Let’s talk about discrimination and racism

Let’s talk about discrimination and racism

… and why this talk is a crucial point in my parenting

With all the protests and riots going on lately about justice for George Floyd and #blacklivesmatter, more and more articles and TV messages are popping up about “how to talk to your child about this difficult topic”. The message they send seems to be: White people have to talk to their children about discrimination and racism, but (some?) are afraid that it would be to disturbing for their children and don’t know how to do it.

All I could think was: “How could this talk NOT have been part in normal, natural and modern 2020 parenting?”

Starting a conversation

I don’t expect to get everything that I write about this topic perfect. I just want to contribute a little by showing, how I personally in my family and in my work address the topic discrimination and racism. Maybe it can encourage some parents to address the topic as well. Maybe you know better and can teach me. I invite you for constructive feedback and I would love to learn form you.

Learning about discrimination and racism in my own childhood:

My parents had addressed racism with me and my brother from early age on and we never had the feeling we were too young or didn’t understand…

When I went to high school in the US, we had “Uncle Tom’s cabin” on the 11th grader reading list. I told my teacher, that I had already read the book in Germany when I was in 9 years old, because it was just one of many good old books of my mom and grandma, that were in our house and I liked to read. My American teacher looked at me like I had grown an extra head, telling me that no 9 year old should be exposed to such stories and could understand the story. I was really surprised, because I know, that I as a child had understood the story very well and I understood what it was about. Without reading it again, after 8 years I could give her a good review and critic about the book. It may have influenced my picture of the world, of privileged people and of injustice. But it did not harm me or mess me up as a child in any way.

Because kids will learn – one way or the other

One of the beautiful things of parenting is that we parents get to show and explain our child the world. Children are like little sponges. They want to learn about the world, find their place in it and they suck up all the info they get. Children learn from our example and from what we explain to them as well as from what we don’t say and what we ignore. Discrimination is real and also our children will, at some point witness some form of discrimination. I don’t want to give my children the signal that discrimination was OK by ignoring it and not taking a stand.

As the #metoo movement showed us, it is not enough to not violate women. Men have to actively stand up against discrimination and violation of women or the system will never change. The same goes for racism. It is not enough as a privileged white person to not be a racist and to not discriminate. As long as there is racism, we have to actively stand up for what is right and be actively anti racist. And we have to teach our children.

As parents we teach about “right” and “wrong”, how to behave and what values we stand for. We teach our child what is “the norm”. Unfortunately there are many white people, who grow up thinking their looks and their way of living is the norm, the standard that everyone and everything should be measured by. Kids search for their group. They want to know, where they belong to. So we as parents have to reflect whether we teach them that diversity and love and kindness is the norm or that only our looks and our culture are the norm everyone should be measured by. It is not a coincidence that – at least in Germany – the statistics show, that racism and xenophobia is the strongest, where there are the least foreigners. People who grow up with people from other cultures and/or races learn, that there is more than their own way, they learn to value diversity and be open minded to people who are different from them.

I want our kids to grow up as strong and confident persons, who have learned to love and respect themselves and others. I want to teach them to stand up for themselves, for others and for what is right.

Of course we want and need to protect our children from harm and we don’t provide them with graphic pictures of the worst things humans are capable of. But we definitely can tell them the truth about what is going on in a way they understand. How are they supposed to find their place in this world if we don’t take a stand? Let’s be realistic. As a social worker I know as a fact, that there are racists and xenophobe right winged nationalists and even Neo Nazis also in my city trying to spread their hate and fear and to convince young people of their mentality. Not just parents but all adults who treasure freedom, human rights and our democracy – especially those who work with kids – need to be aware of this, address the topic and strengthen our youth against such approaches.

What good does it do to our children to grow up in a bubble? I want my children to grow up with both feet in this world. I want them to grow up strong and positive. Not in an ignorant “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” way but in a way of being aware of what is going on and confident to stand for their values. Every child will at some point during childhood experience some kind of discrimination (I will explain this in my next posts). It is our responsibility as parents, to acknowledge and address this, show our position to it and to put it in the context of the bigger picture. Let’s use the strong emotions our children feel when confronted with discrimination, make them aware of it and strengthen our kids in a way that helps them become compassionate and insightful strong adults.

So of course I explained to my kids what was going on, when my friend Astrid (#helpastrid) found out that her chances of surviving leukemia were way smaller than a white person’s chances because her father was African. (Read more here). Of course I took my kids with me, when we organized stem cell donor drives, looking for a donor for her and for any people of color. It is so important to not only tell kids, what is right, but to set the example by doing right and taking a stand. By showing them, what they can contribute to make it better.

And now – with the murder of George Floyd – of course I explained to my children what happened and what is going on. They need to know.

There are three main aspects I as a parent want my kids to learn, when it comes to discrimination and also to racism:

  1. Respect the equal value and rights of all human beings and see the beauty in the diversity
  2. Recognize discrimination and injustice and take a stand against it
  3. Educate yourself and your children about the background and history of discrimination and racism

Read in my following posts in detail, how I approach those subjects with my kids.