Talking with children about race, racism, and policing in America
As we continue to absorb the conviction of former police officer Derek Chauvin for the death of George Floyd, this moment presents a great opportunity for parents to speak with their children about race, racism, and policing in America.
How we treat each other and basic human decency are traits that every parent sets out to teach their children at an early age. Many “Color-blind” parents with good intentions may be teaching their children right now that we are all the same and that color does not matter, but in a year that has seen headline after headline of police shootings of people of color, we can no longer get away with telling our children this narrative. The continuous breaking new headlines of another person being shot, maimed, or killed by law enforcement dictates a deeper conversation with our children, especially children of color, and specifically Black boys. A history of police violence against minorities has clearly created the necessity for parents to start conversations with their children early about race, racism and violence.
Child psychologists agree and say parents should not shy away from this subject. They say parents should use the Chauvin trial to talk with their children about racism broadly, and about the Chauvin trial specifically. Saying “color does matter”, experts such as Marietta Collins, an associate professor of family medicine and psychiatry at the Morehouse School of Medicine and the author of “Something Happened in Our Town (A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice)” says parents should “advocate for race-conscious parenting, where you talk about race, celebrate similarities in race, expose your child to differences in race, and expose your child to the richness of diversity that exists.”
Experts encourage parents to talk about the country’s past and present history of race and race relations and not shy away from answering difficult questions our children may have. While we celebrate the verdict in George Floyd’s death, within 24 hours, we saw the headlines of an incident that took place in Columbus, Ohio, with a teenage girl who was killed by the police.
With so much violence this past year, many parents say that they have been proactive, have pulled their kids aside, and have had “the talk” with them. No, it is not the “talk about the birds and the bees” but about survival, telling them they must survive, especially those with Black sons, which seems to be a targeted group. They are telling their children that they must live to tell their story, so do whatever is asked of them if stopped by law enforcement, even if the officials are not conducting themselves appropriately, do what is asked and survive to tell your story. Parents are sharing with their children that compliance does not always mean that you will come from a police officer encounter unscathed, but the important thing is to survive.
For parents seeking resources to help them have this conversation with young children, PBS has a new half-hour program entitled “PBS KIDS Talk About: Race & Racism,” which features authentic conversations between real children and their parents talking about topics in an age-appropriate way, such as noticing differences in race, understanding what racism can look like, and embracing the role we all have to play in standing up for ourselves and each other — offering viewers ideas to build on as they continue these important conversations at home. Another helpful resource for talking with children about race, racism, and violence is the Center for Racial Justice in Education.