Talking to Kids About Race :: Why It’s So Important {Part 2}

{If you missed Part 1, catch up here!}

Fresh out of college, I went to a job interview in a city with a predominantly White population. The interviewer was very detailed in his questions regarding my resume. When he got to the “Volunteer Service” section, he saw that I had been involved with Black History Month presentations in the area. He asked me to tell him more about what I had done. Proudly I explained how a professor and I implemented Black History Month presentations in schools throughout a county that was doing nothing for Black History Month. I gushed about traveling from school to school and sharing these powerful, memorable, stirring presentations. I was pretty proud of the work we had done. As I concluded, he furrowed his brow and looked genuinely confused when he asked, “Why?”

Talking to Kids About Race:: Why It's So Important {Part 2} | Houston Moms Blog

I was dumbfounded. I interpreted his question to mean that he didn’t see the value of teaching White kids about Black History. Now I can’t remember my exact answer {it probably included some stammering because I was still in shock and my face was on FIRE}.  But if I could go back and answer the question again, I would say, “Because people’s lives are better when we see the bigger picture and understand that heroes and villains come in all different shapes and sizes and colors and cultures. Those people whom we celebrate during Black History Month {and Hispanic Heritage Month, too, for that matter} should be celebrated year-round. Recognizing the importance of other cultures and races and religions brings joy to our lives, makes us better people, and makes the world a better place. Ignoring or stereotyping them does not.”

So far we’ve talked about the importance of openly talking about race and how to look for and create teaching moments with our kids.  Now let’s look at two more tips for raising our children to be successful members of our beautifully diverse community.

3. Intentionally expose your child to a variety of cultures.

This is so easy to do in Houston! We can travel the world without ever leaving our own city. The Original Greek Festival is in October. Aloha Tex Fest is scheduled for September 1. Plan a family dinner in Chinatown. Go check out some beautiful Islamic Art. You can find events in the city throughout Hispanic Heritage Month. Celebrate Juneteenth {If you are new to Houston, you may not be familiar with this day, don’t worry. There’s more info about it in the next section!}.

It is so beneficial for our children to learn and understand that there are a myriad of cultures and varying races and religions all around us. This can come from conscientiously choosing diverse children’s books when you buy or check them out from the library. Just be sure that you point out the characters in the book and discuss their similarities and differences. The more open we are in our conversations about our similarities and differences, the less scary they seem to our children.

Research has proven that children who are exposed to other cultures are more successful, both in the classroom and in the workforce. So beyond the moral implications of teaching your child to be a responsible member of society, there are additional benefits to help your child be the best he can be.

4. Have “The Talk.”

Even though it is not pleasant, it is important to explain the truth of racial history to your child. Don’t leave this for your child to hear first in school or from a movie or from her peers. Many teachers struggle with these topics and we’ve all seen movies get information wrong and don’t even get me started on the false information spread by kids! One of my sons was recently learning about the Civil Rights Movement in his elementary school class. We have discussed these topics for years and he was familiar with the information his teacher presented. Imagine my heartbreak when he came home and said, “Mom, at recess today Johnny* and Billy* {two White boys} said the word ‘Negro’ and it made Timmy* {a Black boy} cry.” {*Yes, I changed their names…}

First of all, I am glad that my son knew enough to know that what happened was very wrong. Secondly, I wondered if those White boys would have ever used that word if they had already had open conversations about race with their parents. My guess is, they would not. I reminded my son that he needs to always speak up when he hears someone else saying something that is hurtful. I am constantly thinking of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s profound statement, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Moms, when we talk about “bad words” with our kids, let’s include hate-filled, stereotyping names and phrases. However you have found to teach your child about offensive language, extend the lesson to these often-overlooked malicious words.

Talking to Kids About Race:: Why It's So Important {Part 2} | Houston Moms Blog

A Mini History Lesson

If you need some ideas for how to tell our nation’s racial history to a preschool-aged child, Dr. Tatum gives a simple example you can use or adapt ::

“A long, long time ago, before there were grocery stores and roads and houses here, the Europeans came. And they wanted to build roads and houses and grocery stores here, but it was going to be a lot of work. They needed a lot of really good, strong, smart workers to cut down trees, and build roads, and work on farms, and they didn’t have enough. So they went to Africa to get the strongest, smartest workers they could find. Unfortunately, they didn’t want to pay them. So they kidnapped them and brought them here as slaves. They made them work and didn’t pay them. And that was really unfair.

“…This was a really long time ago, and the Africans who were kidnapped did whatever they could to escape. But sometimes the Europeans had guns and the Africans didn’t, so it was hard to get away. But some even jumped off the boats into the ocean to try to escape. There were slave rebellions, and many of the Africans were able to escape to freedom after they got here, and worked to help other slaves get free. Now, even though some White people were kidnapping Africans and making them work without pay, other White people thought that this was very unfair, which it was. And those White people worked along with the Black people to bring an end to slavery. So now it is against the law to have slaves.”

Bring in Some Books

There are three fantastic children’s book that you may want to include with your discussion.

  1. Faith Ringgold’s Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky
  2. Jeanette Winter’s Follow the Drinking Gourd
  3. Cynthia Levinson’s The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist


Additionally, Houston has its own piece of history in the whole Emancipation story. This month commemorates the day, June 19, 1865, when Union Major-General Gordon Granger finally brought the news of the Emancipation of slavery to Texas. The document known as “General Orders No. 3” was first read to the people of the city of Galveston. So Juneteenth is kind of a big deal to Houston and has been celebrated every year since. This year, the Mayor’s parade will be held on June 16.  There will be festivities throughout Houston all week long. This would be an excellent time to educate your child. You may want to bring her along to some age-appropriate festivities around town.

Talking to Kids About Race:: Why It's So Important {Part 2} | Houston Moms Blog

As we seek to make our world a better place, I agree with what Kristine said in her article. It is not simply what we say when we are having a “teaching moment.” It is what we do. It is how we act and speak and react that will drive those lessons home for our children. We can make the world a better place for our children and their posterity. If you are interested in learning more about this topic, I highly recommend the following books:

“Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria” And Other Conversations About Race by Beverly Daniel Tatum, Ph.D.

Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America by Jennifer Harvey

A Race Is a Nice Thing to Have: a Guide to Being a White Person or Understanding the White Persons in Your Life by Janet Helms, Ph.D.

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2 Responses to Talking to Kids About Race :: Why It’s So Important {Part 2}

  1. Anonymous June 12, 2018 at 12:13 pm #

    This is a great series! One point in the “Mini-History” section (which I know you didn’t mean to be all-encompassing) would be to add that when the Europeans came, before stealing workers from Africa, Europeans stole the land for their roads, grocery stores, homes, etc. from the original Americans, the Native Americans who had lived for many generations in the United States. That is one point my kiddos really needed background on.

    Thanks again for this series, I love it!

  2. Alissa McClure
    Alissa McClure June 12, 2018 at 4:48 pm #

    YES! In fact, as I was writing, I was thinking about those details! There is SO much to tell. I love that you pointed this out. I think the more we talk about these things with our children the better our world will be.

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