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  • Writer's pictureKellie Cathey, LSW

White Parents: Why It’s Important to Talk to Your Kids About Race and How to Do It

I grew up in home of middle class white privilege. When I was six, I was sitting at my grandmother’s kitchen table with my mother, listening to my family talk about race.

I innocently turned to my mother and said, “Aren’t black people just like white people but with darker skin?” “Yes,” mother responded. I remember her hesitation of how to answer such a big question from such a little human.

Race was only briefly spoken about in my home as a child because as an Irish Catholic family, our belongingness in the world has never been threatened because of the color of our skin. While my family deeply believes in the worthiness of all humans, race was never a consistent dinner table conversation because it didn’t have to be.

What was it like for you? Sit with these question for a moment: when you were a child, how was race spoken about in your home? Was gender, race or homosexuality spoken about in an open, loving, and engaging way?

If your answer to this was no, you are not alone. Most times, in white families, it isn’t discussed in depth because it doesn’t have to be. As white folks, we don’t have to face the thousands of micro-aggressions that people of color face every day that force us to talk about the problem.

And when you grow up in a home that doesn’t teach you how to have these conversations, it’s hard to carry them into your own family.

But now, it’s time to make a change. Because just like most things, our beliefs about race and racism are learned first at home.

Regardless of gender, race, amount of money we have, sexual preferences or anything that makes us different from one another, we as humans, all share a core need: to feel a sense of love and belonging in the world.

At its core, racism threatens this feeling of belonging because people of color are seen as less than worthy of belongingness. And this, at it’s core, is why racism is so incredibly destructive to who we are as humans.

This is why having hard conversations with our children about race is so essential to creating a change in the world where every person, regardless of how they look or what they choose, feels like they belong here on earth.

If it feels hard to know where to start having this conversations with your children, here are some places to start:

Make Race and Differences an Open and Continuous Conversation

The first place to start is just to start. Differences in skin color is something that exists in the world. It’s something that makes us all unique and different from one another. Talk to your children about the simple face that race exists and that some races have been and continue to be treated unkindly. Share your families values around treating all humans with the respect and love they inherently deserve.

Having this open conversation gives your child the space to continuously ask you questions about race and racial inequality. Although lessons about race start first at home, the neighborhood they live in, the activities they participate in, the school they attend and the peers they share space with, will all influence their views about race. Creating a space where there is an open conversation and a consistent reminder of your family’s values is a grounding place where your child learns to be in the world with the belief of racial equality and worthiness of all.

Check Your Own Biases

Saying we don’t have biases is like saying we don’t breathe. We all have biases. As humans, we are biologically wired to have biases. These are the automatic and unconscious streams of beliefs we have running in the background of our thoughts. Most times, we aren’t even aware they exist until we consciously stop and reflect on them.

Understanding your own biases, the ones your formed from your own family and your own lived experiences, is crucial for talking to your kids about race. These are the subtle things—the magazines around the house, the race of the authors of the books you read, the way you look at someone, the social media content you follow, the people you say hello to, the feeling of warmth when you welcome someone, the friends you have into your home—are all things that children are seeing and making conclusions about.

These subtle biases, that we are most times not aware of, are the very things that condition children to believe certain things about race in the world. As parents, your job is to understand these how these subtle biases are continuing to pass down the beliefs that contribute to the complexity of systemic racism.

Know the History and Communicate it Openly

Knowing the history of different races and racial inequalities is an important part of how systemic racism form and why it still exists today. Understanding this history is so important in sharing with your children how these racial inequalities continue to show up in our society. Understanding the history of a person’s race is imperative to understanding who they are wholly.

Visiting history museums, watching documentaries, reading books, and visiting historical sites are all ways to honor and discuss the history of a racial group. Exposing your children to these various types of information gives them the space to process history and understand it’s importance in the world.

Celebrate and Honor Differences

Celebrating our inherit differences openly as humans captures a core lesson for all children: we are all unique and worthy of love because of our uniqueness. Regardless if you are celebrating skin color, eye color, hair color, sexual orientation, gender or differences among capabilities, children need to know that all people deserve love and belongingness simply because of who they are.

Every person on earth deserves to feel worthy of love and belonging, not DESPITE their differences but BECAUSE of their differences.

Each one of us is a paint stroke on the canvas of the earth we create. Every single one of deserves to be seen for the beauty we contribute to it.

Resources for Parents:

Resources for Children:


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