087: Talking with children about race, with Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum

This episode is part of a series on understanding the intersection of race, privilege, and parenting.  Click here to view all the items in this series.

We’ve laid a lot of groundwork on topics related to race by now: we learned about White privilege in parenting, and White privilege in schools, and even how parents can use sports to give their children advantages in school and in life.

Today my listener Dr. Kim Rybacki and I interview a giant in the field: Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, author of the now-classic book (recently released in a 20th anniversary edition!) Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria: And Other Conversations About Race.

We begin by assessing what is White parents’ responsibility to help dismantle structural racism, and then learn how to discuss race and racism with our children.  And in the next episode in this series I’ll have some really in-depth resources to support you in having these conversations with your own children.

Dr. Tatum was featured in a short piece with Lester Holt on how to talk with children about racial injustice that you might also find helpful – she describes ways you can answer their questions honestly and fully in an age-appropriate way.  You can find a link to the interview on her website here.



Bonilla-Silva, E., (2004). From bi-racial to tri-racial: Towards a new system of racial stratification in the USA. Ethnic and Racial Studies 27(6), 931-950.

Cheney-Rice, Z. (2018, November 11). Bernie Sanders and the lies we tell White voters. New York Intelligencer. Retrieved from http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2018/11/bernie-sanders-and-the-lies-we-tell-white-voters.html

Derman-Sparks, L., & Olsen, J. (2009). Anti-bias education for young children and ourselves. National Association for the Education of Young Children. Available at https://www.naeyc.org/resources/pubs/books/anti-bias-education

Hagerman, M. (2018). White Kids: Growing up with privilege in a racially divided America. New York, NY: New York University Press.

Helms, J. E. (Ed.). (1990). Contributions in Afro-American and African studies, No. 129. Black and White racial identity: Theory, research, and practice. New York, NY, England: Greenwood Press.

King, M.L. (2010). Where do we go from here: Chaos or Community? Boston, MA: Beacon.

Kivel, P. (2017). Uprooting racism: How White people can work for racial justice (4th Ed.). Gabriola Island, B.C.: New Society.

Miller, S. (2017, December 8). Reading race: Proactive conversations with young children. Raising Race-Conscious Children. Retrieved from http://www.raceconscious.org/2017/12/explicitlanguageracebooks/

Roda, A. (2015). Inequality in gifted and talented programs: Parental choices about status, school opportunity, and second-generation segregation. London, U.K.: Palgrave MacMillan.

Stalvey, L.M. (1989). The education of a WASP. Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press.

Sullivan, S. (2014). Good White people: The problem with middle-class White anti-racism. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Tatum, B.D. (2017). Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?. New York, NY: Basic.

Van Ausdale, D.V. & Feagin, J.R. (2001). The first R: How children learn race and racism. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.


About the author, Jen

Jen Lumanlan (M.S., M.Ed.) hosts the Your Parenting Mojo podcast (www.YourParentingMojo.com), which examines scientific research related to child development through the lens of respectful parenting.


  1. Cherly Jeune on April 3, 2019 at 2:56 PM

    Random question, is racism or social inequality a problem or the same like the United States in places like England, Australia, India, etc…
    I ask this because sometimes I wonder if it could be better or more beneficial to move my family out of the country especially with the differences in the approach to education is concerned. I currently have three brown non biracial children ages 6,4, and 8 months.

    • Jen Lumanlan on April 4, 2019 at 12:48 AM

      Thanks for the question, Cherly. I’m not an expert on this, but I do think racism exists in some form in all of these countries, and I imagine it depends a lot on ‘what kind of brown’ your children are… Different groups tend to experience bias in different ways in different countries. In England I think prejudice against Pakistanis and potentially Indians is more widespread than it is in the U.S., and certainly against blacks as well. My impression is that Australia’s problem (and probably Canada’s too) is mostly in recognizing the rights and needs of its indigenous peoples, but I don’t know about other aspects. I believe New Zealand does a decent job in working with indigenous peoples (after many years of traditional colonization) although I’m sure there could still be improvements.

      I’m afraid that moving is unlikely to be a thing that means you don’t have to interact with racism. The Europeans really messed up a lot of the world through colonization, although of course countries had their own problems before that. I’m sorry that I don’t have a better answer for you.

      Are you in the YPM Facebook group? I’m not sure you’ll get answers there, per se, but I’m sure group members would be willing to talk further about it if it would be helpful. https://www.facebook.com/groups/2174808219425589/

    • Heather on May 6, 2019 at 1:17 PM

      Hi! I am currently struggling with this at the moment. I am a white American female living in Zambia, Africa. My husband is a black Zambian and we have two mixed race girls, 3 and 1. In Zambia they are considered “colored” – not a derogatory term here but indicates a biracial person. Their race here means little and although their lighter skin color will bring certain implications, they are mostly positive but the race issues that are present in the US are definitely not present here. At some point we will move to the US and I fear how this will impact my girls particularly that race will be in their face on a regular basis and they will be subjected to the rampant discrimination that happens in the US for black Americans and non Americans.

      Jen I love your podcast and really appreciate that you tackle tough issues like this!

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