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How To Talk to Kids About Race

Hi. I am a black mama married to a black man and raising black children in 2015. I am not alone. In fact, there are millions of mothers just like me. We work, we raise our children, we travel, we have hobbies and we do the best we can to take care of their families.

Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that racial injustices have been a huge topic of discussion politically and socially. Call me naive, but I never thought I'd be seeing the things that I'm seeing at this point in my life. Did I expect my kids to grow up in a racist-free world simply because we have a black president? Absolutely not! But if you told me that, at 30 years old, I'd be fearing for my kids' life, I would have laughed at you.

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The reality is this: racism is alive and well. Our children are smarter than we think they are. They are listening, and they're aware of what's happening. As parents, it's our responsibility to talk to them about what's going on. Since my children may be a considered a threat to many, I have already taken this approach with my almost 3-year-old. It's sad that I have to have conversations like this with her, but her life is at stake.

You don't have to be a parent to a darker-hued child to benefit from discussing race relations with your children. I feel children of all backgrounds and ages have a right to know what's going on. Who better to teach them than us?

Here's how to approach the conversation:

1. Be honest

Pretending that we live in a world of harmony and overflowing love does nothing but create a false illusion for children. There are nice people of the world and not-so-nice people of the world. They should know this. Be honest and tell your children that some people judge others based on their appearances and beliefs. Explain to them why it isn't right and help them understand how thinking that way is wrong.

For older children, tossing in historical examples (think: Ruby Bridges), which may help them see things from a younger point of view. Ask them questions, tell them how you feel but, more importantly, avoid lying to them. There ARE problems in our country and worldwide, and they should know about them.

2. Tailor the conversation

No way does my toddler need to know about careless shootings and arrests of children only a few years older than her. Not only will she not understand, but it may scare her. You know your child best. For younger and sensitive children, tailor the conversation in ways that suit their personalities best. Visit cultural museums, watch an age-appropriate program together, read books and have lightweight conversations about race. Simply opening that door can do so much for children of all ages.

When they see us standing up for rights and making our voices heard, naturally, they'll want to do the same. Our children won't have to look far for leaders to change the world. They can look to us.

3. Involve them in change

I struggle to come up with useful solutions to help combat issues going on racially in our country, but, if anything, I can raise forward-thinking children who recognize problems and, more importantly, want change. Attend rallies, marches and community events that acknowledge and fight for change. Expose your children to people who may not look like them.

It's hard for children to know what's going on. If they live in communities where spotting a person of color is a rarity, help your children become comfortable by being around diverse backgrounds. This may not have a direct result in change, but, at the very least, you'll have exposed children who have friends and experiences of various backgrounds.

4. Be a leader

Children do what we do, right? We are their biggest influences. Gandhi said, "Be the change you want to see," and who better to test this theory on than our own children? When they see us upset over the racial tension happening in our nation, they'll get upset. When they see how emotional and frustrated we are about these events, they, too, will develop empathy and understanding. When they see us standing up for rights and making our voices heard, naturally, they'll want to do the same. Our children won't have to look far for leaders to change the world. They can look to us.

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5. Help them discover solutions

I majored in Africana Studies in college. In doing so, I learned critical thinking skills that have lasted me a lifetime. Thinking of solutions is one of my greatest pastimes and, while there is no one way to help "eradicate racism and provide peace to people of all backgrounds in the U.S. and beyond," I do have opinions and thoughts as to what can happen. I will challenge my children with tough questions in hopes that they, too, can help think about solutions and how they can help. They aren't too young. Sooner rather than later, it'll be our children who run the nation.I'd love to have empathetic intelligent beings with open hearts and minds be the ones taking over. Don't you?

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Image by Brittany Minor

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