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Handling Racism: Q&A with a Race Relations Expert

Our mission at News-O-Matic goes well beyond sharing daily news for kids. We seek to inspire the next generation to grow into empathetic, responsible global citizens with respect for people of all backgrounds. That means having honest conversations — however difficult — about race in America.  "Q&A with a Race Relations Expert" is the next installment of our "Handling Racism"

series, a resource that teachers and parents can use to facilitate these conversations with kids.


Last week, News-O-Matic published a series called “Handling Racism.” Each article had steps you can take to learn about racism and work to end it. Beverly Daniel Tatum is a race relations expert. She has written several books about racism and why it is so important to talk about this issue. Those include the bestselling “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” Tatum is also a psychologist who served as the president of Spelman College from 2002 to 2015. That’s the oldest historically black college for women in the United States. It opened in 1881. Tatum (BT) spoke with News-O-Matic (NOM) about discussing racism, learning from history, and creating change. NOM: Why are white Americans hesitant to talk about race and racism? BT: Many white Americans grew up at a time when they were taught that it was impolite to mention someone’s race. And they were encouraged by their parents not to talk about racism. So, many white adults feel very self-conscious talking about these subjects. It makes them feel like they are breaking some unwritten rule they learned at an early age. Some worry that they might say the wrong thing by mistake and offend someone. Some feel embarrassed to talk about racism because they know that people of color have been treated unfairly throughout American history. This knowledge makes some white Americans feel uncomfortable. If they avoid talking about it, they won’t have to experience that discomfort. NOM: Why is it so important for people — and especially kids — to discuss racism? BT: Racism is still a problem in our society. You can’t solve a problem without talking about it. If kids learn to have open and honest conversations about racism in our society, they might be able to change our society for the better. NOM: Do you have advice for kids about having these conversations with their families? BT: Right now, there is a lot in the news about racism. In cities across the nation, many people are protesting racial injustice. It is a good time for kids to talk to parents about what they are seeing in the news and share their questions and concerns. Some parents hesitate to have these conversations with their children because they don’t want to burden or worry them too soon. But when children ask their parents questions, it lets the parents know that their child is ready for such a conversation. Sometimes that is just what a parent needs to get started. NOM: Is that advice different for white children and children of color? BT: The advice is not different. But it is likely that children of color will have had more conversations with their parents about race and racism than white children have had. Because families of color are more directly affected by the impact of racism, the parents in those families may have talked to their children about how to protect themselves when confronted by someone else’s racist behavior. NOM: How important is it to include America’s history in these conversations? BT: It’s very important. Without an understanding of America’s history, it is difficult to understand how racism has caused so much hardship and frustration in communities of color. NOM: How can understanding that history help kids understand racism today? BT: Those who don’t know their history are destined to repeat it.   NOM: What are your hopes for how these conversations can create change in America? BT: You can’t solve a problem without talking about it. Conversations can raise awareness. Awareness can lead to purposeful activity. And purposeful activity can lead to change.  NOM: Is there anything else you’d like to share about your work? BT: It’s OK to notice differences. Being “color-blind” is not helpful. Everyone wants to be seen in the fullness of their experiences. They just don’t want to be discriminated against because of those physical differences.

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