How to Teach Your Kids to Be Color Brave in a Racist Society (Because Color Blind Doesn’t Cut It)
Or maybe you haven’t begun and feel a little guilty about that. Could you be frozen in fear, unsure about what to say and how to say it?
Maybe you started but remain worried that your first attempts failed. That you screwed it up and are a loss to know what to do about it.
You’re not exactly sure why. But you get a feeling that you’re missing something that you just can’t put your finger on.
And you can’t help thinking (if your babies are older): Wow. The Sex Talk and The Drugs Talk were easy compared to this!
No wonder. Talking about justice, equality, racism and white supremacy with young kids and teens is difficult work.
These are heavy concepts. They’re challenging to talk about even with (especially with?) other adults! I’ve had more than a few uncomfortable conversations with family and “friends” that erupted into fiery arguments.
So, what’s the best way to handle The Race Talk with your kids?
It’s all about teaching them to be color brave.
Here’s how to do it.
1. Turn the Mirror Inward
To teach your kids to become color brave, you need to be this way first.
So, take a hard and honest look at yourself and make the necessary changes.
Analyze the preconceptions you have about race. Outright reject all racists ideas.
Some of these are easy to denounce. Like school segregation. Or police brutality against Blacks.
But these are the glaring examples of racism.
To be color brave, you need to get down deep into the unspoken assumptions you’ve held your entire life. Start throwing out lots of deep-seated racism that you may not even be consciously aware that you hold on to.
For example, what are the images of Black people that you already have? (Be totally honest with yourself here. Take a good long look. Maybe you recognize these, but don’t be surprised if you don’t.)
Black as Dangerous
One prevailing idea in our society is the stereotype of Black men as dangerous or criminal.
This is why if you’re in a dark parking lot or walking to your car or the subway stop after a dinner or the theater and see a Black man, you become frightened and cross the street or pick up your speed to escape into your car immediately. Like it’s instinctual for Whites to respond this way.
But really it’s a racial bias. It will require conscious effort on your part to overcome.
Black as Ugly
When thumbing through catalogs or surfing the Web, do your eyes wander to the pages with the White women models? There’s a reason why you see so few Black women fashion models. Companies preferentially choose White women to model their clothes because they lead to more views and higher sales.
Thus, these companies support the prevalent myth that White is more beautiful than Black. If fact, the myth holds that Black is ugly.
Black as Stupid
Another example: Think about U.S. history. The standard textbooks kids grow up studying are mostly written by White men about White men. This is not because there weren’t any Blacks (or women, for that matter) who did important things.
Recording White history is a form of white supremacy needed to maintain the societal myth that Whites are intellectually superior to Blacks.
At this point, you may be in utter disbelief about the points I just raised. Surely I’m exaggerating.
Unfortunately, I’m not.
If you honestly think I am, you’re living in denial of reality.
Please don’t get me wrong.
You may be a law-abiding citizen. A “good” person.
But it’s not enough to end systemic racism.
To contribute to that objective, you need to eliminate all the unspoken thoughts and feelings you have, those that are commonly accepted by Whites (and, tragically, by many Blacks about Blacks) as normal, but are actually racist.
To be in a position to truly help your kids overcome these biases (that may just barely register with them at their age just as you may have had a tough time recognizing them in yourself), you need to get beyond being “good” or “not racist.”
Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to Be an Anti-Racist sums it up eloquently:
“We know how to be racist. We know how to pretend to be not racist. Now let’s know how to be antiracist.”
It’s not enough to promise yourself to double down on your racial biases. To tell yourself “Be color blind.”
This statement is itself a reflection of your racial bias (=racism).
In other words, if your Race Talk is based on emphasizing being color blind — insisting to our kids that we’re all the same, for instance, and must be tolerant of others — you’re continuing the myth of white supremacy.
And, since you’re so laser-focused on becoming color blind, you won’t have the time — or feel you need it — to make the required mental transformation in how you view Blacks. This change is absolutely necessary to overcome racism.
President Abraham Lincoln was on to this necessity for mental transformation in 1862.
In his Concluding Remarks to his Annual Message to Congress, he said:
“…It is not “can any of us imagine better?” but, “can we all do better?” The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise — with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”
These words are as pertinent when he spoke them as they are today.
