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 the brunt of this responsibility, but what is the best way to do it? 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 suspect that this concept of not shattering their innocence is another aspect of white privilege.
I also wonder about my son’s abilities based on his developmental level. If he 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 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 not racist.
Perhaps I’m being hasty. He is only 18 months old. And as it is completely ingrained in every aspect of our culture, I’m sure there will be a million natural opportunities to discuss racism, from the toys he will play with to the characters in the movies he will watch to the ads in the subway he will walk by every day. Maybe instead of considering how to handle 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.