How to Raise an Antiracist

This podcast will focus on how to raise and antiracist—actively pursuing ways to challenge stereotypes, discriminatory norms and racist structures while teaching kids to use empathy and ask critical questions about what they see, hear and feel regarding race. We will learn how to raise an antiracist from this week’s guest, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi.

Special guest: Ibram X. Kendi

Many of us, in the past, have been taught that we should not see color—not to mention color– when looking at the people around us, in our community, in our schools or in the various towns, cities, states and countries. But is parenting in this “colorblind” way really the method of irradicating racism? There are great tragedies involving black and brown people- discrimination that they must contend with everyday—so pretending that color doesn’t matter isn’t helping—because it does matter- how people look at race and treat people across races must be discussed in order to erase racism. Through empathy, critical thinking, asking key questions and allowing for uncomfortable conversations to happen, we not only teach kids how to NOT be racist- but how to be antiracist—actively pursuing a community and a world where racist structures are challenged, mistakes are admitted and new paths are forged so that true equality can be achieved. How do we raise an antiracist? How do we engage in these critical conversations? For that, we turn to my next guest, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi.

 

Bio

Dr. Ibram X. Kendi is the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Boston University and the founding director of the BU Center for Antiracist Research. He is a contributing writer at The Atlantic and a CBS News racial justice contributor. He is the host of the new action podcast Be Antiracist. Dr. Kendi is the author of many highly acclaimed books including Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, which won the National Book Award for Nonfiction, making him the youngest-ever winner of that award. He has also produced five straight #1 New York Times bestsellers, including How to Be an Antiracist, Antiracist Baby, and Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, co-authored by Jason Reynolds. In 2020, Time magazine named Dr. Kendi one of the 100 most influential people in the world. He was awarded a 2021 MacArthur Fellowship, popularly known as the Genius Grant. He also is the author of a new book, How to Raise an Antiracist- the topic of today’s podcast.

Important Messages:

