Parenting

How to talk to your kids' grandparents and relatives about racism

To raise an anti-racist kid, you need to learn how to talk to your whole family—grandparents and aunts and uncles included—about being anti-racist.

When you’re non-racist, it doesn’t do much to move the needle on building a more equitable and free society. Being anti-racist, however, means you don’t engage in racist behaviour, and you also call it out when you see others being racist. This includes having conversations that may be uncomfortable or awkward, it includes making the effort to seek out information to expand your understanding, and it includes sharing that information with the people in your family’s life, especially those who influence and care for your kids. This means teachers, neighbours, aunts, uncles and grandparents, too.

Have the tough conversations

“It can be very challenging to communicate your views and progressive way of life to others, but it does not have to be confrontational,” shares Roxanne Francis, a Toronto-based psychotherapist. When approaching teachers or school administrators, Francis suggests sandwiching your critique between opening and closing positive statements.

“You could say, ‘I’ve noticed that the class was beautifully decorated for Valentine’s Day, but I didn’t see any images in celebration of Black History month. If you’re short on resources, I can share some very helpful websites with you. My child usually enjoys how creatively you share information with the class.’”

When it comes to the conversations we have with friends and family, those can be a bit trickier. Still, it’s essential that when you hear someone make a racist joke or comment, don’t be passively non-racist. Be actively anti-racist and call attention. Once, when a family member made a comment about my daughter having “bad” hair (a description familiar to Black folks, due to racism creating internalized self-hatred), I simply asked them why they thought there was something wrong with her hair. They couldn’t answer, and it led to a conversation where they were able to untangle some of those deep-rooted beliefs.

Francis also offers some guidance on what to say. “With peers or family members, depending on the situation, you can firmly but politely start with:

  • “In our family, we do things differently by…”
  • “We are raising our kids to understand that…”
  • “Equity is really important to us and…”

Boundary-setting is crucial, but open and constructive conversations can push anti-racist behaviours forward.

Have resources on hand in your home

Teaching our children and our family members to be anti-racist means applying an anti-racist lens to everything they absorb, including the resources, books and toys we keep in our homes and our classrooms.

Francis echoes this: “Instead of practising colour-blind parenting, practise being racially conscious. Ask for books at the library with protagonists who are not white. Watch movies and shows at home that don’t centre on whiteness. Ask toy stores about their lack of toys that represent other ethnic groups. Speak to your kids about how beautiful their brown skin is, and mention the difference and beauty in others.”

For white parents and white relatives or caregivers, says Francis, it’s important “to unpack your own discomfort with racism. Discuss white privilege and the hard truth about the role that many white people have played historically.” White and other non-Black parents can speak directly to anti-Black racism and how they work to dismantle it. “Discuss what it means to be an ally, how you plan to play such a role, and talk with them about how they can do the same in their own circles.”

For Black parents, Francis says, these talks might look a little different. “The grief and anger that your child has may be more palpable. Allow them to express their emotions.” Explain to Black kids that there is a place for peaceful protest. Tell them how protests are beginning to have an impact, how they can get involved in their community to effect change, and the importance of living a balanced life that includes joy and rest, she says. “Raising anti-racist children gives them agency—their voice and action can result in change. This boosts their self-esteem as they realize that their opinions matter.”