Posted on May 22, 2020

We Need More White Parents to Talk to Their Kids About Race. Especially Now.

Chandra White-Cummings, Washington Post, May 22, 2020

{snip} A virus is a race-neutral issue, right? Wrong.

First the nation’s president dubbed the coronavirus the “Wuhan virus” because the infection appears to have originated from that city in China. {snip}

In the black community, the theory that the pandemic would be an equalizer fell apart quickly. Black communities across the country are racking up disparate death counts, with some families losing multiple family members. {snip} The growing consensus is that preexisting race-based health disparities are a significant factor in these alarming numbers.

Add to the mix white agitators protesting state-issued stay-at-home orders while outfitted in full military gear, carrying automatic weapons and waving Confederate flags, and it is impossible to deny that our society’s endemic race issues have necessitated yet more conversations in my house about race.

{snip} What about white parents? Just as families of color have always had to socialize their children on matters of race, white parents need to socialize their children about race, too.

Socializing kids into a race-based culture is referred to as racial and ethnic socialization (RES). It is the process by which parents and families educate and prepare their children to function in a racialized society like ours. It usually is discussed in research literature as a tool for black parents and generally serves two main purposes: to educate children about their heritage and to prepare them to face racism, discrimination, stereotypes and a host of other race-related issues.

“The main thing I think [black] parents do … is that they try to infuse their home environments with positive, affirming images of African American people,” says Mia Smith-Bynum, associate professor of Family Science at the University of Maryland School of Public Health. “That may be decorating your home with cultural artifacts, making sure that your kids have an African American peer group, exposing them to [ethnocentric] literature and culture — all sorts of things where kids can see themselves.”


“We know that RES is helpful to reduce the risk for mental health disorders and to foster strong ethnic identity,” says Erlanger Turner, assistant professor at Pepperdine University and president of the American Psychological Association Division 37, the Society for Child and Family Policy and Practice. “[It] can also help children to develop positive self-esteem and promote resilience.”

So why should white parents socialize their children on race?

“There are so many messages in the broader culture that whiteness is both normative and also more highly valued, so white parents have to very intentionally counter those messages in how they communicate with their kids,” Lee says.

Another reason? Overt acts of hate are increasing. {snip}


So what should racial socialization look like for white families?


  1. Normalize nonwhite ethnicities by including books, movies, TV shows and other cultural expressions by people of color alongside those by whites, and expanding your social, professional and faith circles to include people and families of different ethnicities and doing the same for your kids. {snip}
  2. Educate yourself and your kids accurately about history. Correct the prevailing narrative that promotes a benevolent and peaceful beginning to this country by reading accounts like the New York Times’s 1619 project, and The Washington Post’s project about teaching the truth about slavery in schools. Include historical accounts involving Japanese Americans and Native Americans as well as other ethnicities.