We live in a society stratified—among other things— by race. Although we’re finally beginning to address the centuries of white supremacy blanketing America’s institutions and culture, there is much to be done.
We often hear the adage, “The children are our future.” It’s corny, but it’s popular because it’s true. We need to raise our children to live in a world we all want to see, so they can inhabit a more just society as adults. Raising white children can be especially fraught because they passively benefit from so many lopsided institutions created by racism. Raising children as anti-racist is essential—simply ‘not racist’ belies complacency with the current status quo, which promotes and creates racism and segregation.
We turned to Rev. Dr. Jennifer Harvey to better understand the obligation we have to raise a new generation of anti-racist white Americans. She is the author of Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America. Her interview was full of great insight and ideas, so here are a few ways you can work to make sure your bright-eyed little one lives a happy, just, anti-racist life.
1) Actively Teach Anti-Racism
In today’s society, simply ignoring race and associated cultural issues is no longer an option.
“I like to call ‘colorblindness’ white silence,” Harvey explained. “Colorblindness is something that white families try and do. Families of color overwhelmingly reject that. That’s not the goal.”
Instead, families need to acknowledge that racism exists and work to counter it. If the scourge of racism is ever to be defeated, it will be because white people decided it was an issue they needed to care about and get involved in, not something to ignore or whitewash. Race-conscious parenting addresses colorblind parenting. Harvey explains that it is “an embrace of noticing race and a commitment to teaching about racism so that we can activate for racial justice and anti-racism.”
Hear more of Dr. Harvey’s interview on why we need race-conscious parenting.
2) Acknowledge Our History
America has a colonial legacy of genocide and slavery, and if we are ever to move past the long lasting effects of these two institutions, we need to own them. Currently, US history textbooks paint a rosy picture of settlers helped by Native Americans and brush over many of our most atrocious racial policies and crimes. When discussing American history with children, they must understand our dark past and why we live in a racial hierarchy. Once these racist legacies are understood, they are easier to reject. Children need to learn about slavery as well as about the abolition and civil rights movements. They should know that many Americans have consistently rejected racism in the past and should be respected and emulated today.
“That’s the goal,” said Harvey. “To realize we can acknowledge the truth of those histories without letting those histories determine the future or even the now. We can make choices about who we are, even as white Americans.”
We cannot undo the past if we cannot understand it, and we must present the complete historical account for our children.
3) See Something, Say Something
We need to actively teach our children to be anti-racist in word and deed—and what better way to teach than by example? Standing up to bigotry is a crucial element to eradicating racism, both present and future. Ignoring acts of discrimination is akin to colorblindness. It teaches children that they too should ignore injustice as long as it doesn’t impact them.
“Part of this generational work is interrupting individual acts of racism,” Harvey explained. “And so that’s a really important sphere of influence that doesn’t just impact who I am… It actually impacts the next generation as they watch that interaction happen.”
Speaking up against racism can also have a snowball effect, says Harvey. “We often kind of are nervous to be the first one to put our toe in the water. But once someone does, a lot of times we find out, ‘Oh, my gosh, there’s a whole bunch of people here who are willing to have my back or who are willing to also say, “Yeah, we need to actually change what’s happening here.”’ This snowball effect has a two-pronged effect: first, it pushes back against racism in the moment and encourages others to do so, too. Secondly, it demonstrates the power that one person can have to stop something racist, or otherwise morally wrong, to all the children who experience this interaction.
Raising specifically anti-racist kids in the United States is a challenging prospect. Still, it is crucially important for our nation’s health and for the success of democracy and future generations of Americans.