Nearly 75% of white parents rarely or never discuss race with their children, according to a 2019 report. And if they’re not talking about race, they’re almost surely not talking about racism. That’s a problem, because “if we don’t talk about racism, we’re going to perpetuate it,” says Riana Elyse Anderson, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health.
If you’re a white family, know that it’s truly never too late to have these talks with your kids, though the earlier the better. The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that by ages 2 to 4, children can already internalize racial bias.
“Think about it like this: If Black children are old enough to experience racism, then white children are old enough to learn about it,” says Anderson. Not sure what to say, or how to start? Here’s what to know.
1. Assess yourself first.
It’s 100% true that you don’t need to be an expert on race and racism to start a conversation with your child. What’s also true: “You’re going to be ineffective if you haven’t assessed how aware you are about racism and what knowledge you have,” says Anderson, noting that doing your own reading and reflecting is your first priority.
Start with exploring the history of racism in the U.S. and your own personal biases. “It’s important to think about your own journey growing up in a racist society,” says Aisha White, Ph.D., director of the Positive Racial Identity Development in Early Education program at the University of Pittsburgh. “Take a look at your own decisions that may have contributed to—or ignored—racism.”
For example, have you ever made assumptions about a so-called “bad” part of town? Have you ever stayed silent when someone told a racist joke?