I interpret this passage to mean Lincoln is calling you and me to rise “with” the Black Lives Matter movement — in solidarity with it.
It has a life of its own. We’re to join in.
To attain a just society and save our country, we must “disentrall” ourselves — or purge ourselves of implicit biases (white privilege) that gave Whites benefits and advantages while non-Whites were denigrated and humiliated.
So what does this look like today?
For starters, the goal in overcoming racism must be to automatically think and feel like it’s perfectly normal to see African American men and women in high leadership positions or with great wealth, and not think (like a racist) “Hmmm. They’re lucky to be in that place.”
You mustn’t think (like a racist): “She sure is pretty for a Black woman,” or “That Black man turned out to be nice.”
After a lifetime of subconsciously believing otherwise, it will take effort to change your mindset in these ways. The following steps will help you get closer to that mindset. Then you’ll be in good shape to help your kids do the same.
2. The New Black
There are many things you can do to change how the world appears. Make it become color brave, too.
In Your Home
One way to make it easier for yourself to be color brave is to actively search out stories (with pictures) of successful, beautiful and kind African Americans, both historical and contemporary.
After reading them with your kids, and admiring their accomplishments, put these stories and photos in prominent places where you’ll gaze at them walking by.
For instance, place them on your:
- coffee table
- magazine rack
Share these with your children. Look at them often. When you do, you’re helping your brain make the transformation.
Advanced: To further assist your brain to overcome the implicit biases it holds on to so tightly, put up right next to the photos of the admirable Blacks you’ve found the photos of The Aurora shooter or the Las Vegas mass murderer or the White dude that massacred 9 African Americans in their South Carolina church.
Repeat to yourself over and over that most domestic terrorists are White.
Teach your brain to disassociate good with White and bad with Black through pictures. The facts tell otherwise.
In Your Kids’ Schools and Libraries
Black History Month isn’t enough. (In fact, a lot of Black history as commonly portrayed and taught is wrong. Stay tuned for a future blog on this.)
If your children attend school, request that their teachers feature Blacks and other People of Color in their lessons. And more than just a passing wave.
Let the principal know how important it is in overcoming racism.
Supply some educational resources for teachers to do this. Books, magazines, newspapers, CDs, DVDs, etc.
If you homeschool, you’re free to learn about as many Blacks as you’d like, so take advantage of the opportunity. Make it a repeating unit, too. Every year or several times a year.
In Your City or Town
Propose to your Congressional reps that you demand with your tax dollars that the government makes these changes:
- Rename streets, highways, bridges, schools, military bases, etc. after African Americans.
- Take down monuments and statues of racist leaders. Replace them with those of abolitionists and notable African Americans.
- Put images of prominent Blacks on currency.
At Your Favorite Retailers
Call companies and ask managers to carry items that reflect African Americans in a positive light. Just having some options other than those based on Whites is a first step. For example:
- books (featuring Black protagonists)
- toys (dolls, action figures, etc.)
- art supplies (paper, crayons, paints, etc.)
And of course, make sure you purchase the items to keep them on the shelves! Post favorable comments on company websites about their offering these color brave products. Announce these products on your social media channels, too.
Your Favorite Media Sources
Contact your favorite TV and radio shows. Express your interest in hearing from and seeing more African Americans. There’s a wealth of Black stories to cover!
Do the same with museum, film and theater directors.
When their offerings become available, visit, listen or watch. The more people who financially support these endeavors, the greater availability you’ll have in the future. And of course, place glowing reports in the comments section on their websites. Don’t forget to do the same on your social media channels.
3. Don’t Be a Stranger
Looking at pictures of Blacks and reading about them are important steps in becoming color brave. Likewise, visiting a museum show featuring Black artists.
So, too, is playing with Black dolls and using crayon colors with names like “Mahogany” or “Ebony.”
But all this is just a start.
If you don’t already have Black friends and acquaintances, seek them out. Expand your social circle.
Get to know Blacks for who they are.
These may be people you see regularly at the:
- Grocery store
- Your place of worship.
In the beginning it will seem weird when you strike up a conversation. Uncomfortable.
But eventually the more you reach out, the easier it will be and the more comfortable you will become.
