Race relations are part of daily life in Oakland as much as anywhere else in our country. We can address them in the way we live our lives and how we interact with other members of our common community.
But sometimes, the darker side of race relations in the US becomes frightening, particularly for children.
The history of race in America is also full of violence and death. We need to educate our kids so the future can be different, but we also need to protect them from psychological trauma.
Here are a few suggestions regarding how to talk to your children about race relations without scaring them:
- Positive stories
Some of the most iconic stories about American race relations end in tragedy. The story of Martin Luther King is a prime example. But there are ways of telling Dr. King’s story and teaching his pivotal historic message in an age appropriate way.
Focus on his ideas and his ability to engage people of all races, inspiring them to create change.
Books and media can help you to introduce Dr. King and his ideas to young children. For example,“The Story of Martin Luther King Jr,” by Johnny Ray Moore tells the story of Dr. King. It outlines his life as a young boy when he starts to understand racial injustice and begins his journey of change. The book doesn’t mention his death at all.
- Find teaching moments
Race relations happen everywhere. Look out for moments when your child encounters different racial communities. Show them how to engage.
Listen to your kid’s stories from school and the playground. Discuss racial comments and incidents of discrimination with them. Point out positive moments and emphasize positive change.
- Teaching through community
Studies show that Oakland is one of the most ethnically and racially diverse cities in the US. Find and engage with these varied, respectful communities. Make them part of your child’s daily life. This is the most powerful teaching you can give them.
Diversity and respect become normal as they become the baseline of your child’s experience.
- Respond appropriately to your child’s lack of knowledge
If your child brings home a negative racial comment or repeats a racial stereotype that they may have heard in the media, don’t overreact. Most importantly, don’t scare your child by shaming them.
Instead, stay curious. Ask where these ideas originated and help your child understand why they are incorrect. If necessary, support them in standing up for themselves with other kids.
- Monitor media consumption and address media messages openly.
Don’t abandon your child to unfiltered messages. Don’t avoid difficult questions. If a scary racial incident is present everywhere in the media, and your child is troubled by it, talk to them about their fears.
Explain the situation using age appropriate language and help them understand. Make sure they feel personally protected by their parents and caregivers.
- Meet your children where they are.
Don’t bring up scary racial events indiscriminately but do answer questions honestly. Acknowledge that bad things can happen, but take time to put them in perspective as well.
- Encourage culturally diverse events with your children.
Nurture an open-minded attitude. Introduce them to your own friends and families from different racial backgrounds.
- Be a role model
Kids learn mostly by observing and imitating their parents. One positive action in race relations is worth more than thousands of words.
Show your kids how you deal with race and show them how you deal with fear. That is the best way to help them in the present and prepare them for the future.
Keep in mind, talking about race relations is an ongoing series of conversations. Don’t pack too much into one single discussion. As your kids grow up, talk often and learn together.