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Teaching the Littles about Racism

Updated: Nov 6, 2023

Long time #homeschool momma here, and if you're a fan of social-media-type-quizzes, I am the potato-head-homeschool-momma type. Meaning, I tend to create my own curriculum, leaning heavily on unit studies, so I can focus on topics that really matter to us. #Racism has been a topic of discussion every single year. This year we're really diving in as not only are the boys a little older, but I am increasingly concerned that they not just value all lives, which causes many to claim they don't see color at all, but that they are engaged in the issue of racism and appreciate the disadvantages and threats their friends of color endure so that they can protect them.

Yes, I am white. Yes, that allows me great privilege. I recognize that not only am I limited in my ability to truly educate my children about racism and I certainly have no authority on the matter to give it voice in a public setting, yet I feel if I seek to support my clients in their quest towards vitality, that means addressing traumas and being proactive about protecting the future of those in my care. I also recognize that as our country transitions out of this pandemic, more families are opting to educate their children at home. Empowering our littles through education, whether for building a foundation of love for nature, creating habits for healthy living, or for developing empathy for others is all part of the same mission for me. I've been homeschooling as long as I've been in healthcare so here's my approach. May it serve you positively.

Think Deeper than "Racism is Bad"

As a white person, my understanding of racism has largely been about racial slurs, discrimination, and hate crimes based on someone's skin color. I was educated about the Civil Rights Movement and recognized that about fifty years ago, our country identified direct, in-your-face, and overt racism as illegal and ultimately, it became less socially acceptable. However, until the past few years, I think I have somewhat lived within the privileged population who believed that this movement meant we are now within the post-racial society. I truly thought we were healing, embracing differences, and that racism, at least of the overt variety, lived far outside my circle of friends and family. Racism, I thought, was something of the past, something my grandparent's generation experienced, something of an entirely different time. I might even have assumed that racism was largely an issue in the south. This. Is. White. Privilege. One could even argue that this is the new racism. Here is even a discussion on "race exhaustion."

Systemic Racism is Invisible

Racism is an invisible system of discrimination and injustice that was established and upheld by our social institutions. It keeps People of Color in a permanent second-class status. An example is the effects of red lining, where racism presents itself in wealth. Between 1934 and 1962, the government backed $120 billion dollars in home loans, but this was refused to People of Color or those living near them forcing poor Black Americans into poor urban centers (still happening today). Ultimately, this established our "ghettos" and maintained segregation. This also deterred investments in these neighborhoods and prevented People of Color to inherit wealth from their families as white families have been privileged. This practice impacted education as well. Our property taxes fund our educational systems so those families segregated to poor communities also had less money to invest in their future through education, therefore, limiting opportunities, resources, jobs, and money.

Among American high schools with mostly black and Latino students, only 74% offer Algebra II as a class; just 66% offer chemistry. The percentages for mostly white schools are much higher. African American students are also more likely to be suspended as white students - even in preschool. Here's another interesting article on segregated schools. Children of Color are more likely to be assigned to special education and least likely to be part of gifted programs even though they are just as likely to have special gifts and higher intelligence as whites. The least experienced, least trained, least educated, most alternatively educated teachers are more likely to be assigned to the children of color. That's accepted in our society, and many blame these issues on the stereotype that Children of Color suffer inequalities such as these because they grow up without fathers (most black fathers do live with their children but are not as often married to their child's mother). Being unmarried does not equate abstinence. In fact, CDC data shows that black fathers are more likely than their white and Hispanic counterparts to feed, eat with, bathe, diaper, dress, play with, and read to their children on a daily basis.

Often overt racists will claim these issues are not really about racism or argue that systemic racism doesn't exist. They claim black families haven't taken responsibility for their culture by avoiding gangs, marrying well, getting better jobs, and avoiding public assistance all while ignoring the fact that it is white boys who are walking into schools, churches, synagogues, mosques, movie theaters, Wal-Marts, shopping malls, offices, college campuses, bars, concerts, or pretty much anywhere and mass murdering innocent people and children.

When it comes to healthcare, you could write a book about racial bias, and in fact, people have and I will at some point into the future discuss why women of color (WOC) are dying four times more often during childbirth in the United States than white women and why black women are less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer, but twice as likely to die from it. (Here's more and data on life expectancy between black and white people.) Our history of segregating housing, People of Color are more likely to live near companies that spew toxic fumes into the air and water, and liver farther from grocery stores with fresh food. They are more likely to live in cities with crumbling infrastructure and toxic paint. How can children attain optional health and live in communities with rats and roaches. It isn't a coincidence that People of Color have higher rates of cancers, asthmas, and heart disease. To deny systemic racism is to deny a huge body of evidence that racial bias affects almost every facet of American life.

