“I’m White. My 4-Year-Old Son’s Black. How Do We Talk About ‘Bad Guys’?” by Kera Bolonik

macomb-kids

This 1973 photo of five children playing in a Detroit suburb has gone viral on the Internet. The children were Rhonda Shelly, 3 (from left), Kathy Macool, 7, Lisa Shelly, 5, Chris Macool, 9, and Robert Shelly, 6.

Kera Bolonik recently wrote a beautiful, thoughtful piece for The Cut on when and how parents should address racism with their children, and how her particular circumstances as a white, queer woman raising an adopted, black son affect these conversations. We as parents of young children have a deep responsibility to our future society to raise open-minded, empathic, not racist adults, and we as white people really bear most of this responsibility, but what is the best way to do this? I understand not wanting to shatter a child’s innocence too soon, and part of me wants to wait until questions naturally arise, but then I think of that poor little girl who watched Philando Castile’s murder, and of all the other kids who suffer as a result of racism and race-based violence in this country, and I wonder if this concept of not shattering their innocence is another aspect of white privilege. Also, if my son grows up hearing my husband and I talking about race-related issues, if we address things head on with him even if it seems too early, will that build a more solid foundation for him and make him less confused, or will it be too traumatic and difficult and even more confusing? I know that so much of it depends on the individual child, but it’s hard to figure out that line. I want Lew to be the best Lew he can possibly be, and I want him to have the freedom to explore what that means to him, but at the same time, I want to ensure that he’s loving, thoughtful, compassionate, and definitely not racist.

Perhaps I’m being hasty. As it’s completely ingrained in every aspect of our culture, I’m sure there will be a million natural opportunities to discuss racism with my son, from the toys he plays with to the characters in the movies he will watch to the ads in the subway he walks by every day. Maybe instead of considering these conversations, I should for now just sit and luxuriate in the easy ones we currently have about ball balls, dog dogs, nanas (bananas), and agua (meaning water, milk, or any liquid, really). But either way, these are important things to think about and discuss with other parents; the more we communicate with one another, the stronger we (and our children) will be.

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