If you identify as White and read my recent blog post on 57 Privileges of White Parents (which is now longer than that thanks to readers who got in touch and added more ideas), you might have come away surprised (shocked?) by the privileges you have, you might be wondering “well, now I know this, what should I do about it?”.
This post aims to help with this. The Black Lives Matter movement is having a moment right now. It’s all over the news, companies are making pledges, and maybe we will see meaningful political change. (I also hope that the moment will expand to include the indigenous peoples who have been similarly impacted by racism over a period of hundreds of years.)
But if Black Lives Matter ends up being just a moment, we will have failed. If, a year from now, this is regarded as an interesting footnote in history and nothing has really changed, we will have failed. One of the things that may bring about this failure is if we White people do the things we often do when faced with something uncomfortable: read books. Talk about it amongst ourselves. And then don’t do anything else.
We SHOULD read books (because it saves Black people the labor of having to educate each of us individually). We SHOULD talk about it amongst ourselves (so we can better understand what we’re reading).
And then we need to do something. We shouldn’t wait until we feel like we understand everything perfectly and can take exactly the right action. That moment will never come – and then we won’t do anything. And we will have failed.
Don’t wait. Take one action today. And then another tomorrow. And another the next day. This is what will keep the momentum of the movement going so real change can happen.
This list is roughly ordered by the level of knowledge and commitment needed to take the action in question. If you’re a newbie to this work, start at the top. If not, shuffle down the list until you find something you haven’t done yet.
As with my last post, this list does not aim to be comprehensive. If you’re already taking an action that isn’t on this list, keep doing it (and let me know about it!). It also specifically focuses on actions that families can take, with priority given to actions that involve children.
Let’s get started!
- Donate to organizations that work with Black children and families (this is just a starter list; there are many more organizations and you may like to look for one in your own community). Note that these focus heavily on reproductive health services because of the negative interactions that Black and Indigenous women may have with traditional reproductive healthcare providers, which is one cause of their exceptionally (unforgivably) high pregnancy-related mortality rate:
- Loom – a Black, woman-founded and -run sexual health center
- The Black Bay Area Birth Fund
- Any Historically Black College and University
- Self-Enhancement, Inc., a Portland, OR-based organization with a mission to guide under-served youth to reach their full potential
- Habitat for Humanity, which builds strength, stability, and self-reliance for families through shelter
- Planned Parenthood, which provides reproductive healthcare
- Black Women Birthing Justice, an Oakland, CA-based organization that works to ensure that all progressive movements understand and support birth justice
- National Association of Professional and Peer Lactation Supporters of Color, a Detroit, MI-based organization which aims to transform communities of color through policy, breastfeeding, and skilled lactation care.
- Changing Woman Initiative, a Santa Fe, NM-based, Navajo-run organization that provides culturally integrated healthcare for the Native American/Indigenous women and families in the communities they serve.
- Read books with diverse characters to your child
- Try to make sure these books are authored by a person of the race depicted in the book, to support these authors and avoid microaggressions in the text of books written by people of a different race than the book’s protagonist.
- Don’t just stick to the text. Use co-constructive techniques to encourage your child to think critically about what you’re reading. Point out where books feature only White characters, or White characters are the protagonists and characters with darker skin are in supporting roles. Discuss some reasons for this.
- Read books that have diverse characters just living their lives (so children don’t learn to associate Black people only with racism), as well as with books specifically about racism. And then discuss the themes in the book with your child!
- Buy these books from Black-owned bookstores!
- Buy toys for your child that diversity their collection
- Dolls and action figures with a range of skin colors
- Play food from different cultures
- Crayons in a range of skin tones
- Give these books and toys as gifts at birthday parties and holidays
- Watch shows and movies with your child where people of non-dominant cultures are the leading characters. This could lead to a discussion on how the characters’ lives are similar or different to your own, or it may need no discussion – simply showing your child that people of non-dominant cultures can be the protagonists and leaders will help counter the white-centered media most children consume
- Take your child to musical performances, art galleries, poetry readings, book signings, and other events by artists of non-dominant cultures; eat at restaurants featuring cuisines from other cultures and/or learn to cook these foods at home
- Use holidays (MLK Day, Thanksgiving, Columbus/Indigenous People’s Day, Juneteenth…) and events (Black History Month) to discuss difficult topics like slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, and the origins of White history in the U.S. And talk about these events during the rest of the year as well.
- When children ask questions, answer in simple terms, but honestly. Sample questions and answers could include:
- Why are people camping on the side of the road?