Another example is mass incarceration. Shortly after the Civil Rights Movement, prisons became privatized, for-profit businesses. Fill those cells and make more money! To no one's surprise the prison system grew from 200K incarcerations to more than 2.4M - more than any country in the world! Who filled those cells? People of Color. More African American adults are under correctional control today than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War even began. Black men are incarcerated at six times that of white men and the US Sentencing Commission released a report (2013) showing that African American men's prison sentences were, on average, 20% longer than white men's prison's sentences when convicted of similar crimes. Worse, this racial gap in sentencing has been widening over the past decade, not equalizing.

Black men aren't inherently more dangerous. Even their disadvantaged circumstances can't explain this. Might one consider that in our post-racial society laws have been written that specifically target black communities? Non-violent drug offenses have held sentences on average of 58.7 months for black men, yet violent offenses by white men average a sentence of only 64.7 months. The sentencing for the possession of crack (lower purity, cheaper, more common among POC) was 100-times harsher than the sentence for cocaine (high purity, expensive, more common among whites).

This isn't just about harsher sentencing or the writing of laws that target POC, but black communities are policed more harshly. They are more routinely stopped for "looking suspicious" and 2-26x more likely to be arrested (depending on city and crime) for the same things white people do. Walter Scott was pulled over for having a broken tail light, but was shot five times in the back by a cop.

People who are convicted of crimes and then later exonerated based on DNA findings are disproportionally black. Black kids are more likely to be tried as adults than white kids and more likely to be sentenced to life in prison and even after release, black former inmates are less likely to get callbacks from potential employers than white former inmates, regardless of the crime committed. A large 2004 University of Chicago study submitted thousands of resumes to a huge variety of employers, and all the resumes were completely identical -- except for the applicant's name. Lakisha and Jamal received half the callbacks from employers than Emily or Brendan despite having literally identical resumes. (This particular study's link is now broken, but here is another one, and another similar one from the UK, and yet another from Australia. This article is also interesting.) Read about the historical context of denying incarcerated people their right to vote.

Police brutality is front and center of the race conversation right now. Twice a week in our country, white cops kill black suspects, most of which are unarmed. The consequences are minimal, if any. The police themselves have admitted that they've witnessed the use of excessive force (84%) and harassment based on skin color (25%). Black people are three times more likely to be treated with force by cops than white people. Here are books for talking to children about police brutality.

How do we Address these issues with our Children?

We have to acknowledge it. The system is unfair. Racism is a powerful institution built on 400 years of slavery, 150 years of overt discrimination, and 50+ more years of covert discrimination. A legacy that long doesn't just disappear overnight. What are you doing to educate your white children to not just avoiding killing and discriminating against People of Color, but what are you doing so they become part of this social change? How are you educating them so they aren't colorblind, but rather cognizant, proactive, and protective of their Friends of Color. How can we prevent further dehumanization of People of Color by engaging ourselves and our children in the issue of racism?

While all men were created equal, we do not all have the same playing field. This racist incident at Loyola Blakefield demonstrates how white folk often feel as if these incidents are isolated misfortunes, and once the person who committed the assault is identified and eradicated from the school, all will be well again. However, this sentiment wasn't expressed from the black community. In fact, they weren't even surprised this happened. Students of color face racism daily, in implicit and explicit ways, in their neighborhoods, in the hallways, in the locker room, and in the media they consume. They cannot escape it. While we may believe we are not racist because we fail to tolerate racial slurs and are inclusive, this doesn't add up to an experience of equality for others. We can't simply be "not racist." We need to become proactive.

Organizing a "Privilege Walking Lesson" might be helpful to introduce the topic of privilege. Of course one will want to monitor the emotional experiences of the students participating especially if this is conducted after a crisis incident related to privilege. It's important that students understand that everyone has the potential of expressing privilege. A class of all African Americans for example, may focus on what it means to experience privilege if they are Christian or are bilingual.

