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Raising an ally: How to talk to your child about the death of George Floyd, anti-Black racism

Non-Black parents: Five tips for on how to talk to your kids about race
Non-black parents: Five tips for on how to talk to your kids about race

The past few weeks have been riddled with unconscionable incidents of anti-Black racism and police brutality against Black people.

Most notably, George Floyd, a 46-year-old unarmed Black man, died after being arrested by police outside a store in Minneapolis, Minn. The incident was caught on video and circulated online, sparking protests in major cities across the U.S. and Canada.

Now, Black advocates are demanding consequences for the police involved and tangible change from government leaders. The conversation has consumed the news, even amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

READ MORE: George Floyd death: Protests erupt across U.S., some turn violent

If you have a child, they’ve probably seen some of this coverage — and they probably have questions. As a parent, how can you use this an opportunity to teach your child about anti-Black racism and how to be an ally?

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First, it’s crucial to acknowledge that the “race talk” is not an option for Black and non-Black parents of colour, said York University professor Carl James. If you’re just realizing you should talk to your kids about race, it’s because you have a level of privilege other parents of colour do not.

READ MORE: ‘This ain’t the way’: Protester pleads for violence to stop in powerful video

“Black parents will have had these conversations with their kids as early as four, five or six years old,” James said. “These kids have already been given their ‘script’ — how to talk, how to respond, who to talk to … the differences in people talking to you.”

“That script about Blackness is already something that will be part of that Black child’s experience.”

The way a white or non-Black parent will talk to their children about anti-Black racism will likely be “totally different.”

“If you’re a non-Black parent, you need to teach your child first about racism and how every person is capable of being racist in their actions and behaviour,” James said. You should also take the time to explain the concept of privilege.

How to talk to your children about racism
How to talk to your children about racism

With all the recent incidents of anti-Black racism in both the U.S. and Canada, said Tanya Hayles, now is the perfect time to start the conversation with your child. She’s the founder of Black Moms Connection, an online resource and non-profit organization for Black parents.

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“It’s becoming harder to ignore it,” Hayles said. “It’s really important to name what this is — which is specifically anti-Black racism — and then figure out how to have these conversations.”

Canadians have been ignoring the race conversation for far too long, Hayles said.

READ MORE: Regis Korchinski-Paquet’s death reinforces need for major mental health, policing reforms: advocates

“In Canada … we’ve been very ‘holier than thou’ and ‘we’re not as bad as America,’ but Black people in Canada have experienced racism,” Hayles said.

Ultimately, raising your child as an ally to Black people will only be possible if you educate yourself first.

The first step is recognizing your own privilege, James said. The second step is learning as much as you possibly can about anti-Black racism.

Educate yourself

Educating your child begins first with educating yourself.

This does not mean creating more emotional labour for your Black acquaintances, Hayles emphasized. She uses the analogy of a workplace to illustrate her point.

“(Black people) get hired a lot to be the diversity and inclusion representative for a workplace, but if the workplace culture isn’t built around actually being diverse and inclusive, it’s really just adding more labour for Black people,” Hayles said.

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“Don’t say ‘what should I know?’ or ‘where should I go?’ It’s up to you to do the labour.”

George Floyd death: NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh calls video of Floyd’s death ‘chilling’
George Floyd death: NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh calls video of Floyd’s death ‘chilling’

Hayles recently posted a list of teaching resources to the Black Moms Connection website to serve as a starting point for parents.

It includes various online resources, age-by-age guides and children’s books.

“Then it’s up to you to buy the books. It’s up to you to read the posts. It’s up to you to listen,” Hayles said.

Diverse content

Your kids are already thinking about race, James said, even if you’ve never talked to them about it.

“From an early age, children are making sense of the world around them. People have a meaning of what different skin colour means based on what they see at home, on TV,” James said.

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“Parents need to adapt and (help children) interpret skin colour … to provide the way in which they want their children to understand these meanings.”

Hayles agrees: “I think it’s about really meeting the kids where they are, but also doing the work to introduce things,” she said.

READ MORE: ‘Let’s walk’: Police in some U.S. states are joining George Floyd protestors

Make a point of exposing your child to a wide array of diverse books, television shows, movies and music.

“When my son was born, I tried to make sure that he had a good diversity in books, so that he saw himself represented in positive ways,” Hayles said.

“When you go to the store, are you only buying your kid white dolls? Are you only buying your children books with white characters? What are they watching on television?”

Age-appropriate, open and ongoing discussion

Of course, as with any conversation you have with your child, there are ways to make these discussions about anti-Black racism appropriate for your child’s age.

“If they see and hear you having a conversation and they want to know what you’re talking about, include them in the conversation,” Hayles said. However, only offer the amount of information they will be able to understand for their age.

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If they’re younger, start simple. For example, when discussing Floyd’s death with a young child, leave the violence out of the discussion and stick to the facts: Floyd was mistreated because of the colour of his skin.

“Say, ‘people are not liked because of what they look like,'” Hayles said. “This is a very simple concept for a five- or six-year-old to understand. Kids understand fairness.”

Start by appealing to your child’s sense of right and wrong, and go from there. As your children grow older, add in the historical context. Your child’s understanding of race will continually evolve, so leave the conversation open as they age.

Ultimately, this is only the beginning of what should be a lifelong education about race relations and anti-Black racism, experts say.

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Meghan.Collie@globalnews.ca