CONVERSATIONS · motherhood

Showing Up for a First Talk About Racism

I talked with Isabelle about bias and discrimination for the first time when the Trump Administration announced the first Muslim Ban. Isabelle was in Kindergarten back then. Marc and I decided to break from our traditional stance on no live news. We allowed Isabelle to watch as throngs of New Yorkers flooded Kennedy Airport to protest.

When increased talk of the border wall and undocumented people rose, we talked again. Isabelle had friends from Mexico and couldn’t imagine someone not wanting them to be in the United States because of their caramel skin.

Tonight, after learning that my husband let Isabelle and Ari watch the SpaceX Launch on the news while I picked up dinner, I asked Isabelle, “Did you see what’s been happening in Minneapolis?”

She had no idea, but BEGGED me to tell her. (Despite being close to the end of third grade, we still don’t allow her to watch the news.) I asked her to give me a few minutes while I composed my thoughts. I couldn’t tell her about the protests without telling her what people were protesting. I couldn’t tell her about the murder of George Floyd without telling her about who pinned him to the ground as he gasped for air for eight minutes. I couldn’t tell her why Floyd was on the ground for an alleged counterfeit bill being used without talking about Floyd’s skin color. I couldn’t talk about any of it before starting out with the r-word: RACISM.

Discriminating against someone because of the color of their skin doesn’t make sense to Isabelle. She has friends and classmates with black and brown skin. Does she notice their darker skin? Yes. But that difference meant little to her since we’ve never taught her to hate.

Now Isabelle knows that some of her friends will be treated differently because of their black and brown skin. She found it hard to imagine that some of the boys in her class could face trouble for no other reason than because their skin is black.

She understood that it wasn’t fair. So, I told her what she could do. First, I told her if she ever sees a friend being treated unfairly because of the color of their skin, then she needs to speak up immediately. (She knows she can tell us or a teacher something.) Second, I told her that she can take action, like Darnella Frazier, the 17-year-old who shot the video of Floyd on the ground, did. Of course, she doesn’t have a cell phone now, but I wanted her to understand that we only knew about what happened to Floyd because of the video.

And then I stopped. I allowed her to have the space to ask questions. She had a couple. I know she’ll ask more in the days and weeks to come.

I never expected to have a conversation with my third grader about racism tonight. (I haven’t even spoken with her about anti-Semitism yet!) However, sheltering Isabelle from what’s happening in America isn’t right. If I want to raise her to be an anti-racist person, then she has to understand why it matters — in developmentally appropriate ways — now.

10 thoughts on “Showing Up for a First Talk About Racism

    1. Thank you, Jessica. I felt woefully unprepared for the conversation. Normally I go into important conversations equipped with books. This time, I just dove in, head first.

  1. I read this last night but I had to wait until this morning to respond. My heart aches that you had to talk about this madness. I believed that we were moving forward. My childhood was marked by similar conversations by my parents, in the late 1960s. It’s heartbreaking. She’s a fortunate child to have a mother to gently explain the inexplicable.

  2. You are so right! These are the times when educators need to be brave and step into the conversation with students. Two of my White students wrote to me and reminded me of this yesterday, saying, ” It’s critical that teachers, who hold privilege and power, lead by example at this moment.” Thank you for leading at home and doing this work on this blog.

  3. Stacey, kids like yours who are taught to love and support are part of the hope for the future. Nobody is born racist, I have read, and it’s true. You are helping Isabelle on the way to being more antiracist.

  4. Thank you for diving in and speaking from your heart. It is what Isabelle will understand and remember. I know you will find the right words as the conversation continues.

  5. I was so glad to read this, Stacey. I love the way you talk with your kids and give them a chance to have a real discussion with you. If only all parents would have these conversations with their children. If only…

  6. Your wise counsel and your silence (granting Isabelle space to ponder and formulate questions) is just what a parent should do. I congratulate you, Stacey. Yours is a lesson for us all.

  7. Such important and essential conversations you are having with your daughter! Yes, yes, yes. We have sent our families several links about getting started on this…check the National Museum of African American History, they have a phenomenal link for Talking to Children About Race. Thank you for this!

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