Students may write a paper defining privilege or create a T-chart listing both the advantages and disadvantages of being either a boy or a girl, and share their responses with classmates. They may even illustrate privilege, how it skews our personal interactions and judgments, how it contributes to or blinds us from identifying systemic barriers for those who do not possess a certain privilege, thereby creating or perpetuating inequality. Consider that white people are assumed to be law abiding until they show that they are not, while People of Color are routinely assumed to be criminals or potential criminals until they show that they are not. Students may explore whether the United States should be a color blind nation? Is it important to discuss concepts of privilege and prejudice? What does it mean when someone says "people need to pick themselves up by their bootstraps," and how does this relate to the concept of privilege?

This article on class and wealth in public education may be great for older students to review. Not only should students engage in learning about our country's history of slavery, but also its history with overt discrimination and now, covert discrimination. Why is it important to learn about segregation if this happened a long time ago? Can your children identify communities that are segregated still today? Here is a privilege aptitude test. (Answer yes or no, and give yourself a point for every yes.) How did you feel about this activity? Can you think of other questions that should have been asked? If you created your own survey, what questions would you include? Would you remove or rephrase any of the questions? How does your total score compare to others? What does white privilege mean to you? Starting today, how can you raise your awareness about privilege with your friends and family?

Here are additional resources for teaching about privilege. This is from a PBS documentary that details the brutal killing of a Black man in 1998. This resource comes with a full lesson on how to discuss the details of this documentary and provides a link to a resource library or other documentaries, as well as resources to teach privilege in the classroom. Another teaching aide from the book, Teaching Race in the Age of Obama, offers lessons on racism, privilege, and color blind perspectives using a matrix of privilege and oppression that addresses the many areas of race relations in today's society. Now if you've explored racism, overt and otherwise, and privilege, consider ways you may be unconsciously expressing racism.

Micro-aggressions are Dehumanizing

Have you ever felt as if something someone said to you was a little underhanded, a little bit of a dig, but it wasn't overt enough to really call it out? Oftentimes unconscious and automatic, micro-aggressions are brief, subtle verbal or non-verbal exchanges that send denigrating messages to the recipient because of their group membership whether race, gender, age, socioeconomic status, sexuality, language, immigrations status, phenotype, accent, or surname. The initiator of this message may even be totally unaware that they engaged in this behavior but it doesn't negate the accumulative impact made or the way it dehumanizes and erodes away the victim's confidence. Little by little these micro-aggressions wear away at a person's well-being and suggest to them they don't belong.

Micro-aggressions have been defined as a damaging form of systemic racism used to disempower minorities or others who lie in the margins of society. These are layered assaults. Students of Color who endure micro-aggressions are particularly impact as this creates a hostile learning environment and ultimately undermines their ability to succeed academically. Consider a teacher who tells a student, "You speak English very well," and intended this as a compliment but the student may feel excluded, as if this infers that they aren't really part of the mainstream culture. These hidden insults within what may seem like a compliment are outside the level of conscious awareness of the perpetrator, often, but are none-the-less incredibly damaging.

Learn your own biases and fears that might cause you to target a group. Practice humility. It can be hard to identify as someone who isn't racist and also recognize that you have some dehumanizing behaviors. Here is a speaking series on micro-aggressions you may find enlightening.

Explore Institutional Racism

Research institutional racism. Here is a curriculum for 8th graders in understanding institutional racism verses individual racism. Read the book, Black Power: The Politics of Liberation, written in 1967 by Stokely Carmichael, a political scientist. This book dives into the core of racism in the U.S. and how the traditional political processes can be reformed for the future. Individual racism can be more readily identified, but institutional racism is not as easy to spot because it is more subtle and ultimately, tolerated.

Dr. Zimmer, a local chiropractor, voices on his facebook page (March 27th, 2020) a common belief about systematic racism - that it doesn't exist. He dismisses Dave, a black man engaging in Dr. Zimmer's request for his "friends" to share examples of systemic racism which he argues is only an excuse black people make to avoid taking responsibility for their "bad choices."

I blast this chiropractor here on my blog because I want to give evidence to the racism that exists right here in my neighborhood among prominent, educated people - not just people, but my colleagues. My circle. I have clients who see this man for chiropractic services. He's a racist and not even a covert racist - a full-fledged, bonafied, dehumanizing racist and completely ignorant of that reality. I've had prospective clients call my office and share that they are black, or their partner is black, and they ask if I'd be willing to see them as a client. I always responded utterly baffled and completely unclear why they even felt they had to ask, which I now recognize as my own white privilege.

