know how to respond. How could I have? I was in their home. Her brother had also made comments joking to me that their dog did not like black people any time I would come over. Even at that young age I wondered what sort of conversations were being had in that household about prejudice and about being fair to everyone. Even though I did not have any family members that had gone to college before me and not many of them had traveled too far, we were raised to love and treat everyone equally. Not to say my family was perfect, but when it comes to people of other races, genders, sexual orientations, etc. they always taught me to be humble and that it was a blessing to have friends that were different from you. I am not blaming my friend for what happened, and I am not even blaming her brother. I just always wondered about the conversations that were had in homes that used those terms. I was accepted into college through Affirmative Action and I am thankful for it, because without it I would not have gotten into the school of my choice. I was blessed to meet many friends of all sorts and I loved them all. I am very liberal with my friendships and I welcome all kinds.I want my children to be that way as well. I want to make sure that my children do not feel as though they have to self segregate to feel comfortable. My greatest wish is that I never have to have “The talk” with them, however, I do think we may be a few generations away from that happening. One day at a time, and one mind at a time. Thank you for your blog Sara. 🙂


  5. Trackback: Lessons i will teach my white daughter | narcissism for the dubiously modest

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