  • Vital to engage with children– by actually instilling within them that there’s nothing wrong with their skin color– knows that through and through before anyone tries to tell them differently, just as a parent who has a white child who is instilling in them that, you know what, you’re special when you are nice, when you’re special, when you share you’re, you’re special when you’re kind, but you’re not special because of your skin color before the world tries to tell them differently.
  • One of the things we do as, as parents- teach them to look both ways. We talk to them about what’s going to happen. If they don’t look both ways, we have a, a recognition that there are drunk drivers out there, and there are distracted drivers out there. And we also have a recognition that it’s important for our kids themselves to have the skills, to be able to cross the street on their own. In the same way, if we understand like racist ideas (dark is ugly, light is good) it’s like those cars- they are going to hit our children.
  • Parenting in the colorblind way is just sending them out to cross the street, not encouraging them to look both ways. And, and so what happens, they get hit. Raising our kids to be anti-racist is about protecting.
  • Story: Medical school graduation video. Kendi’s daughter asked: “where are all the brown people?” What do you do in that moment? Do you tell the child not to say that? Many do.
  • In the book, I argue that the first lesson kids receive about race from their parents and teachers is to not talk about it. So we’re saying to them, don’t ask us your questions. They’re still going to go and look for other answers.
  • They may find those answers from, let’s say a white supremacist who’s lurking online in a multiplayer video game. They may find that answer from another five year old kid. Why shouldn’t we be the one who answers that question? We talked about bad rules, unfair rules, and she knows all about UN unfair rules. Cause she doesn’t like her bedtime rule.
  • Nonverbal language: Particularly below eight years old, nonverbal language is what’s most influential in shaping the racial attitudes of children.
  • One study found that, because parents don’t talk to young kids about their own racial attitudes, kids tend to have their perceptions of parent attitudes towards race. Their own racial attitudes are actually more determinant about their perception of their parents’ racial attitudes, which for most kids, they think their parents are actually more racist than they really are. Rather than their parents, actual racial attitudes.
  • Another fascinating study found that children who have a white mother, their racial attitudes correspond more to the number of interracial friendships that that white mother has than the actual racial attitudes of the mother.
  • If everyone you bring to your home in a loving capacity, a friend, right, is white, what are you saying to your kids without saying about who’s valuable to you (skin color)
  • Nonverbal language shows up in the books we read to our kids. The racial makeup of our towns and schools choose for our kids. So are we choosing books that, that show people of all different skin colors, right? Are we pointing out the characters of different skin colors to give an example?
  • One study found that even when black and white parents show their kids diverse books, they tend to focus on the character of their own race.
  • Even when we’re providing books with many different people, are we putting focus on the, on the child or the character that looks like us? What media are, are we providing for our children? What dolls, toys, games that they’re playing. When we’re walking down the street and we’re passing a black male, are we getting scared? Because then we’re saying something to our kids– we’re saying black people are dangerous.
  • We have to be very aware of our behavior, even when it’s not something that we’re saying out loud, we’re not detailing in any way because kids are so in tune with their parents and how they are reacting.
  • When the child falls down, they look to us to see, how am I supposed to feel about this? Am I hurt? Am I not hurt? It’s all about how we react to them.
  • What if our child says something like; “I don’t want to hold her hand because she has dark skin?” If our child says something like that, I don’t want to hold her hand because she has dark skin– typically parents don’t want to engage with their child about that because they personally feel ashamed that their child would say that, right? So they almost want to act like their child didn’t say that. Almost punish their child for saying that as opposed to understanding that our children are extremely vulnerable to those types of ideas that dark people are not the types of people we should be playing with
  • One study found that by three years old kids are already thinking that way.. So the question is, are we just going to just shut them up? Not try to counteract that thought? The way that we would address that is through empathy. When it comes to empathy, we have to encourage our children to step into the shoes of people who don’t look like them, just like, you know, and when we are encouraging our kids to critically think we have to encourage our kids to ask questions.
  • WHY? Important question! Respond: “How do you think that makes her feel that you don’t want to play with her?” We can ask that to our child. We can ask that to a four year old child.
  • Scholars of empathy are constantly encouraging us to have more inductive discipline in which when our child misbehaves, particularly relative to another child, instead of punishing that child saying how did what you did make that other child feel.
  • Strategies/talking: I would also respond, “how do you think it makes her feel that you think there’s something wrong with her skin color?” You would have to get to the feeling and get the child to think from the standpoint of that other child. Then, we can talk about the larger idea that all the skin colors are equal, her skin color and your skin color are both beautiful.
  • We have to be so careful with saying something like don’t say that because we want to engage in conversation with our kids about these critical topics. We don’t want to shut the conversation down so that our child doesn’t ask questions or doesn’t feel that they can say something to us. That is how they learn. That’s how they grow. That’s how they evolve. And by using empathy, in this case, they can apply it in other cases when you’re not around isn’t that isn’t that the case
  • And scholars of empathy have found that people who have children who have higher levels of empathy are less likely to be bullies. And are less likely to hold prejudicial thoughts about other groups. They’ve also found that kids who learn critical thinking skills are also less likely to express bias about other groups.
  • Story: When he was 8 years old in a store- racial profiling. (Asked later: Why didn’t you explain to me?) Instead- take it as an opportunity! ** That’s called racial profilin- some sort of breakdown racial profiling as a concept, and then ask me, is it fair? Is it right? Is it wrong? How do you think it makes, you know, people feel, how should we be responding? I was, I was old enough to have that conversation, but you know, she accepted racial profiling as this is the way it is. And you just need to accept it.
  • NOT the answer: Total acceptance and a total denial is going to cause us to not want to engage with our children of different races about it.
  • Child initiates convo! I’m mentioning that because that’s a situation in which a child initiates the conversation. And I just don’t think we appreciate the number of times our children or our students when they raise their hand and conversation about race is shut down.
  • Sometimes you may not know the answer. That’s okay. “let’s figure that out together…let’s find a book that discusses it…Let’s go to the library this Saturday and, and look for books that analyze it. Let’s hop on the internet later when we have time, you know, to research this.”
  • Our kids are going to ask those questions. But then there are times in which our kids don’t, but we can put them in situations to ask questions. If we want to teach them about disproportionate numbers of black and brown people who are homeless in our community, we can take them near a homeless shelter. And they’re gonna ask the question, why is this happening? Why are so many brown people right here?
  • we can facilitate them asking questions. And I’m mentioning this because I know with my daughter, who’s six years old. When I try to lecture her, when she’s not interested, it never goes well
  • Also, how did you feel when you saw the wrongdoing- when you watched the racial profiling happening? Engage the empathy. what’s happening in your body, like, how do you feel watching this racial profiling happening? Are you feeling uneasy because you want to make sure the kids are paying attention to, to that uncomfortable gut feeling. That’s telling them something’s wrong here. Yeah. And this, this is not the right situation. This is not okay.
  • Kids know that when they are experiencing something related to race, it makes them feel uncomfortable and anxious. Because nobody’s talking to them or actively teaching them about racism, whether they’re teachers or parents, they don’t have the language or even the conception to understand what’s happening to them. And we can understand that as adults- and can think back to a time in when something was happening to us. We didn’t understand it because we hadn’t learned about it yet and how uncomfortable it made us feel.
  • The flip side of that is once we understand it, yes, it’s an uncomfortable situation, but we know how to navigate ourselves out of it. Or we know how to not allow it to ruin our lives with our kids.
  • We want our kids to feel good- so we avoid having the tough conversations with them that might make them feel bad (racism). My wife’s a pediatrician. And as parents, we understand the difference between going and getting a very short procedure that’s going to allow our children to feel better over the long haul, even though the procedure itself was uncomfortable. Yes, let’s have them sit there for five minutes or 10 minutes or five seconds and feel uncomfortable. But in the long run, it’s going to make them healthier.
  • It’s going to allow them to understand that the problem is bad rules. Not, not bad people. It’s going to allow them to be empathetic to people who look like them and who don’t look like them. And, and that’s one of the things I had to learn, as a parent that it’s okay for her to experience constructive discomfort.
  • It’s protective to have these conversations.
  • And I would also want parents to realize how hard it is for them personally, to talk about race and racism, to navigate this racialized world and how much easier it would be. If they started this process when they were young—easier.
  • To be a parent is to make mistakes. And to make mistakes constantly. And so we’re going to make mistakes even about when raising our kids to be anti-racist. The question isn’t whether they’re going to make mistakes, the question is, are we striving to do it? Are we trying?

