How do we talk about race with kids? For white parents raised in the “color-blind” generation, it can feel confusing and even overwhelming to talk with your kids about race because they are conversations you likely never had yourself. Yet, talking about race is something we all need to do. In this interview, Rebekah Gienapp talks about how to have conversations about race and racism with white kids. She offers some great tips on why these conversations, and our role in anti-racism work, differ between people of color and white people. She also gives great advice on how white people can be co-conspirators or allies in anti-racism work without letting ignorance get in the way and deter progress. This is essential reading/listening for anyone who wants to help create a more racially inclusive world for their children.
How to Talk with White Kids About Race and Racism: Interview with Rebekah Gienapp
The Role of white people in Anti-Racism Work
Rebekah explains that through her anti-racism journey, she has learned that the roles and work of white people and POC (people of color) in the anti-racism space differ slightly. For Black and other POCs, their anti-racism task is to heal from the effects of racism and help other people of color do the same. White people’s primary task should be to dismantle racism and learn to see the effects of whiteness on our lives.
One of the things about whiteness is that those who are white are taught not to see it. It takes a lot of intentional work to start seeing things about white culture about how white privilege and white supremacy are at work in subtle ways in our daily lives. It takes additional internal work for white people to learn to see that so that we can be more effective participants in anti-racist movements instead of kind of bringing that lack of awareness in and weighing down things, like activist efforts, with our ignorance.
Is it ok for white people to be anti-racism educators?
Rebekah says that there’s a difference between following the lead of anti-racist leaders of color and expecting them to do work for us. We, as white people, need to figure out how to do some of that work on our own. Rebekah mentioned several anti-racism educators that she has learned from throughout our conversation (you can find that list below). Taking advantage of all the resources that already exist to help us learn to see our own racial bias and have these important conversations is a great first step.
She mentioned that many white parents expect people of color to give them all the answers about race and racism. It can be exhausting for POC to have to continually guide white people to see the racially unjust America that we live in. She mentioned that her role as an educator is to take some of that burden off of POC so that they can dedicate their time to healing themselves and others.
Rebekah Gienapp’s Anti-Racism Educator Recommendations
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Keep in mind, that these are just the people she mentioned during our interview. I am sure there are additional educators she would add to this list:
Amanda Kemp has a program called Racial Justice From the Heart that is focused on helping people identify and transform their biases as well as how to have effective conversations about racism.
Jennifer Harvey focuses primarily on raising antiracist white kids and growing our collective anti-racism practice.
Cindy is the author of Parenting Forward, which outlines how parents must work to dismantle their own biases to avoid passing them down to their kids. It is a social-justice-focused book written with progressive Christian parents in mind.
Additional Anti-Racism Book Recommendations
This book discusses how the trauma of racism has been stored inside all of our bodies and until we learn to “heal the generational anguish of white supremacy” it will stay there. She outlines a step-by-step healing process.
This is a collection of essays and poems written to encourage families to be anti-racist activists for change. It includes works from thirty diverse authors and illustrators including Grace Lin, Meg Medina, and Adam Gidwitz (who Rebekah mentions in our interview).
How Can White Parents do Co-Conspirator or Ally Work Well?
Tip 1: Follow
Instead of taking over, follow the lead of people of color.
Tip 2: Listen
When POC are sharing their experiences with you, listen to them and accept their experiences as truth. Pay attention when you feel reactions within yourself. Be reflective and seek to understand what is bringing up those feelings.
Tip 3: Have a support group of other white people on an anti-racism journey.
Find another white person who has a bent toward anti-racism you can work through mistakes, feelings, and conflicting thoughts that come up.
Tip 4: Amplify the voices of POC
Instead of always feeling the need to share your own thoughts or perspectives seek out the point of view of people of color. Share ideas that resonate with you and those that challenge you (always giving credit to the source of course).
Tip 5: Find an issue that speaks to you.
There are so many social justice issues related to racism. As parents, we are really busy. Find one that particularly calls to you, don’t try to tackle them all. For some people that might be in your local school system, for others, it might be immigration or change in the criminal justice system. See if there is one thing that you can take part in. Find something that will fit your personality, interests, and abilities.
Tip 6: See how whiteness is operating in your life in your world.
Rebekah mentioned she took a training that encouraged them to go through their homes and do an audit of all the ways whiteness showed up inside their homes. She realized that in her home, whiteness dominated the media that they owned. The books they did have portrayed primarily the opression of POC. She decided to prioritize adding books with diverse characters, different races, and diverse cultures living and enjoying their lives.
What are Age-Appropriate Ways to Talk with Young Kids About Race and Racism?
Rebekah has an amazing conversation guide that leads you through how to talk with white kids about race and racism at different ages. You can get your copy here.
In our conversation, she mentioned that she regularly uses books to spark conversations about race and racism with her son. When he was younger, conversations were mainly about skin tones and skin color. As he got older and could better conceptualize the deeper issues of race and racism, they started having in-depth conversations about the civil rights movement, their own race, how racism appears in our world, and other racially charged events.
She mentions that it is crucial to begin having these conversations at an early age, especially for white parents. Parents of color know they have to have this talk with their kids. Many white parents believe it is optional.
However, if we want to raise antiracist kids, our kids have to understand what led to the unfair treatment people of color face today and all the ways we can work together to pave the way toward a different future.
If you haven’t already, click play and listen to the podcast interview with Rebekah. She offers some great insights and advice about how white parents can raise anti-racist children. We need to do our own internal work to recognize our own biases and be willing to have hard conversations with our kids. It’s not going to be easy, but it is vitally important if we want a more just and equitable world for future generations. Let’s get to work!
If you’d like to learn more about Rebekah and her work you can go to her website www.rebekahgienapp.com. The start here tab gives you tons of great resources to begin your anti-racism journey as a family.