Every time we see an injustice, we have a responsibility to address it. Every day, regardless of our origins or age, each of us has a role to play in confronting an unjust system as we work to build a new one that truly works for everyone. Guiding our girls to learn to recognize and challenge the structures and practices that fuel inequality and cause harm helps them to play an active role in creating the positive change our society needs.
While we should have conversations about race and racism regularly in our homes, consulting with your child is especially crucial when racist violence takes lives and provokes protests, pain and unrest across the country. Children of all ages, backgrounds and skin tones are feeling a variety of emotions in response to all that is happening. They are sad, scared, angry, and confused.
What is the number one thing that can help your child process these feelings? Talking with an adult she trusts and loves, like you, and then working together to find ways to take positive action.
It can be tempting to avoid the issue of race and racism altogether, especially for those who have been taught that it is an issue that is not discussed, but statistics show that the justice, health and education systems are not fair and can negatively affect a child’s life on a fundamental level. Her family, education, safety, and well-being make these conversations absolutely necessary for those who support a just and equitable world for all girls.
We recognize that, in our Latino cultures, the issue of race and colorism (judging people by the color of their skin; often treating those with lighter skin tones better) is an issue that is greatly complicated by the great diversity that exists among different cultures within the Hispanic community.
We also recognize that unfortunately there is much racism among Latinos; it is another issue that we cannot ignore and must confront, along with our children and families, in order to shape a better future for all. In addition, it is important to talk about your family’s origins with your children as they form their identity and learn to take pride in who they are and where they come from.
In the examples that follow, please note that the use of “white” and “black” may mean something different to everyone, depending on the race you identify with as Latino. Mostly, when we use the term “white” we mean Caucasian or those who the world assumes to be Caucasian because of their skin color or other characteristics, even if they are not.
- In every state, black girls are twice as likely to be suspended from school as white girls even though they don’t misbehave more often, according to a 2019 study by the National Women’s Law Center. These suspensions affect their educational achievement and career prospects.
- Children raised in African American, Latino, and Native American households are more likely to live in households with higher unemployment and lower income than white children. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, these inequalities increase their risk of health problems and make them more likely to receive less education as well as lower quality education.
- Young people from diverse backgrounds are more likely to be incarcerated than white youth, disrupting their education, affecting their health and emotional well-being, and limiting their options for the future.
Having honest conversations about race is important for all families, and it’s vital to have them regularly, even if it’s uncomfortable or if you think your children already know about racism and know right from wrong.
However, while talking about it is excellent, it is only part of the work that is needed to improve our world and defend equality. It is also important to observe how your child’s life is structured every day and how she lives it. Who does she see in her neighborhood, at school, and in positions of power around her?
So how does she begin to take these important actions to combat racism? Here’s how.
Be direct, ask questions and listen to her.
Don’t avoid the subject to begin with. Your silence may make your child think that talking about race and racism is forbidden or that the status quo is acceptable, when frank discussion of these issues is actually what she needs most and what will help her be part of the solution.
In fact, “choosing” to talk with your child about racism and its consequences is not a decision every family makes. It is often a necessary conversation, even to save lives, from the earliest ages, especially for Black families and other families of color.
Trish Tchume, director of leadership development at the social justice organization, Center for Community Change, recalls that her mother initiated a conversation with her when she was only five or six years old about how, as a black child, she would be treated differently than her white friends.
“She told me that when I was with my friends, most of them white, at the mall or at the pool, they would come up with ideas to test the limits of authority that might be harmless to them, but not to me. He was telling me to think and be more careful because black children, and adults too, are treated differently than white children when they respond to authority figures or break rules,” as all children do at some point.