- Because they don’t have enough money to pay for somewhere else to stay. This can happen to anyone, but sometimes people don’t think that people who have dark colored skin can do jobs as well as people who have light colored skin, so the people with dark colored skin find it more difficult to earn money to pay for somewhere to live
- Why do people go to jail?
- Often we say that people who do things we think of as being wrong go to jail, but sometimes people do these things because it seemed like the best choice available to them at the time. And people who have dark colored skin are more likely to go to jail for doing the same thing wrong as people with light colored skin.
- Why do people have different colored skin?
- We all have stuff in our skin called melanin, which helps to protect us from the sun. Melanin makes your skin dark. People whose families lived in places that are closer to the equator, where it’s sunny a lot, have more melanin in their skin so their skin is darker. We call the color of their skin “Black,” even though it isn’t really black. People whose families lived in colder places don’t have as much melanin in their skin so their skin is lighter. We call the color of their skin “White,” even though it isn’t really white. Your skin color can’t change, and it won’t wash off.
- For more ideas that also discuss police violence, multiracial families, activism, gender identity, holidays, and more, here is a list of 100 race-conscious language examples.
- Why are people camping on the side of the road?
- Read more to deepen your own knowledge; this will enable you to be more comfortable with these topics and answer your child’s questions openly. There’s a great list of resources here that’s organized by where you are in your learning.
- Seek out opportunities for your child to engage with children of different backgrounds, especially in environments where white people are not in charge. This may include:
- Summer camps run by organizations like the YMCA or your local city; if these programs are free or very cheap for you then you could consider funding a scholarship for another child to join the same program or perhaps the high-end program that your child would normally have joined
- Sports leagues
- Library story times, cultural events, and celebrations
- Support your child in making friends with children of diverse backgrounds. Seeing people as individuals (rather than as group members) is key to overcoming implicit biases.
- Diversify your social media feed – there’s a list of 50+ people of non-dominant cultures whose work intersects the parenting space at the bottom of this page. Or follow me on Facebook or Instagram – I’m sharing one of these accounts every day, so you can just follow them one at a time. When you get information on parenting from different sources, the ideas you’ll want to discuss with your children shift as well.
- Learn about the Native American people on whose traditional lands you now live (I live on land that was the traditional homeland of the Chochenyo Ohlone and I pay the Shuumi Land Tax in acknowledgement of this).
- [Optional preliminary step: Read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ The Case for Reparations in The Atlantic] Then join a reparations group – there are a few on Facebook (I won’t publish direct links to discourage trolling). People of non-dominant cultures post to request money and other resources, and White people fulfil these requests. I like participating because it’s a way to bypass all the middlemen (people?) and get money directly into the hands of people who need it. It shouldn’t be our main/only action, though, because it does nothing to disrupt the balance of power (it’s still a White person deciding who is ‘deserving’ of funding…).
- Talk with other parents about the anti-racist work you’re doing. When we have these conversations for the sake of ‘virtue signaling,’ they aren’t helpful. When we have them to pave the way for others to take their own actions, they can be very useful. You can tell if you’re virtue signaling by examining whether you engage in anti-racist actions to have good pictures for your social media feed, and if you participate in activities even if nobody is watching/you never discuss them with others.
- Read the book An ABC of Equality with your child (aged birth to around age 5). This book is a great primer for parents and kids to share concepts together and build discussions around abilities, gender, race, class, as well as equity and justice.
- Read the book Not My Idea with your child (age around 5+), whose author trusts white children to be capable of experiencing uncomfortable feelings about racism and also understand that they are key to dismantling white supremacy
- Share stories with your child about how you have grown in your understanding of racial justice. Describe a mistake you made, how that may have hurt someone, how you came to realize it was wrong, and what you did to correct it. Model learning, compassion, and growth for your child surround the topic of racial justice.
- If you get something wrong in a discussion you have with your child, this is also a perfect opportunity to model these traits. You could say something like, “Hey remember what I said last time? I didn’t phrase it exactly right. I did a bit more reading, and here’s what I found…”.
- Discuss “what would you do if…?” scenarios with your child. For example, brainstorm ways they can respond if another child makes a racist comment, or what to do if a teacher says something they disagree with. Give them appropriate language and practice, so they are prepared to stand up for their friends and classmates even in uncomfortable situations.
- Teach your child that urban slang and racial jokes are not ‘cool,’ and what to do if they hear other children using these.
- When someone with whom you interact (a fellow parent, friend, relative, etc.) makes a comment that perpetuates white supremacy, consider challenging it or addressing it, even if the idea makes you feel uncomfortable. One of the least ‘threatening’ ways to do this is to use a statement that includes the phrase “I feel”: “I feel X when you say Y.” Even if you don’t think the other adult will change their mind, we are still modeling the actions we want to inspire our children to take.
