Dr. Lisa Oefinger
Talking to Kids About Race and Racism: Five Powerful Resources to Inform Your Discussions
Updated: Aug 31, 2020
Talking to children about race can be difficult. Obviously, these conversations look different depending on a family's racial identity. While people of color, especially Black families, sadly do not have the option to skip these difficult conversations, White families must be more intentional about how and when to discuss racism. It is normal for parents to initially feel uncomfortable or maybe even a little fearful during these conversations. What if I say the wrong thing? What if my child misunderstands what I'm saying? What if I don't know how to respond to their questions? Even though it is scary, it is so very important to have these conversations anyway.
Perhaps, we may take some solace in knowing that we will have many attempts at these hard discussions. Talking about race and racism is not a one-time conversation - rather, it is ongoing and evolving. If something you said didn't quite come out right the first time or your child didn't seem to quite understand a concept, you can (and should) come back to it. And reflect, then come back to it again. And educate yourself, then come back to it again. As we work towards a more just world, there will be many opportunities to get better at these hard conversations. These five powerful resources may be helpful to grounding your thinking and guiding your discussions:
1. Child Mind Institute
The Child Mind Institute is a national, nonprofit organization "dedicated to transforming the lives of children and families struggling with mental health and learning disorders." They offer a range of services including psychological assessment, therapy, telehealth interventions, and educational materials. Lucky for us in the Bay Area, they recently opened a clinic in San Mateo, as their primary space is in Manhattan. The Child Mind Institute is on point. They consistently publish helpful, research-informed resources that quickly cut to the heart of complex issues. I am so appreciative of their work. My recent favorites from their "Racism and Violence" series include:
Racism and Violence: Helping Kids Handle the News - an Instagram Guide - this guide is filled with beautiful illustrations and digestible guidelines for discussing recent protests over the violent deaths of Black Americans.
Racism and Violence - Facebook Live with Kenya Hameed, PsyD and Jamie Howard, PhD - this thoughtful video provides specific strategies for talking to children about race and racism. The experts explore how the conversations look different depending on the racial identities of the family. Specific recommendations for Black families and White families are provided.
2. National Museum of African American History & Culture
The National Museum of African American History and Culture is located in Washington, DC and part of the Smithsonian Institution. It is "the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture" (from their website). They published a collection of resources for Talking About Race. They expertly break down complex concepts and vocabulary. Their framing may be especially helpful for explaining difficult topics to children.
3. Center for Racial Justice in Education
The Center for Racial Justice in Education is a New York City-based organization dedicated to empowering "educators to dismantle patterns of racism and injustice in our schools and communities." They provided a comprehensive collection of Resources for Talking About Race, Racism, and Racialized Violence with Kids. The list includes interviews with experts, articles, and other resources. The range in educational materials allows for individuals with different learning preferences to easily access materials (e.g., listen to an interview or read an article).
4. Oakland Public Library Booklist for Racism and Justice
The Oakland Public Library recently offered an amazing booklist for "Talking to Kids About Racism and Justice." The recommendations are separated by age levels to direct parents and educators to appropriate materials. I highly recommend it.
5. NPR Interview with Jennifer Harvey on "How White Parents Can Talk about Race"
Dr. Jennifer Harvey is the author of Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America. She is a professor of religion at Drake University. This relatively short (7-minute) interview quickly delves into powerful topics for White parents. It is especially moving, as she speaks as a parent, activist, and scholar. I imagine more comprehensive information is provided in her book. I added it to my summer reading list.
I hope you appreciate these resources as much as I do. If you have other suggestions, please reach out and share. I always have a lot to learn and want to do better. In solidarity, Dr. Lisa.
DISCLAIMER: This blog is for informational and educational purposes only. It does not imply nor establish any type of therapeutic relationship. It should not be considered therapy or any form of treatment. If you think you need immediate assistance, call 911 or your local mental health crisis hotline.