The first time I learned about racism, I was 7 years old. A little boy hit me in the mouth with a plastic Kool-aid bottle and called me the n-word. I had never heard that word before, and my second grade teacher had to explain it to me. It was confusing and hurtful for many reasons. Perhaps the most insidious part of it was not the overt ignorance and bigotry, however, but the fact that adults and children alike tried to placate me and told me not to worry about it—“it doesn’t really apply to you because you’re not black.”
As we can all acknowledge now, that was hardly the point.
Most non-white people will tell you that they first experienced racism as a child, and as a result have been exposed to a much different side of vocabulary, discussion, fear, suspicion (this list goes on) than white children have, for a much longer period of time. As children who experience racism grow up, they become adults whose lives are shaped by an entirely different context than children who have never experienced or had to think about race—and for many black men and women, that context has been one of overt aggression and dismissal of their very personhood.
Maybe the most important thing I want to say here is this:
Your child is not too young to talk about race.
Black parents do not have the luxury of choosing when their children are first made aware of racism.
Additionally, in order to effectively speak to children about race, it is vital that parents have their own understanding of the sources and lasting effects of systematic racism. To that end, we are gathering resources both for grown-ups and children to start and to continue the work of dismantling institutional bigotry.
I only know what I have lived. My experiences with racism have been mostly limited to outright verbal or implied micro-aggressions. That is yet another privilege of my Indian-American minority status that many black people have never enjoyed.
We will be doing our best to amplify the voices, words, and perspectives of others in order to continue to educate ourselves as well as be a resource to families. Please share with us resources that have been helpful to you as well. Remember that you have to want to listen, and that the work starts with you.