Children and Racism: A blog post from Work/Life and Black Initiatives Group at SAS


Our children need us to comfort them but also to be honest with them right now. Comforting your child is where you are likely the most secure. You have been doing it since those first sleepless nights after they were born. The honesty is much harder. The honest conversation you have with your child about racism will differ based on the color of your skin, your community, and your values. Many Black and Brown parents have been having these conversations almost as long as they have been comforting. White parents may not have ever thought of discussing race, injustice, and violence with their children prior to the last few weeks. There are many, many guidelines on how to do this… from Sesame Street Town Halls to the Child Mind Institute. For those of you who are overwhelmed right now (which is most of us, although maybe for different reasons), the Work/Life team, in partnership with members of the SAS Black Initiatives Group, have written this blog post in an effort to help you get your honest conversations with your children started.

For Non-Black parents:

It’s helpful to understand the systemic issues that have been in existence for centuries, whether they be policies or laws and practices, that affect access to goods, services and opportunities of society based by race. This can affect where families live, the quality of education they receive, their income, access to healthcare and their interactions with the criminal justice system. This is called “Institutionalized Racism” and it is engrained in all of our beliefs and social structures.  To illustrate this, here is a video, from 1992 but still powerful and relevant, featuring Jane Elliot on the Oprah show highlighting an experiment where blue-eyed and brown-eyed people were treated differently.  Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum talks about it as “smog” that we all breath in. It is our responsibility to find it, challenge it, and change it and to teach our children to do the same.

You might have heard the term “implicit bias.” Implicit bias refers to the hidden biases everyone carries  from a lifetime of exposure to cultural attitudes. It shapes our perceptions of social groups, without our awareness or conscious control. To learn more about implicit biases, visit Project Implicit by Harvard University. There is research on what works to counter our implicit biases.

Here are just a few of our ideas on how to apply the research on Implicit Bias to our parenting:

  • Pay attention to your words.

They play a powerful role in contributing to and eliminating discrimination. Using stereotypes, even positive ones (for example, Black people are good at sports) are damaging because they oversimplify individual characteristics and ignore the power of diversity within groups and society.

  • Expose your child to Counterstereotyping Imagery.

There is evidence that exposing yourself and your child to images that conflict with stereotypes can change unconscious attitudes. Childrens’ books are a great way to do this.

  • Consider your child’s spaces.

Does your child go to a preschool with children who look very different from him or her? Do you celebrate holidays (or at least learn about the holidays) of people from different cultures? Does your child see you interact socially with people who look different than you do?

  • Find Black or Brown mentors for your child.

This is important for all children to counter stereotypes. For Black and Brown children, seeing mentors who look like them can actually serve as a “social vaccine” to help inoculate them from some of the self-doubt and alienation that they might otherwise experience.

  • Identify Black people that you admire.

When people are exposed to admired members of other groups, they express less implicit bias. Your effort at doing this will mean your children will also benefit.

For Black and Brown parents:

You have been navigating the balance between how to be truthful without scaring your children for their entire life. You haven’t had the luxury of deciding whether to have “the talk” about racism and safety. It is challenging to help your children deal with their feelings in the midst of you dealing with your own.

Here are some ideas to help you:

  • Continue helping them integrate a sense of pride about all of the Black contributions to our country and our world.

Whether it is the books you read before bed or the show you watch together, continuing to see and talk about people who look like them who have made big contributions is critical.  Maintaining these practices will help them be hopeful for the future.

  • Talk about what they are watching and reading.

Kids internalize the erroneous messages they see in the media and the media can contain racist messages.  Pay attention to what they're seeing and talk about what they see and hear frequently.

  • Look for signs that your child might be experiencing race-related trauma.

Anger outbursts, inability to concentrate or focus, sleep disturbances, overeating, withdrawal from family and/or social activities, irritability, sadness, or hopelessness are all signs that your child might need some extra emotional support from you or a professional.

  • Take care of yourself.

Our children take their emotional cues from us.  Taking care of yourself is taking care of them.

Recognizing that Black parents are emotionally and mentally exhausted, we, in Work/Life, are mindful that both space and time are needed to allow members of the Black community to manage their own processing and recovery.

For all parents, please reach out to your pediatrician or other trusted members of your community if you need assistance in finding resources to take care of you and yours.



About Author

Lisa Allred

Work Life Program Manager

Lisa Allred comes to SAS with a long history of working with families throughout the lifespan. After receiving her undergraduate degree at Wake Forest Universtity and her Masters in Social Work from UNC-CH, her career began as a child therapist focusing on parenting, anxiety and trauma. She then moved into college counseling where she emphasized student wellness and balance.

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