Reading this Kate Julian piece about how telling children the hard truths about the world around them actually makes them more resilient not less (if only because kids aren’t as ignorant as some parents might like to think; they’re noticing the world), she mentions how Black parents have The Talk with their kids, about what it’s going to mean for them to be Black in this society
A similar logic applies to racism. Whether or not their parents talk about it, kids are perceptive; they notice racial disparities. If you don’t talk to them about the historical and societal causes of what they see, various experts told me, they’ll draw their own conclusions, likely harmful ones. As Kenya Hameed, a neuropsychologist at the Child Mind Institute, put it, “If a black child keeps seeing people that look like her marginalized, oppressed, in trouble with the law, dying, she may conclude that black people are bad, that she’s bad.” Hameed notes that this is one reason black families tend to be proactive about talking about race: Their children’s mental health depends on it. But white families are more likely to take the opposite approach, and their silence has a steep price.
As Vittrup and other researchers have discovered, white parents’ silence on race can be motivated not only by animus but by a stew of other messy feelings: paralysis, fear, anxiety, hope that if you don’t acknowledge the problem, it will go away. The latter belief is particularly misguided; when she surveyed the white kids in her study, she found that whatever white parents may have hoped to achieve by downplaying race, their kids were far from color-blind. Instead, many appeared to have come up with their own explanations for why white people and black people didn’t spend much time together. Almost half of them doubted whether their parents liked black people, and they also had significantly less positive attitudes about black people than about white people.
No matter how many times I’ve read or heard a Black parent discuss The Talk, it never occurred to me until today that White parents ought to be having A Talk with their kids — not just about “skin color, stereotypes, or discrimination” but specifically about what it’s going to mean for them to be White in this society.
White parents not only can’t ignore race generally, the conversation with their children can’t ignore their whiteness.