Academic Articles

#BlackLivesMatter: Are your children too young to talk about race?

Jul 15, 2020 | By Lauren Martin
#BlackLivesMatter: Are your children too young to talk about race?

“Silence about race can reinforce racism by letting children draw their own conclusions.”

“When you avoid talking about race or gender with kids to “protect their innocence”, which kids are you really protecting?”

People are not too old to change or too young to learn about racism. People of all ages need to be challenged on their prejudiced views and attitudes and held accountable for them.

Black children learn about living in a racist society from the start of their lives. Parents of children of colour don’t have the choice about whether they should speak about race and racism with their children because their children will be confronted with racism in their everyday lives. 

As white parents, it is not enough to tell your children ‘we are all equal’ and believe that you have done enough to fight for justice in a society riddled with racism and divide. You have a responsibility to do better for your children and for society.

Tehne Wright (SACAP Educator and Counselling Psychologist) states, “when one comes from a position of privilege, conversations about race and oppression are very difficult to have with children, and that is mainly because as these conversations unfold your position of privilege is highlighted and so we make excuses about protecting children’s innocence when as parents we are trying to protect ourselves from acknowledging the role we play within a racist society.”

Knowing where to start or how to make a change can be difficult for parents, but there are ways parents can start being part of the solution.

“When one comes from a position of privilege, conversations about race and oppression are very difficult to have.”

Tehne Wright

6 ways parents can be a part of the change:

  1. It starts at home: As parents, it is important we are cognizant of the subtle influences around our children. Are we looking at whether our children have Black educators or leaders at school; whether the classrooms or social gatherings are filled with children that only look like them. Do your children read books with Black main characters; or you aware of what version of our history you are teaching your children? As parents, we can be more deliberate in our upbringing, teaching and influences.  
  2. Empower children to be socially aware: Tehne states that we should “raise children who do not negate others experiences or belittle them by saying things like ‘Apartheid ended so long ago though and it wasn’t my fault’ because when we are aware of what systemic racism is, and how long lasting the effects are, we know that statements that negate the impact of historic racist policies and actions cannot be tolerated. Raise children who actively defend fundamental human rights for everybody by modelling that behaviour for them.”
  3. Talk to your children: Natalie Donaldson (SACAP’s Head of Teaching and Learning CT Campus) says “Simply, do better than what your own parents and family did. Talk about racism and prejudice and raise your children to be activists against racism and any form of prejudice. Talk about white privilege, what it is, what it means, and what you can do with it to challenge racism. Also, parents need to start by acknowledging their own white privilege and the ways in which they maintain and perpetuate racism or racist beliefs. Parents must set an example for their children and be role models in the fight against racism, so that their children can see how it can be done.”
  4. Evaluate your own beliefs and biases: Jogini Packery (Counselling Psychologist and SACAP’s Head of JNB Campus) mentions that “parents can start by evaluating their own values and ideas about racism and privilege. It is important for them to talk to their kids about the past challenges in South Africa and how it still impacts on the lives of many South Africans. An example that is close to home is academic success. Many students do not go home after university or college to homes where they can receive support with their studies, because they do not have family members who have previously attended higher education training. This, coupled with added responsibilities in the home, impacts on their ability to reach their full academic potential. Thus, racial inequality remains a reality for many South Africans, even those privileged enough to access higher education.”
  5. Be appropriate role models: Ashley Motene (Industrial Psychologist and SACAP’s Management and Leadership Programme Developer) states “parents can empower their children by teaching them to not be colour blind & defensive because it disempowers those most generationally affected because of their colour. In teaching self-responsibility, as a parent or mentor, practically model a just, courageously inclusive & loving way to dismantle discrimination in everyday living.
  6. Acknowledgment and exposure: Tehne Wright further points out that “we empower our children to change society by firstly openly acknowledging that systemic racism exists and making them aware of it. Thereafter, our role as anti-racist parents is to raise children who are exposed to the realities of the country and world that we live in.

Written by: Lauren Martin, Counselling Psychologist and Head of Faculty: Applied Psychology

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