Not everyone will become your best buddies. Or your cherished confidantes.
But they may if you give it a chance. Be open to it. Aim to reach beyond a “Hi, Bye” relationship. Go deeper.
Possibly, some of these folks will have kids. Suggest a get-together with your kids after you’ve spoken with them several times.
A picnic at a park or your backyard could be a great way to start.
Maybe all your kids will have common interests and want to spend more time together. Go for it!
If not, no worries. Don’t feel defeated. You’ve taken the initiative! Other opportunities will arise. Be ready for them.
Remember you’re modeling great color bravery to your kids. They’re watching you. If you do this often, they will eventually follow your lead and extend a hand a friendship to classmates, sports team members or neighbors who are POC — when you’re not even around.
And, if they get the chance, may even join in fellowship with Black Lives Matter protesters like the featured image above illustrates so powerfully.
When this happens, you’ll know without a doubt that you’re succeeding at being color brave and passing it on to your kids.
4. When You See or Hear Something…
Imagine this scenario:
You’re at a family party and someone starts talking about the recent Black Lives Matter protests. They make the comment that George Floyd “deserved” to die.
What do you do?
If you ignore it, you’re complicit.
As a result of your silence, your children sitting next to you receive a dose of quiet approval of racism.
It works into their subconscious that there’s nothing bad about verbalizing racist statements. Racism becomes ingrained and normalized. White supremacy is preserved for future generations with each bigoted remark that goes unchallenged.
Your silence shelters kids from this morally reprehensible reality. How will they learn that racism is wrong — if you, one of the people they respect the most, say nothing?
They won’t learn to be color brave.
So what’s the better response?
Pulling the racist aside after the party and saying you their George Floyd comment was “in poor taste”? That is a cop out. Everyone -including your kids — leaves the party with the unspoken message that it’s acceptable to make racist statements.
If you’re color brave, you publicly call it out as morally wrong.
Speak up and state it clearly that bigoted comments are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.
This is the only way humans can advance society and make it truly anti-racist.
It is the only way to end the generation-to-generation transmission of racist ideas. To kill them in their tracks.
Being “non-racist” is not enough.
It may get uncomfortable. It could get ugly. But it is the only way to stop the racist myths Whites have held on to for centuries to maintain their White Privilege.
Stop them person to person. Stop them face to face. Stop them heart to heart.
I know calling out loved ones as racist could spell the end of relationships and cause serious rifts in families.
You may need to continue color brave discussions at later times when tensions die down somewhat.
Maybe, calling in a family friend as a mediator to help work through it will be required.
Or, possibly your act of color bravery will cause a permanent end to the relationship.
In that case, be at peace with the fact that you tried.
Your children are watching you. They’re taking notes. Be proud of yourself for teaching them to be color brave.
One day, maybe real soon, they will stand up for a Black classmate or team mate who is being bullied. They’ll call it out as wrong and insist to a responsible adult that the racist perpetrator be punished.
And it will be thanks to your living The Race Talk daily every chance you get, modeling anti-racist language and behavior.
There Is No Better Time to Start Teaching Your Kids About Color Bravery Than Today
You may still be reeling from all the violence and police brutality against Black Lives Matter activists and other peaceful protesters that is still reverberating all over the country.
It is the result of centuries of systemic racism embedded in the very bedrock of the United States that has risen to the surface and erupted once again.
Enough is enough.
Don’t pretend that your kids don’t realize something’s very wrong. They’re smarter than you think.
When your children see violent images or witness it first hand, what do you do or say?
As I outline in this article, approach The Race Talk as an ongoing dialog with your kids that must continue as long as racism exists.
It will require 100% honesty and 100% candidness.
1. First start by looking within. Root out all the racist assumptions you hold, maybe without even being aware of them.
Then work on the following:
2. Surround yourself and your kids with Black-positive images and stories.
3. Reach out and befriend Blacks in all your social spheres.
4. Call out racism as morally reprehensible whenever you witness it.
Each time you do, make a point of discussing it with your children.
As you model anti-racist talk and behavior, your kids will begin to see it as normal and do the same. When you may or may not be present.
Person by person, we’ll build an equitable and just world.
Get started today. Lives are on the line. Your children’s future is at stake.