I’m writing from my home in Washington, DC with a heavy heart and a troubled mind about how to guide our parents in having hard conversations with their children about the current racial injustices occurring in our city, and in our nation following the death of George Floyd.
I approach this topic not as an expert, but as a mom of three children who are asking–”Mom, why did the police kill that man?” We are a white family–so I write to you from that cultural lens. I understand that I don’t truly understand, yet I want my children to learn more, act compassionately, and think with their hearts through these complex issues. I stumbled across my words as I tried to answer my son’s question–I started to explain institutional racism and then stopped. I thought, do I have the right words to explain such long-standing, complex historical injustices. I was grateful that he knew to ask the question. I took a deep breath, looked at him, and replied, “It was wrong for that man to die. It was wrong for that police officer to use such force. And, it is wrong for black people to suffer due to others’ fear and ignorance. It’s been happening for a long time in our country. It’s wrong and it needs to stop.”
I know this conversation is completely different for moms of color raising African American boys. I know my children hold privilege in that they even get to ask this question safely without shame or fear of retaliation.
Since that conversation, I’ve spoken with many parents who are struggling with how to have these conversations with their kids. As a therapist in Washington DC, I meet with parents regularly throughout the week both in individual therapy sessions and couples counseling. How do they explain racial and historical traumas to help their children grow into compassionate white allies? I can’t begin to have all the answers to these questions. Yet, I do think some experts can guide us as we move through this painful time in our country’s history.
Here are a few pieces of information that I’ve read that helped me think about how to have these hard conversations. Glen Singleton founded the Pacific Educational Group that has a training program– Courageous Conversations– to teach citizens how to discuss and process racism. https://courageousconversation.com/about/
They offer the following three steps and associated questions to answer.
First ask yourself these questions to uncover personal and institutional biases.
- Believing: What do you believe based on what’s happened?
- Thinking: What questions do you have? What thoughts come up?
- Feeling: How do you feel? What emotions are coming up for you?
Next, translate those questions into suitable ones for your child.
- What do you believe? What do you know? How do you know?
- What thoughts come up? What questions?
- What do you feel? How do you think they feel?
Then consider what actionable step would match you or your child’s experience now and what would be a compassionate response to the injustices at hand. This is the step of Doing that isn’t listed above. Yet, I do believe it is important for white allies to decide how they want to handle their particular bias or role in the institutional trauma. It could be--I want to learn and understand more. I want to participate in the peaceful protest. I want to treat my friends of color with care. I want to pray or meditate to deal with my feelings.
Whatever we do, we need to keep in mind that it is not about us. It is about honoring the trauma, making space for others’ voices to be heard, and committing to changing the conversation person-by-person, family-by-family.
Here are some resources to help your family explore books for your children
Here is an article that outlines specific steps to take during the conversation with your child.
Here is an article that announces a town hall broadcast about race for kids on Sesame Street at 10 am on Saturday, June 6th.