I've previously shared my own short-sightedness regarding racism in this post but I have to admit as well, that recently while working in a Mind Body Skills group, we were utilizing geneograms to evaluate our own ancestral trauma and in doing so, I had to admit to myself for the first time and also to my peers, two of whom were men of color, that my own family had lines of racism. My step-mother is an overt racist. There is no denying this and I've never tried. In fact, I immediately spoke out in great disgust and our family has had no relationship with her because of it. This has been about fifteen years ago now, but it always baffled me how my father tolerated this behavior. Then I realized, only a racist would marry a woman who ever uses "the-word-that-shall-not-be-mentioned-here" but especially when she does it commonly and unapologetically.

In coming to this realization, I truly had a bit of identity crisis because I recognized I had sort of written this story for myself that I was willing to accept about the people I loved. Once I accepted that he too was racist, other memories flooded my mind supporting this new insight. How did I look past these ominous moments of racism? As I acknowledged each one, more memories surfaced of my grandfathers and great-grandfather. Part of my own ancestral cell memory holds hate for people who are no different than myself except for the color of their skin. How will that play out in the future of my own children, this memory of hate they've inherited?

I digress. Research U.S. slave history and the civil rights movement, but know that even after legislation passed, it didn't fully mark the end of slavery in our country. In Texas, slaves remained in bondage two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. The holiday Juneteenth was established to celebrate the abolition of slavery in Texas, and it is now considered to be the day for celebrating the emancipation of all slaves (and a day your school may consider recognizing and celebrating). February, Black History Month, is a great opportunity to host an exhibit of Black Classicists or teach children about Civil Rights. We visited the Underground Railroad museum in Cincinnati one year and were profoundly impacted.

In some educational programs, students have joined to create justice-themed events. These conversations can happen even during a time of distance learning and social spacing. Anti-racist groups can be organized for not simply understanding multicultural issues but actively driving out racism. Teaching Tolerance offers resources for incorporating discussions about racism and current events within the classroom.

Study racial bias and how this has influenced U.S. healthcare in the past and continues to do so today, creating great disparities among different racial groups. For example, black veterans have been denied disability pensions by the Union Army in the past, and in the 1930s, the Tuskegee Institute conducted a syphilis study on 600 black men without getting their consent and without providing them treatment for their disease. Not always is this so clear however. Many times patients are unfairly profiled and denied health care or necessary medications for no other reason than their skin color.

Here is an informative educational video on the complex issues and definitions surrounding racism that might be helpful for parents, and older students. This book may also help you identify why it is so hard for white people to talk about racism. I haven't shared much for the littlest littles, but here is a curriculum that offers ideas for pre-school, elementary age, and teen kids.

The data is profound; however, it is also cold in a way that human are not, and to really understand these statistics, and their impact on the real lives of real people, we need to find ways to listen to those people. We can't continue to tell our children that "bad things sometimes happen but most Americans are not like that. There are a few bad people, but mostly, America is very safe." This isn't accurate. American is safe relative to one's skin color. However, we also can't put the responsibility on People of Color to educate us. They are emotionally exhausted.

While this may be hard to share with our children and it's important to know your Black History, it is also important children learn about stories of individuals. Review the news regarding Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot and killed while out for a jog on February 23rd, 2020. Know that not only was this horrifying for his family and his community, but for every black man around the country. A friend of mine, a high school swim coach who happens to be black, shared with me in tears his fear about taking his morning run following this incidence. Another friend of mine, a police officer who is also black, shared with me his fear that his two grown sons live in different states and he knows one runs in the early morning and one in the afternoon. He can't protect them. White men don't fear taking a jog in the afternoon within their neighborhood. Here is discussion regarding black people living their lives and white people having unconscious bias and calling police on them. This is another reason we really loved the Underground Railroad museum in Cincinnati, because the children were given headphones to listen to the stories involving each exhibit from the perspective, and voice, of a child their age. Very impactful.

Finally, here are resources of films, TV series, organizations to follow, podcasts, and books for kids regarding anti-racism. This book may be of interest, Stamped, as it explores racism, antiracism, and you winning the National BooK Award for Nonfiction. Another, Why are the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? Ten more books white people should read. A kid's book about racism. A Ted Talk.

If you have any additional thoughts, suggestions, resources, or critiques, please share. Again, this is an area for which I am not an expert but one I am engaged in understanding better. I want to be part of the social change and I want my children to be part of this change.

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