“Is Morgan using a booster seat and seatbelt in the car? Are you talking to Michael about responsibility with using electronics? As much as safety is an important topic to talk to kids about, racism is too. You can empower your kids to recognize and speak up about injustices.”
That’s pretty much how conversations at well visits go these days since George Floyd was murdered by a police officer kneeling on his neck. The Black Lives Matter movement is not a dismissal of non-black lives, but rather a cry that Black lives matter, too. Black lives matter in healthcare, too, because Black lives are lost disproportionately to other racial groups. It is a health problem.
It is a problem when Black moms experience premature labor more often than white moms. It is a problem when Black babies are at higher risk of dying. It is a problem when Black kids suffer from poorly controlled asthma more often. It is a problem that I as a pediatrician own. It is a problem that everyone needs to own. The solution starts from each one of us examining our own biases and talking within our own circles about the injustices we see.
Even babies as young as 6 months old can tell the difference between various skin colors. By the time kids are 12 years old, their biases are already deeply ingrained. As parents, this is an opportunity to educate our kids better. We know better. We must do better.
Here are my 3 action steps that parents can take to raise anti-racist kids:
- Expose them to different cultures and skin colors. If that is not available to you locally because your community is homogenous, then use books or news articles with diverse characters and people. Follow people on social media who are different than you and see what they are saying.
- Talk about being kind to everyone regardless of race or background. Model that kindness. Model kind speech in everyday conversation with other adults (on the phone or in person) because kids are listening to how you react to various situations and current events, even when you aren’t talking to them.
- Teach your kids to recognize injustices and empower your kids to speak up about them.
I acknowledge that parents may not feel equipped to have these discussions with their kids. “Talking about race can be uncomfortable & difficult. Please let me know if you would like any resources to help you have these discussions with your kids.” So far, only one family has asked for more reading material, but I’ll keep asking and sharing. Here are some useful websites:
- How to talk to kids honestly about racism from PBS
- Talking to children about racial bias from the American Academy of Pediatrics
- How to talk to kids about race and racism from KidsHealth.org
I encourage parents to talk early and often with their kids about safety. The same principal applies to racism. I get that it’s hard though. The Caucasian mom with 2 young kids tearing up the office table paper and playing with the hand sanitizer dispenser may not really hear what I’m saying the first time I talk about it in the office. She is just trying to survive the moment. So am I in many moments with my kids.
My mind is focused on things like what to feed them, how I will break up their fight, should I pee now or after I make a bottle for the baby. Everyday I talk about racism in the office is also a reminder for myself to talk about it at home. Talking about racism requires intentionality. It requires effort and insight. Sometimes, it also requires a quick google search or reading a book. Until it’s routine, I will keep talking early and often to families in the office. Maybe one day the message of anti-racism will be as normal as talking about wearing a seatbelt.
I know this is not a light topic, and racism is not a topic that will be fixed today. I do have hope though that it be fixed through a thousand small discussions with our friends and family. I challenge you to take the next step. Share this post, one of the links above, or another anti-racist article. Start the conversation. Take a small step forward today, so that Black mothers can worry a little less as her son takes a step out the door tomorrow.
(Read more about the photograph below in the article “For America’s Black mothers, the fear of loss and trauma is constant.”)