Race Revelations: Raising White Kids

This post is part of a series called Race RevelationsMore information about it can be found here.
It was originally posted at the blog of Bloomington Area Birth Services.

At some point in seminary, I was introduced to the concept of White Privilege. If you’re White and you don’t know what that means, I highly recommend reading Peggy McIntosh’s original article about the subject. White Privilege, in a nutshell, is simply all the things that we White folks are given, without having to ask for them, simply because we’re White. And the biggest White Privilege of all is this: we don’t have to think about being White.

When I became a parent to two White children, I promised myself that I would do my very best to educate them about what it means to be White in this society. Just as I need to teach them about how to keep themselves healthy and safe, how to understand their sexuality, how to engage in positive relationships with others, and a million other things, I need to teach them about race.

One of the reasons I’m committed to talking with my kids about race in age-appropriate ways is this: I know that all of my friends who parent children of color think about what it means to parent a Black or Asian or Latino child pretty much every day. They ask themselves questions like, “How will I explain to them, when the time comes, that there are people in this world that will think badly of them simply because of the color of their skin?” They ask themselves these questions because they know that, as parents of children of color, they absolutely have to educate their children about what it takes to survive and thrive in what is still a racist culture.

Now, as a White parent of White children (boys at that!) I have the luxury of ignoring this whole subject if I want to. Chances are good that my boys could go through most of their life without having to worry too much about race. But that would break my heart because I deeply believe that racism is a problem that belongs to White people and if there’s anything I hope my kids will do it’s grow up and become anti-racist. This matters to me because I believe racism hurts not only people of color, but White people, too.

So how do you talk to young children about race? Well, I’m not sure. I’m kind of making it up as I go. We have already talked to our two-year-old about race. We’ve tried to explain to him that the concept exists – that different people have different colors of skin and that there are names for different kinds of skin. Now, this may cause you to gasp. “What? Why would you do that? Aren’t you just further ingraining racism by teaching kids that race matters?” Well, no, I don’t think I am. I think racism is real and I think the only way to combat it is to face it head on – and that means it doesn’t help any of us to be delusional and pretend that we’re color blind. Because we’re not. It’s not possible to see a person and not see the color of their skin just as it’s not possible to see someone and ignore the color of their hair. What matters is how you process that information and how you act, based on that information. How can I help my children be anti-racist if they don’t understand that racism exists?

Since I’m making this up as I go, I would deeply love to hear from others of you who are parenting White children. What have you told your children about race and racism? How often do you even think about this topic?

Caela Simmons Wood wasn’t sure she would ever decide to be a mama, but is sure glad that she did! Her family here in Bloomington includes a rockstar husband, David (actually a classically-trained musician) and their two sons (2 1/2 and 6 months). She balances motherhood with her other calling in life, pastoring a church. A self-professed “crunchy-granola-bleeding-heart-liberal-tree-hugger-radical feminist-vegetarian,” Caela enjoys attempting all things related to natural parenting. You can find her as a regular contributor on the Bloomington Area Birth Services blog and you can read her sermons online.

5 thoughts on “Race Revelations: Raising White Kids

  • August 17, 2012 at 9:41 am

    There’s a great chapter in Nurture Shock (current research on raising kids) about this topic. Too often well intentioned (often liberal) white parents don’t mention race at all in an effort to be color-blind and convey that we’re all the same. This actually backfires because a) we’re not the same and b) the silence actually conveys that there’s something shameful about the topic.

    So kudos to you! Even imperfect and fumbling attempts have got to be beneficial (at least that’s what I tell myself).

  • August 18, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    love this so much. thanks for posting!

  • August 20, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    In your same boat, and wondering how to start paddling…With a 1 and 3 year old, we haven’t done much around the question of race, although some of our favorite books talk about it (In God’s Name and Whoever You Are come to mind.) A few years back I read that finding about how liberal white parents tend not to talk about race and how it backfires. I want to avoid that, but I struggle to know age-appropriate ways to meet my kids where they are.

  • May 26, 2014 at 2:05 pm

    Thanks so much for this. I’m white and my white is African American. We are about to have our first child, a son. I am preparing myself to have talks with my son that my parents never had with me, and none of my white friends parents had with them. I desperately want my other white friends to read this article and consider having these talks with their kids.

    • May 29, 2014 at 6:40 am

      Michael, there are so many great resources out there – but that isn’t to say these are easy questions or conversations. The mixed/bicultural kids – especially black/white kids – I feel like have it really hard. But I’m hopeful – so many people are talking about it.

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