- If you’re caught off-guard in the moment and don’t feel that you can speak up, have a conversation with your child afterward about what happened and what are your beliefs on the topic. Then make a plan for what you will say/what action you will take next time it happens. If necessary, get buy-in from your partner (e.g. if family members are making racist comments, who will speak to them about it and what will happen if the comment isn’t corrected?).
- Take your child to see local people of non-dominant cultures who are leaders and activists in action (when safe and appropriate for children to attend). Discuss how they are making positive change in your community
- Teach your child to use their privilege to protect their friends of non-dominant cultures in interactions with the police and other adults – given the chance, your child should be the one to talk and explain the situation
- Vote for candidates of non-dominant cultures for your local school board and Parent Teacher Association.
- Share information about Black Lives Matter-related events with the social media channels used by parents in your child’s class. This will help to keep the momentum going as we continue to take action once media interest moves on to other issues.
- Ask administrators and the Parent Teacher Association what are their plans for purchasing items from Black-owned business. This could include catering, office supplies, insurance…
- When you advocate for special classes, clubs, and activities at your school (or when your child participates in these), check that the racial makeup of the children participating in the activity matches that of the broader school. If not why not? Identify the barriers to participation that some children face (cost, needing a ride home…) and do what you can to overcome these.
- If the racial makeup of the children in the Gifted & Talented program at your school doesn’t match the broader school, ask why not. Then work on distributing the school’s resources equitably for all students (which may involve dismantling the G&T program)
- Campaign and vote for decoupling school funding from property taxes, which has historically resulted in the under-funding of schools attended by children of non-dominant cultures
- Ask your child’s school about their admission policies. Do they give preferential admission for families who already know families at the school? Or any other policies that make it more difficult for families of non-dominant cultures to access the school? Does the school offer scholarships and if so, to whom?
- Ask your child’s school about their anti-racist policy. Do they have one? Can you see it? Does it seem comprehensive? Is the school willing to work with you to strengthen it?
- Ask your child’s school about how they talk with children about issues related to race and racism. Do they take a ‘colorblind’ approach where children are told that all people are the same? Do they actively discuss ongoing systemic racism with the children? Do they leave children with the impression that racism has been ‘fixed’?
- Talk with administrators and teachers about how topics like slavery are being taught in history. Work with your child to challenge the traditional curriculum by asking questions like: “Whose view is presented here?” and “Whose voices are missing?”. You can also supplement with alternative resources like the Curiosity Chronicles.
- Ask teachers what they need from you to teach these topics successfully, which may involve resources or being a vocal advocate to the administration that this work is necessary and should be supported. Individual teachers trying to do this work will likely face pushback from parents and even administration, so be a positive voice that thanks them for this necessary work, encourages them to keep going, and provides whatever they need to help them serve all students equitably in their classroom.
- Ask administrators how they are embedding information about people of non-dominant cultures across the curriculum. This may include: artists in art class; literature in English class; discoveries and inventions in science classes, explorers in geography class…
- Examine the diversity of the teaching staff at your child’s school. Ask administrators about their plans to hire more teachers of non-dominant cultures.
- Ask administrators for data on suspensions and expulsions broken down by race. Ask what administrators are doing to enforce policies fairly, and adjust or remove policies that are habitually unfairly enforced (like rules about wearing hoodies with the hoods up in school, or rules about what hairstyles are acceptable). Students of non-dominant cultures are disproportionately suspended for ‘willful defiance’ or ‘disruption,’ so consider lobbying your school district and/or state government for bans (like the one California passed, up to grade 8) on such suspensions.
- Encourage your school, or church to host a workshop with training for parents and educators, and/or clergy around anti-oppression work, identity exploration, and youth focused social justice education. Look for local organizations like this one run by people of non-dominant cultures to help.
- If your school has School Resource Officers (who are sworn law enforcement officers), ask your school or school district to end the contract with the local law enforcement authority and replace these individuals with counselors. More information on this here (the episode goes beyond school shooter trainings to look more broadly at school safety considerations) here and here.
With all of these activities that don’t directly involve your child (e.g. talking with teachers, administrators, and elected officials), make sure your child knows what you’re doing and that you’re involving them in this work to the extent that it’s possible. A big part of doing anti-racist work is bringing our children along with us, so this becomes a normal part of how they live their lives, rather than something they need to learn about as adults.
Once again this list benefited from the awesome parents in the free Your Parenting Mojo Facebook group who helped me to expand on my original list of 22 items. Gratitude to E.B., K.R., D.W., R.C., K.M., and M.P.)