When Ingrid Chen McCarthy tried to talk with her 5-year-old daughter about what happened to George Floyd, she quickly found herself in an awkward and difficult conversation. She inundates her children with messages about treating others with kindness. Simply saying that a Black man was killed by a police officer because of his skin color did not cut it for her daughter. So, how do you explain something like the systematic dehumanization of Black people to kids?
McCarthy joins host Frank Stasio to reflect on how parents with children of all ages are grappling with how to best start conversations about race and racism. She also shares her perspective on how growing up as an Asian American in the South influenced how she parents.
Educators also play a role in shaping anti-racist behavior. Seventh-grade teacher Seun Omitoogun knows her students have an understanding of racism. What they lack is the language to talk about what they have observed, whether that is the cycle of poverty or the prison-industrial complex. Omitoogun, who teaches English and language arts at the Central Park School for Children in Durham, joins the conversation to explore the anti-racist curriculum she designed for the entire school.
Five Strategies for Cultivating Anti-Racism in Young People
1. Lean into the complexity
Ingrid Chen McCarthy: For a kid, it doesn't make any sense. Like, why would somebody treat you differently because of the color of your skin? … So, it's a struggle of trying to explain to my daughter about systemic racism and white supremacy — trying to break down these really complex concepts into things that she can understand. I try to sum it up by just agreeing with her. It doesn't make sense. It's not fair. It's hard for me to sort of understand that as well.
2. Read books and talk about them
Seun Omitoogun: In the third quarter [of the school year], my students do a lot of Socratic seminars. … We sit in a circle, and they bring [the novel “The Hate U Give”] and prepare, and we talk about the different topics. ... And to see the students be able to break down and draw connections between like the cycle of poverty that happens in some low income neighborhoods and how that is related to the fact that rights were taken away from people at the very beginning, at the foundation of the United States … it's also really, really powerful throughout the unit.
3. Take mental-health breaks
SO: I'm very intentional to not normalize being okay with the things that we're talking about. So especially when we talk about slavery, and we talk about systemic racism and police brutality, I tell them that it's not supposed to feel good, and it's not supposed to sit okay, because these are people doing things to other people. But we can't stay in the “not okay.” We have to be agents of change. And we have to figure out what we could do if we don't think it's okay to make sure that it doesn't continue to happen. … They come talk to me after class. They talk to the counselor. They communicate with their parents who communicate with me.
4. Encourage other adults to challenge their biases
ICM: I specifically remember a conversation I had with [my husband] a couple of years ago … How are we going to talk to our kids about race? His response to me at the time was: Well, okay, but that sounds really exhausting. I just don't want that to be like a dark cloud that hangs over us all the time. And I just had this moment of like: Oh my gosh, like, he still hasn't confronted his own privilege, his own white privilege. And so I very gently explained to him: I don't get that choice. I don't get the choice of not thinking about that. … And so he's worked really hard in the last few years. He's done a lot of reading and a lot of research on his own.
5. Support people doing the work of anti-racist teaching
SO: My classroom is only one of the six classes that my students take. And it's only one of the places that they go in their lives. So they need to be seeing these things and having these conversations everywhere so that it doesn't seem like it's out of the ordinary. And so if families are talking about it at home, and they're having representation in their houses, that goes a long way.
Jelani Memory Reading "A Kids Book About Racism:"
Resource List Courtesy of Megan Tarver, who runs the “Kids Talk” facebook page. “Kids Talk” provides resources for adults wanting to talk to young people about race.