Race conversations come up in the most ordinary ways. When my son was in the eighth grade, for instance, I asked the question, “how was your day?” His response: “A kid used the N-word toward a bunch of us Black guys in the cafeteria.” Suddenly, we were talking about race, and we were talking about it seriously. (But did that White boy’s mom talk with her son about race that day? I’m still wondering).
That “n-word incident” blew up quickly and expanded to include the other moms and parents, the principal and the head of the school. In other words, not only do Black parents’ race conversations include their own kids, many of us find ourselves having race conversations with White people and others in our children’s lives.
How do we handle these conversations? We explain. We educate. We sigh with frustration. And then we send our kids back into the world and wait for the next incident. Suffice it to say, race weighs heavily on Black parents’ minds.
My four children are all young adults now, so I’ve had a little time to reflect on how my husband and I talked about these issues with our own kids. Here’s my advice, to all of you going through it now.
1. Talk about race often
Of course our children know they are Black. But all too often, their friends, teachers, school administrators and other parents looks at Blackness through a stereotyped lens. We, as parents, need to give our kids the correct perspective through which to view their race, and we need to teach them their worth, value and power. Tell your children how beautiful, and smart and capable they are, and have these conversations often, so they grow up in an environment in which they know they are celebrated and loved.
2. Get your mind right
As a new parent, I wish I could have been told to get my emotions under control and prepare in advance for the race conversations I’d inevitably have with my kids. In the heat of the moment, it’s difficult to navigate your emotions and the emotions of your child. Instead, try this: When you’re relaxing, cooking dinner, doing laundry, whatever--think through how you feel about race. Construct your narrative. Tell your children your stories (in age-appropriate ways). The more you are aware and can name your emotions, the better you will be at expressing them in race conversations.
3. Enlist the support of your tribe
For hundreds of years, Black folk have had to have race conversations. Living in America demanded it. But we also had support. Our Big Mamas, Aunties, and Play Cousins have all played an integral part in helping us raise our kids, and this is no time to start going it alone. Instead, enlist the help of your parents, grandparents and the community at large in order to help educate your children about race and race issues. After all, our kids need to hear from us, their elders, about what it means to be Black in America. But this is something we can do together.
Jennifer Keitt is a 30+ year media veteran and a certified Human Behavior Consultant and Executive Life Coach. She is currently pursuing a Doctorate in Education with a concentration in Education Psychology. Connect with Jennifer Keitt on Instagram @JenniferKeittand @thekeittinstitute, on Facebook @JenniferKeittRadio, Twitter @JenniferKeitt, and LinkedIn.