I have had the question of "when should I talk to my kids about anti-racism?" brought to me several times, and the answer I often give is "how old do you think Black children, Indigenous children, and other children of color start to learn about how they will be affected by racism?" And what strikes me is how often the parents and guardians are startled by that question and subsequent realization. I am reminded of how white people move through this world with a level of privilege so ingrained that it is often missed how present it is. When it comes to children, to not have to worry about the necessary conversations about how to keep themselves safe and how to keep themselves safe in the world is a privilege that should not be taken for granted at all. To be able to raise children with a full sense of innocence, and not have it tainted by how the world sees them is a gift. And it's a gift that is often taken for granted.
I remember posing a question to Black people about a year ago or so. I asked them if they remembered when their parents or guardians had "the talk" with them and/or when they had "the talk" with the children they are raising. The talk in question isn't the one that's tied to the birds and the bees (old school reference there), but rather the talk previously mentioned. The talk about how to stay safe, how to protect themselves, how to be non-threatening. And among those answers, I saw ages as young as 4. Four years old, and these children are learning how to not be seen as a threat. Black children are rarely seen as children. They are often looked at and treated as adults. The innocence of childhood is often ripped from Black children because of this very warped concept. I think about when the talk was had with me. I was 5 years old. I remember my mother telling me how important it was that I stayed by her side so that it was always known that I was a child, and I have someone who's responsible for me. I was taught to never question what was said to me or asked of me, never to talk back, and to make sure I was smiling as often as possible. At 5 years old, this didn't make a lot of sense to me, but I did it because my mother told me to. Thinking back now, I realize my mom was doing everything in her power to make seem like the young and innocent child that I was, as she knew I wouldn't always be viewed that way. And to think back now about how my mom had to navigate that - having the conversation with a child, while also reconciling that some of her daughter's innocence was being stripped away. Add that to the fact that she also had a 2 year old son who would also need that talk as well, and that one would come with even more reminders of the fact that her children would not always been seen as children.
The parents and guardians of white children need to have these conversations, and they need to have them early. The conversations need to not only be about how to be an active anti-racist, but they also need to be about what Black children, Indigenous children, and other children of color are learning from their parents and guardians about how to move through the world. It is important for them to know what their classmates and friends are learning as this allows them to recognize what bigotry looks like when they see it. They need to know what to look for in situations where they are with their non white friends. They need to understand that how they behave and show up isn't a universal experience, and that if not mindful, they can be placing their friends in harms way. And situations like that happen far too often, usually because of a lack of knowledge involved.
Children are sponges. They are curious, they want to learn, and they will find ways to learn things, and without guidance they will find something to learn from, or someONE to learn from. And that can be any number of things, and often times, not what you would want them to learn or believe in. Let your children be curious. Be curious with them. When you make the decision to be an active anti-racist and to decolonize your thinking and your behavior, there is a level of unlearning that needs to be done. The things that you are unlearning are things that you likely do not what the children in your care to have to unlearn later in life, so wouldn't it make sense to have them be curious with you? There are many ways to have the conversations with children, even young children, it just takes the commitment and the dedication to do so.
Have your children be involved now. Have your children learning early. Have your children be part of the effective change you want to be a part of.