Handling Racism: Sharing Safely
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. “Sharing Safely” is the third article in our “Handling Racism” series, a resource that teachers and parents can use to facilitate these conversations with kids.
This week, News-O-Matic wrote about how important it is to talk about racism. However, these discussions are often not easy. That can be especially true when the you (or the other person) have very strong feelings about the issue. Learning ways to share a conversation about racism safely can help. News-O-Matic asked experts about starting these talks — and handling them the right way.
Justina Schlund helps lead an organization that focuses on social and emotional learning (SEL). Dr. Phyllis Ohr is the child psychologist for News-O-Matic. And Dwayne Reed is a 4th-grade teacher in Chicago, Illinois. They each shared tips with News-O-Matic about how to hold these talks successfully and safely.
HOW TO BEGIN
“First, consider whether everyone feels comfortable having these conversations,” Schlund explained. “Before talking to your friend, imagine yourself in their shoes,” she added. “Think about how they may be feeling given their experiences.”
For example, you may be a person of color who has experienced racism — and your friend is white. Or you may be white and want to talk about racism with a black friend. “Remember that our experiences are not the same,” Schlund said. “It’s OK to say something like, ‘I don’t know exactly how you feel, but I’m here to listen if you want to talk about it.’”
CREATE A SAFE SPACE
Another important part of having these talks is creating a safe space. Reed shared about having conversations about racism and police violence with his students, who are mostly black. He said one key part is “making sure that everyone has the opportunity to be heard.”
However, Reed added, “The people who it impacts should have the most space.” He said, “This isn’t something that’s forced” though. “If they don’t want to talk, they don’t have to talk.”
Schlund added that it’s key to “make sure you’re talking about your experience.” She said to “avoid asking a friend to ‘speak for their race.’” That means asking what it’s like to be black, white, or another race. Instead, focus on what the person you’re talking to has been through in their own life. “Remember that people of one race have many different opinions,” Schlund added.
These conversations can bring up a lot of strong emotions. “Be responsive to your friends’ feelings,” Schlund explained. “If they are uncomfortable, you may want to pause to talk about how they’re feeling and why. You can say something like, ‘I just want to check on how you’re feeling right now.’” Respect all of the different emotions that come up for others — and for you.
It can be painful for people to share times they faced racism directly. “White people should listen when people of color share their experiences,” Reed said. “Really, really listen.” That may be the most powerful way you can show respect during these important conversations.
You’re not always going to have the same opinions as others. Ohr said sometimes you need to say, “I understand where you’re coming from, and I don’t agree with it.”
Ohr added that it’s OK to end a conversation if it isn’t working. Talking about racism may feel too hard at times, or you may be frustrated with the person you’re speaking with. “Know yourself, and know what your triggers are,” Ohr said. “Sometimes the best thing that we can do is walk away,” she explained.
ASK GOOD QUESTIONS
Questions are such an important part of a conversation. They can steer the talk to a helpful place — or they can be hurtful. Schlund shared a list of questions that can be part of these conversations:
What are the pieces of your identity that are most important to you?
How often do you talk about race in your family?
Do you ever feel you are treated differently (either better or worse) because of your race?
How does that make you feel?
In school, do you feel like teachers look like you and understand your experiences?
GROW AND GO FORWARD
Safe and open talks help friends build their relationships. “Race is often an important part of who we are,” Schlund explained. “Being able to talk about race with friends helps you have a better understanding of each other’s experiences and backgrounds.”
So, what do you do now? “You and your friends can work together to come up with ways to respond to racism you may have experienced, seen, or heard about,” the expert added. “Work together toward a shared goal.”