Notable Quotables:

  • “As parents, we teach kids to look both ways before crossing the street. There are drunk drivers out there. There are distracted drivers out there. And we also recognize that it’s important for our kids, themselves, to have the skills, to be able to cross the street on their own. In the same way, we want them to understand racist ideas because, just like those cars, they are going to hit our children. Parenting in the colorblind way is just sending them out to cross the street, not encouraging them to look both ways. And, and so what happens, they get hit. Raising our kids to be anti-racist is protective.”
  • The first lesson kids receive about race from their parents and teachers is to not talk about it. So, we’re saying to them, don’t ask us your questions but they’re still going to go and look for other answers. The white supremacist who’se lurking online in a multiplayer video game. Another 5-year-old kid. Why shouldn’t we be the ones who answer the question?”
  • “Particularly below eight years old, nonverbal language is what’s most influential in shaping the racial attitudes of children.”
  • “If everyone you bring to your home in a loving capacity, like a friend, is white, what are you saying to your kids without saying who’s valuable to you?”
  • “Even when we’re providing books with many different people, are we putting focus on the child or the character that looks like us? What media are we providing for our children? What dolls, the, toys, games that they’re playing? When we’re walking down the street and we’re passing a black male, are we getting scared? Beause then we’re saying something to our kids. We’re saying black people are dangerous.
  • “Kids study us for a living.”
  • “When it comes to empathy, we have to encourage our children to step into the shoes of people who don’t look like them, just like, when we are encouraging our kids to critically think we have to encourage our kids to ask questions.”
  • Kids know that when they are experiencing something related to race, it makes them feel uncomfortable and anxious. But because nobody’s talking to them or actively teaching them about racism, whether they’re teachers or parents, they don’t have the language or even the conception to understand what’s happening to them. Once we understand it, yes, it’s an uncomfortable situation, but we know how to navigate ourselves out of it.”
  • We want our kids to feel good- so we avoid having the tough conversations with them that might make them feel bad, like racism. My wife’s a pediatrician. And as parents, we understand the difference between going and getting a very short procedure that’s going to allow our children to feel better over the long haul, even though the procedure itself was uncomfortable. Yes, let’s have them sit there for five minutes or 10 minutes or five seconds and feel uncomfortable. But in the long run, it’s going to make them healthier.
  • “That’s one of the things I had to learn, as a parent, that it’s okay for her to experience constructive discomfort.
  • I would love for parents to first realize that it is protective for our children to engage with them about race and racism.

Resources:

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