Like most parents, I think (I hope?), I have always prioritized kindness to my kids. After school, my first question isn’t “how did your math test go?” but “who were you kind to?” I don’t care as much about their grades, as I do about whether they are a good friend, inclusive, and respectful to their classmates.
Recognizing that “nice” isn’t the same as kind, I’ve also taught them that being kind sometimes means being brave and bold and standing up for what is right. Kindness doesn’t mean being comfortable, and it certainly doesn’t mean having people like you. Sometimes kindness means loudly and empathically pissing people off – especially if those people are bullies or bigots or generally just assholes. We’ve talked time and time again about being an upstander, even when it’s hard.
I’ve also tried to make sure that my parenting prioritized inclusivity. We’ve talked about differences and how wonderful that is. We’ve had several conversations about proactively expanding their social circles to include a wide range of people, and the importance of celebrating differences. Tolerance is bullshit; acceptance is key.
But what I am realizing is that while these things are all well and good, they are not enough. Kindness and inclusivity just doesn’t cut it.
This graphic on Curious Parenting’s Instagram explains perfectly why inclusivity isn’t the be-all, end-all.
“A few years back, a black girl joined my classroom of mostly white two-year-olds halfway through the school year. Living in mostly-white Portland, meeting her was the first direct experience many of them had with someone who didn’t look like them,” they wrote in the post. “One child asked if her skin was dirty. Another child told her she couldn’t be Elsa, she could only be Moana.”
I think we would all agree that this is not okay. Chances are their parents would have been embarrassed (and maybe even horrified) if they had known their kids said these things. In fact, they probably thought they were raising their kids to be kind and inclusive. They maybe had bookshelves filled with books like Woke Baby and Feminist Baby on their bookshelves. They probably watched shows like Maya and Miguel and movies like Akeelah and the Bee. They probably told their kids to treat all people equally. They might have even talked about white privilege and what it means.
Were these things wrong? Was my emphasis on kindness wrong?
It just wasn’t enough.
“I’ve gotten a lot of responses from parents asking why we need to teach anti-racism. Why can’t we just teach children to be kind and inclusive? This is why,” Curious Parenting writes on Instagram.
Kind and inclusive still causes harm. Kind and inclusive doesn’t actively work to dismantle systemic racism. Kind and inclusive isn’t good enough.
So if it isn’t enough to teach our kids to be kind and inclusive, what should we do?
Well, we need to teach our kids to be boldly, unapologetically, affirmatively anti-racist.
“Anti-racism recognizes that racist beliefs have permeated our culture and created systemic problems,” Curious Parenting writes. “Rather than just talking about it, anti-racism asks that we actively work against it.”
Anti-racist parenting isn’t a one-and-done type of thing. It isn’t something we can check off our list. It doesn’t sitting back and watching 42 or The Hate U Give with our kids and the sitting back to think that our job is done. It doesn’t mean sharing an out-of-context quote by Martin Luther King, Jr. or sharing an article on social media.
It is an ongoing, never-ending, unwavering effort.
Is that a big responsibility? Yes, it is.
Is it necessary? ABSOLUTELY.
But what does it mean to be an anti-racist parent?
Well, it means doing the things that Curious Parent mentions in their post – things like talking about how skin color impacts the way people see us, intentionally reading and learning about the history of racism and the civil rights movement, pointing out stereotypes when we see them, and giving specific examples of white privilege in their daily lives.
It means watching When They See Us and The 13th and reading Stamped — and talking to your kids about the racism explained in those documentaries and books. It means writing letters to your school administrators to get rid of Columbus Day and educating teachers to be affirmatively anti-racist. It means telling your kids about your own shameful — albeit unintentional — racist behaviors and blunders. It means confronting family and friends who share racist ideas in front of your kids. It means taking your kids to those protests and asking them to make a Black Lives Matter sign with you — and then putting that sign in your front yard.
And perhaps most importantly, it means acknowledging — to your kids and to yourself — that none of that will ever be enough, because it is lifelong, constant work.
I think lots of white parents feel unqualified to take all of this on. After all, we’re confronting our own biases and inherent racism ourselves. But as Ijeoma Oluo says, “The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to be free of racism to be an anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself.”
White parents, if you’re confused and overwhelmed, start with yourself. And let your kids see you confronting those racist behavior and biases. In fact, Ijeoma Oluo’s book So You Want To Talk About Race is a great place to start.
Then keep going.
Anti-racism doesn’t mean anti-white. It doesn’t mean progressive perfection. It doesn’t mean wallowing in shame or guilt. And it certainly doesn’t mean drowning Black folks with white tears.
It means bold and intentional action. Plain and simple.
White parents, our intentions may have been good, but the impact has been harmful. We’ve been side-stepping racism for decades – hell, for generations. We need to do the hard work and heavy lifting. NOW. There is no time to waste and there is no room for hesitation.
Lives – Black lives – literally depend on it.
Bottom line: Not being an asshole isn’t enough. Kind and inclusive isn’t even enough. Only bold and radical anti-racism will do.
So let’s get to it.
This article was originally published on