“I am a young black man, doing all that I can to stand… I just want to live.” –12 year old Keedron Bryant.
I listen to Keedron as a parent, teacher, and white person in the United States. I am haunted. I work to be anti-racist as a daily practice. I am numb. I don’t know how. I am enraged. I don’t know what to say. I am in tears. What oppressions do I reproduce in my own house, in my creative arts workshops, in my life that I can’t even see? I am responsible.
We live in a sick joke, a dystopian novel: one of two worlds in which I have lived my whole life not knowing what it means to sing for my life as a twelve year old.
Racism has become ambient. Communities of color are in a double Racism is ambient. Communities of color are in a double pandemic, sometimes triple or quadruple or more when we examine the intersectionality of oppressive power wielded on women, LGBGTQ+ people, people in poverty, people with disabilities, undocumented immigrants, and more. Being white anti-racist parents and teachers must become part of our well-being. It is time to listen.
Taking Anti-Racist Actions with Children
And it is time to act. Our children must learn about racism: in ways that are developmentally appropriate to their age, individual needs, and emotional well-being of course. But all children can and should learn about racism.
We as parents and teachers must understand the current disparities in health, wealth and opportunities between White and Black people, and the timeline of oppression resulting in these disparities. Here are some examples:
- The median net worth of White households is about 10 times the median net worth of African American households.
- The median income for African American households is a little less than 60% of that of white households.
- The unemployment rate for African American exceeds that of Whites
- The poverty rate for African American is more than double that of Whites.
- A larger share of African American lack health insurance compared to Whites.
- African Americans make up a larger share of US Covid-19 deaths than whites.
- African Americans still have the highest death rate and lowest survival rate of any racial or ethnic group for most cancers.
CNN and Sesame Street are hosting a town hall with kids and families to come together and stand up to racism. After watching the town hall, send your thoughts to us here. We will post a family town hall blog on racism next week!
Make Art in Response to Racism
“If I die without having any air, or just getting shot brutally…” His voice trails off as tears wet his cheeks.-Noah, age 9, Interviewed for the Los Angeles Times
Creativity helps us manage and express difficult emotions. And as I write “difficult” it seems ridiculous. There is no word to capture how we are feeling, how ninee-year-old Noah is feeling.
While scrolling through social media, I saw Maria Stamti’s book (below). I had to stop, look up, and take deep breaths. COVID-19 and police violence against African American people both are pandemics against breathing. What art can we create to process the intense, enraging, incomprehensible pain we feel about the world we live in right now? How can we help our children process their feelings through art as well?
Listen, Read and Reflect
“Do the best you can until you know better.
Then when you know better, do better.”-Maya Angelou
For years, I have been actively seeking strategies to discuss racism with my daughter and my students, both children and adults. But it is not easy, and it is never a single conversation. We have to become accustomed to feeling uncomfortable, identify these strong emotions and thoughts, and examine them. We can think about what is hard in the talking about racism, and what the benefits are.
As families build awareness about racism, National Geographic suggests a few strategies:
- Be prepared to talk about race-based events and the emotions that they bring out
- Watch for statements that link race with value judgments
- Help your kids recognize the harm of a racist idea
- Update your home or school library
When I talk about race, racism, prejudice, and discrimination with children, I use questions that range from the individual to institutional, moral and ethical. I always gauge our conversations based on trauma informed care and active listening practices.
Here are some of the prompts I use:
- Today, I feel…
- Sometimes, I worry about…
- Pain is…
- Love is…
- In my community, safe and unsafe spaces are…
- What makes something fair or unfair?
- What makes something right or wrong?
- What are words that hurt? What are words that heal?
- What can I do when I feel unsafe? When I feel overwhelmed with pain?
- How should a person in power behave?
- What should we do if someone in power is behaving in hurtful ways?
- What is race? Racism?
- What is prejudice? Discrimination?
- How has racism changed and stayed the same?
- What would an anti-racist world look like?
- How can we help create an anti-racist world?
These are difficult questions. We must be cautious not to re-traumatize children. They should not have to continually retell their story or be treated as a statistic or a label. Children need to be seen and heard, in an emotionally safe and trusted environment, during discussions about abuses of power and control, such as racism and systemic violence.
Periodically, Teaching Tolerance suggests conducting check-ins, like this Fist-to-Five technique and mindful listening like the Reiterate, Think, Breathe, Feel technique.
I have made a personal commitment to continue writing about how prejudice, discrimination and abuses of power impact the emotional well-being of children and families until we all see justice and we all can breathe.
Organizations and Resources Supporting and Defending Black Lives
- A Timeline of Events that Led to the 2020 ‘Fed-Up’ Rising, The Root.
- Art and Social Justice: A Course for Educators. Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
- Black Women’s Blueprint: Building Empowerment with Black Women & Girls.
- Californians for the Arts. Anti-Racism Resources.
- National Museum of African American History and Culture, Being Anti-racist.
- New Era of Public Safety: An Advocacy Toolkit for Fair, Safe and Effective Community Policing.
- President Barak Obama’s Anguish and Action resources to learn about police violence and antiracism in America.
- Society for Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators List of bail funds, political/justice organizations, community-building efforts, health & well-being, anti-racism resources, recommended reading.
Featured blog image, Photo by Sharon Frances, Fullerton, California.
Your mental health is important. If you need support, contact MentalHealth.gov. You can also visit your local 211 website (in Orange County, CA ours is www.211oc.org). If you are in crisis, please dial 911.
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Sharon Frances, PhD, is the Executive and Artistic Director of Well Beings Studio. She is a teacher, breast cancer survivor, parent and artist. Sharon also created Well Beings Studio’s signature program, The Little Green Monster Project, to support families impacted by cancer through the arts.