February is Black History Month. If you’re looking for ways this month (and always) to celebrate Black History and have age appropriate discussions about race and racism, you’ll want to bookmark our latest interview with our psychology contributor, Reon Baird-Feldman, PhD. Below, find her smart ideas on how to use this month to get those conversations started, from her perspective not only as a psychologist but as a Black mom of two (her daughters are pictured in their Black History Month shirts!).
When should you start talking to kids about racism and why is Black History Month a perfect time to start the conversation?
America has a richly diverse culture shaped by the contributions of many inspiring Black Americans. I don’t know if there is a right time to talk to kids about racism but I don’t think that we should wait until Black History Month to start a conversation about it. The harmful effects of racism today and in the past is a tough subject to broach but when we talk about it with our children early on, we help them to acknowledge, appreciate and celebrate peoples differences. It builds knowledge and compassion. It also enables kids to discern when something seems unfair and allows them the opportunity to act on it.
What are some great ways to start conversations – about Black History and racism?
Black History Month is about more than racism. Yes, of course it includes racism and injustices but it also includes poetry (e.g., Maya Angelou, Amanda Gorman), music (e.g., Dizzy Gillespie, Beyonce), food (e.g., soul food), film and television (e.g., Sidney Poitier, Tyler Perry), government (e.g., Raphael Warnock, Kamala Harris), sports (e.g., Arthur Ashe, Simone Biles) and the list goes on. In addition to a multitude of television shows, here are some ways to start introducing racism and/or Black History Month with kids:
Conversation: Each family will have different approaches when it comes to a conversation about racism. Some may lean towards talking about equality while others are more comfortable highlighting the presence of racism. My recommendation?: Start with simple questions and/or statements. Depending on the age of your child, you’ll want to adjust the language you use. For preschoolers, you might say ask if everyone at school or on the playground is nice, or, what if someone made a rule that kids with your skin color or eye color couldn’t play on the swings? Is that fair? With older kids, you can ask if they are aware of, or have seen examples of racism or someone being bullied because of their skin color. Ask what they know and help to fill in the gaps with facts. You can also ask if they know of anyone in history or current that you could both celebrate for Black History Month or learn about together. Whatever you do, keep the conversation going.
Books: There are numerous books illustrating the multicultural world we live in. Even if we reside in a town with 95% homogeneity, it is important that our children understand that the world we live in is richly diverse in so many ways. Race is one of them. Books offer children the opportunity to learn about and celebrate the richness of culture. It also offers children the opportunity to identify with a story and build their own self confidence and self-acceptance.
Experiences: Kids benefit from multi-sensory stimuli. There are several experiences highlighting/celebrating Black History Month. They vary by location. Locally, there are virtual experiences like the interview and screening with Ruby Bridges hosted by Grace Farms Foundation on February 12th, the celebration of black female musical legends held at the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers on Feb 19th, the Black Health & Wellness Art Exhibit with music and poetry on Feb 12th at the Stamford Library, to name a few.
Why is it so important to start talking about racism at home?
Kids model what they see at home. They see how we react and when we don’t. They see how we care for ourselves, and we teach them how to care for themselves and others. Racism is a matter of health. If we can teach kids to care for their bodies via certain food choices and exercise, we can teach them to be mindful of things that can harm them and their friends, including racism. Kids see differences in people and they often trust their parents to care for and guide them in how to react to these differences. It all starts at home.
Any other thoughts on talking to kids about these important topics?
I once had a mom ask me not to speak about racism while her daughter was in the room. It took me by surprise, but I understood. She is Caucasian, raising a Caucasian child. I have Biracial daughters. We not only differ in parenting styles but we also have different luxuries in how we raise our children. In my household, speaking about racism is like learning the ABCs of life and survival. I do not have the privilege of shielding my children from racism. They can experience it as early as nursery school. Why? How? Because it’s taught at home. As parents, we want our children to be naive, to grow up without worry. We enjoy their laughter and run to wipe their tears. As a Black woman, mother and Psychologist, my responsibility is not only to teach my daughters about racism but to also teach them how to survive confidently and joyfully in spite of it. Talking to kids about tough subject like racism is not easy. It helps to have resources and support. It’s also helpful to remember to teach them to honor the sacrifices made in history, that Black history is American history and that we are best when we respect and celebrate each other’s differences.