The phrase “The Talk” is used by many parents to refer to the birds and the bees. But as a white mother with a black son, The Talk is something entirely different. Sure, we will have The Talk about sex like most families. But The Talk I am referring to is the one about what to do when someone treats you differently because of the color of your skin.
This Talk will be an accumulation of many talks and will have some similarities to a discussion a parent has when their child comes home complaining about not being treated fairly by someone at school. Maybe they were not invited to join in a game. Or they were picked on for their shoes. But the biggest difference between that talk and The Talk parents have with their black children is this: If the person or people treating your child unfairly due to something like skin color are in a position of power, like police officers are, then I must explain his life is at stake due to an unjust fear.
“I will have to train my kids through not just The Talk, but many talks, about how to respond to racism.”
Some police officers hold a dehumanization bias against black people, especially black males. There are studies that prove it, even though it may be unconscious bias. My son may be an innocent teen who rolled a red light, but the police may see him as a threat because of his skin color; therefore my son must be excessively cooperative and kind. He must use this to escape the situation as quickly as possible.
I will have to train my kids through not just The Talk, but many talks, about how to respond to racism. Having the talk with a black child on how to handle police officers in today’s world is a necessity. You are teaching them how to survive if they have an unwelcomed encounter. To have self-control beyond their years, harness anger for being denied basic human rights, which will translate into survival during racist experiences throughout their life.
Whether you are discussing race and racism with your children or not — and you should be —children are listening. Keeping quiet is also taking a stance on discussing race. Literally ignoring racism and beautiful differences that exist within our human race will not make my life or my child’s life easier. And it will not make your life or your child’s any easier either.
“Avoiding difficult conversations about race will only make your child and mine less prepared for their next encounter.”
People are not born racist; this is a learned behavior. When your kid faces this moment how do they react? Avoiding difficult conversations about race will only make your child and mine less prepared for their next encounter. So, where and when do we start teaching our children? Simple. Now. At home. In school. Everywhere.
Children are racially discriminated against as early as preschool. I have already had to switch daycares when my son was 2 and mid-potty training. The final straw? He was playing in his own potty accident for the third time and a teacher was literally 3 feet away ignoring his wet pants. “Well he doesn’t always make it,” the caretakers would say, or “he has accidents near the bathroom.” At the age of 2, my son was not being treated equally, given grace, or even clean pants! ALL the white kids were dry. We joined a diverse daycare, and I never came to collect him in wet pants again.
Recently, in the middle of a book, my son said “Mommy look! Curly hair like mine!” He’s 3 now. That’s the moment I realized I need more books featuring curly hair. What happens when another child points out that he doesn’t match his mommy or daddy? This will be one of many moments in which I explain that different is good, and he is no less and no more of a person than those who look different. Same as his friends who like green beans or the ones who prefer mac and cheese.
It’s ok to be different, that is the beauty of humanity. As a mixed child, he will identify with both black and white cultures. My heart breaks thinking of the people who deny him something, like a job, loan, or opportunity because of his looks. Exclusion due to his skin tone will happen; it’s not a matter of if, it is a matter of when.
“Through The Talk, my son will learn to speak openly, model equality and kindness, and how and when it is appropriate to take a stand against injustice.”
Children know when something feels wrong. Sometimes they can’t express it, but because we have an open dialogue and many talks, my son will have tools to speak up when injustice occurs. Saying something as simple as “That is wrong. Do not treat me that way. Or that was a backhanded compliment. Just because we look different does not mean your words/actions/subject mean more than mine.”
My child will be taught not to put his race on an application, because it will decrease his chances of getting hired. My life is riddled with white privilege. I learned all of this from some of my experiences being immersed in black culture but mostly my spouse’s experiences growing up as a black man in America. These are not stories of sunshine and rainbows.
Because of The Talk, he will be able to answer children whose parents have avoided racial discussions and associate the avoidance as brown skin is bad or scary. Through The Talk, my son will learn to speak openly, model equality and kindness, and how and when it is appropriate to take a stand against injustice. And that is why you should have The Talk with your kids — no matter their race — too.
- 1 “I will have to train my kids through not just The Talk, but many talks, about how to respond to racism.”
- 2 “Avoiding difficult conversations about race will only make your child and mine less prepared for their next encounter.”
- 3 “Through The Talk, my son will learn to speak openly, model equality and kindness, and how and when it is appropriate to take a stand against injustice.”
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