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How To Talk To Your Kids About Race, Racism And Police Violence

A child holds up his hands in front of a row of police officers in downtown Long Beach on May 31, 2020 during a protest against the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died while being arrested and pinned to the ground by the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. (APU GOMES/AFP via Getty Images)
A child holds up his hands in front of a row of police officers in downtown Long Beach on May 31, 2020 during a protest against the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died while being arrested and pinned to the ground by the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. (APU GOMES/AFP via Getty Images)

How should parents talk with their children about all they’re seeing and experiencing right now? We get some good advice.


Melissa Giraud, social justice educator, researcher and advocate. Co-founder of EmbraceRace, an organization that provides resources for parents to teach their children about race. ( @RaceEmbrace)

Andrew Grant-Thomas, social justice researcher and advocate. Co-founder of EmbraceRace. Former director of programs at the Proteus Fund, a national foundation committed to advancing justice through democracy, human rights, and peace. Deputy director at the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University. ( @RaceEmbrace)

Christian Cooper, avid bird watcher, comic book writer and biomedical editor for Health Science Communications. New York Audubon Society board member.

Interview Highlights

Last week, a video of a white woman calling the police on Christian Cooper, a black birdwatcher in Central Park, went viral. Christian Cooper had asked the white woman, Amy Cooper, to leash her dog.

Christian Cooper on how he felt during the confrontation and whether he was scared 

Christian Cooper: “Any sort of confrontation, of conflict, can be scary. So, yeah, I was scared. I wasn’t overwhelmed by being scared. But, yeah, I was certainly scared. But I think one thing I always try to keep in my head, whenever I’m engaged in any sort of conflict, because there’s always conflict in our society. You don’t want to seek it out, but at the same time, I’m not afraid of it either. You know, there are times when you’re going to have to be in conflict with somebody for various reasons. But the thing I always try to keep in my head is, ‘The person who remains calm wins.’ And that’s what I tried to do in that situation. I just tried to remain calm and just keep doing what I was doing.”

On talking with kids about race

For white parents, expose kids to diversity 

Melissa Giraud: “You start young for one, and you start by exposing your child both, hopefully, in your neighborhood, in your community. … You know, if you’re in a segregated neighborhood, which many of us are, by going out to other communities. To expose them, whether it’s after school or at school, to people who are different from them racially and otherwise. And to make sure that your kids understand that you value difference. And you learn from it. And it’s important to you that they have diverse friends. So maybe you also can model that if it’s possible, again, in your neighborhood, in your part of the country.”

On starting the conversation early 

Melissa Giraud: “It’s multi-factorial. So people often want a recipe and there isn’t a recipe. Like if we knew how to solve structural racism, systemic racism, we would have done it, you know? But we do know that the reason it’s so hard to solve is it’s systemic. And so there are a lot of things to do. So your kid is learning, you know, this cultural soup. They’re learning this stuff from very early. And if we could raise kids in a way that would preempt some of these biases by exposing them to a lot, so they’re not afraid. Also teaching them about injustice. And about their own privilege.”

On Point spoke to Ishmail Abdus-Saboor yesterday about how his family is processing the news of this week. As a black parent of two kids, he knew it was time to talk to them about what was happening blocks away from their home in Philadelphia.

Here’s part of that conversation: 

Ishmail Abdus-Saboor: “I look scared as I was telling him these things. And I could equally see the fear on his face as I was sharing with him. And then, you know, out of nowhere, he asks me, ‘Does that mean we’re going back to being slaves?’ I mean, it wasn’t like slavery was on his mind. It’s not like we just had a conversation about slavery. So the fact that his mind went there and he made that connection, it was startling, jarring and it pierced a sword through my heart.”

