How to Talk to White Children about Race, Protests, and George Floyd

White parents must talk to their children about race in order to create a world where these conversations are no longer necessary. Here are a few suggestions on how to explain what is happening in today's headlines. 

By Momentous Institute | Jun 10, 2020
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Around the country and world, Black parents are talking to their children (again) about the death of another Black person at the hands of a white police officer. These conversations are regrettably necessary, as Black children grow up and must learn how to navigate a world that may seem to them as dangerous. But many white parents are also struggling explain what is happening in today’s world related to the death of George Floyd and the subsequent protests.

These conversations are critical for white parents and Black parents alike. While Black parents must have these conversations to keep their children safe and prepare them for the world, white parents must also have conversations in order to create a world where these conversations are no longer necessary. If we are to change race relations for the better for future generations, white parents and children must start having these conversations early and often.

Here are a few suggestions on how to explain George Floyd’s death and the race-related protests to children.

  • Keep it simple – use simple terms that children already understand, and then expand as they ask more complex questions
  • Name race. The fact that George Floyd was Black and the police officer was white are not extra to the story – they are the point of the story. For children to understand what happened, and why protests have followed, they must understand that race was a factor.
  • Explain that this is not an isolated incident. Children may not understand the reason for all of the protests if they think it’s a one-time event. They need to understand that this is a bigger issue.
  • Ensure that we will do what we can to protect them – and others. We do not want children to feel afraid of the police, nor do we want to paint all police in a bad light. We do want children to understand that the system is not designed to protect everyone equally. And we can’t promise that our children, and their friends, will always be safe. But we can assure them that we will do everything we can to protect them, and we must also do everything we can to protect people who do not look like us.
  • Make yourself available for questions. If you don’t know the answer to a question, let them know that you will look into it and get back to them. Give them the freedom to come back later with questions as they sit with the information.

Here is a sample of how you might have this conversation.

“In a city called Minneapolis, there was a man named George. George was Black, which means he had dark skin. He was stopped by a police officer, who was white, which means he had light skin like us. The police officer killed George. This is sad and it might be very confusing for you, because the police are supposed to protect us, not hurt us. And it is important to know that most police officers are good and work hard every day to protect people. But it’s not just that George was killed. It’s that the society we live in is designed to help people who look like us, and sometimes people who have darker skin than us have a very different experience.  This is partly because our country has a long history of treating people differently. This is called racism – when people are treated differently because of the color of their skin.

A lot of people are very upset about George. So in cities all across the country, and around the world, people are doing something called protesting. A protest is when people gather together to have their voices heard when they think something is unfair. Some people are holding signs that say things like, ‘Black Lives Matter.’ Why do you think they might be saying that?

I know we just talked about a lot of things. What are you feeling? What are you wondering? Do you have any questions for me? If you think of any questions later, you can come ask me any time.”

This conversation may be challenging, but it is better to have the conversation directly with children than allow them to gain misinformation from other sources. Consider these conversations an essential first step in creating a future generation of white people who will grow up to challenge racism and change the world for the better for all.