On how black parents can talk to their kids about race

Melissa Giraud: “If your child is in a targeted group, this is something we think about a lot. … And it would depend on the conversations that you’ve had before as well. It’s more likely that black families in particular have spoken about racism and have also done sort of the countercultural work of cultural empowerment, of talking about freedom fighters like Christian. Of people who have resisted, have taken risks, really. Because they don’t know what the outcome will be, but have been able to stand up and to go on birding. You know, Chris has continued with this thing that he loves to do. … I would also say that showing the Floyd video, like we haven’t shown those to our kids. … You really want to not traumatize or re-traumatize kids who are already aware that they’re in some targeted group.”

Andrew Grant-Thomas: “It’s important, I think, for kids to know that there are a lot of people who have done the work to get us, you know, to effect the kind of progress that we’ve made. Clearly, there’s a tremendous more amount of work to do. And we have allies in this work and we ourselves can do that work. Whether it’s about educating ourselves, about giving money to the organizations that are doing the work, it’s about giving our time. It’s about how we raise our children. Advocating, you know, being influencers in our own circles, there are a lot of things that we can do.”

On the importance of asking questions 

Melissa Giraud: “Ask questions. … You can start with what they know, or what they think, or what’s their response to the video that Chris made of Amy Cooper. And talk it through.”

Andrew Grant-Thomas: “I think we often don’t know, we’re not even aware that children are thinking about these things, making sense. That their sensibilities around race are emerging even very, very young, because we don’t create the space for them to show us. So this point about asking questions to me is largely about giving them the space to tell you, to share with you what they’re thinking again, what sense they’re making, what meaning they’re making. And for you to have an opportunity to share sort of your experiences, your ideas, your questions, and to provide some context, which, you know, as a four-year-old or a five-year-old, they probably don’t have.”

On teaching white children to be allies

Christian Cooper: “I think the best thing you could do is teach young white kids to be good allies. To stand up for other people in difficult situations, and that might get us to a better place.”

From The Reading List

New York Times: “ Chris Cooper Is My Brother. Here’s Why I Posted His Video.” — “I grew up in a family of activists and my parents were teachers. They raised me and my brother, Chris, to never shy from fighting injustice. From police brutality, to the war in Iraq, to climate change, we’ve lifted our voices in protest.”

EmbraceRace: “ ‘How do I make sure I’m not raising the next Amy Cooper?’” — “In our social media age, the figure of the ‘entitled White woman’ who calls the police on people of color, especially Black people, simply for living their lives has become so common that she has become a meme.”

The Atlantic: “ Becoming a Parent in the Age of Black Lives Matter” — “In a park about half a mile from my home is a wide-open field of grass, whose thin, uneven blades rise up past my ankles. The playground near the park is, like other playgrounds across the country, no longer open, surrounded by the orange-plastic fencing that has become unsettlingly familiar.”

Houston Chronicle: “ How to talk with your kids about police, race, protests” — “This week, the world witnessed video of former Houston resident George Floyd, a handcuffed black man, pleading for air as a white police officer knelt on his neck in Minneapolis. Floyd’s subsequent death sparked protests nationwide. Watching the tragic events unfold on TV or social media can take an emotional toll on most adults, but what about children?”

Chalkbeat Colorado: “ ‘Moments like now are why we teach’: Educators tackle tough conversations about race and violence — this time virtually” — “Reading about Brown v. Board of Education over Google Meet. Holding one-on-one Zooms with students struggling with their emotions. Planning lessons on criminal justice reform for the fall — both in-person and remote, in case school buildings don’t reopen.”

USA Today: “ George Floyd. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. What do we tell our children?” — “Should we tell the children? How? Those are among the many questions parents are asking after the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. Many white parents wonder whether to talk with their kids at all, while parents of color swallow their grief and fear to have ‘the talk’ once again.”

CNN: “ How to talk to your children about protests and racism” — “As cities and social media explode with anger over the killing of yet another black man at the hands of police, worried parents struggle with how to protect their children from seeing the worst of the violence while simultaneously explaining the ravages of racism.”

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