How White Parents of White Children Can Embrace Color-Brave Caregiving
By Amy Heberle, PhD, & Noah Hoch
All parents and guardians can support their young children’s development through anti-racist parenting – or “color-brave caregiving.” However, many White people were raised to avoid talking about race. White parents also have racial privilege, and so do White children, which means that in some ways, color-brave caregiving may look, sound, and feel different for these families compared to families of color.
We have studied how White parents approach anti-racism and color-brave caregiving. We have seen where they get stuck and what helps them feel more confident and effective. Here are our suggestions for White parents of White children:
1. Learn About Whiteness: Many White people have thought very little about their own White racial identities and experiences. Lack of awareness means that White people may not see the ways their own behaviors support racism. To change this, parents can:
Learn about White privilege – the unearned advantages that White people receive, including outsized power to impact laws and other aspects of society. Even though White people can have other identities that are marginalized (like being low-income, LGBTQ+, or disabled), it’s important to recognize that Whiteness always grants some power and privilege. For an introduction to White privilege, check out Peggy McIntosh’s short but influential 1989 article, “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.”
Learn how White identities were built to maintain racist practices. For a start, watch John Biewin’s TEDx Talk (18 min) and listen to the Seeing White podcast from Scene on Radio. To understand more about the history of intersecting racism and classism, watch “Divide and Conquer: How Racism Harms Us All” (6 min) created by SEIU and this segment of a lecture (9 min) by Tim Wise.
Recognize that White racial socialization often encourages ignorance about racism, and that racial ignorance allows racist systems to continue. For deep, personal reflections on Whiteness and White racial socialization, check out the books White Like Me by Tim Wise and Waking Up White by Debby Irving. To understand more about specific aspects of our culture that maintain the value of Whiteness, explore the characteristics of White supremacy culture.
Examine how Whiteness works in your own families. As a jumping off point, reflect on some of the points raised in this PBS news segment (9 min) featuring sociologist Dr. Maggie Hagerman, author of White Kids: Growing Up with Privilege in a Racially Divided America.
Recognize that many forces in society will push your child toward racist beliefs and behaviors. Check out this quick EmbraceRace webinar clip (4 min) featuring Dr. Erin Winkler, to get a sense of the many sources of racist messages in children’s environments.
2. Aim for Racial Consciousness: Children notice racial differences and disparities. Trying to ignore Whiteness and racism with White children makes it more likely that they will think and act in racist ways. Encourage your child to talk about race and racism, including their Whiteness and White privilege. Talk to your child about kindness and respect, but also talk about how racism affects things like laws and housing. Talk about how White people with power created racist systems that favored and continue to favor White people (for more insight, check out the classic film “Race - The Power of an Illusion” and related resources). But there have always been some White people who have used their privilege to challenge unfairness and racial hierarchy, and that also continues today.
3. Take Action: Anti-racism requires challenging racist systems. Parents and guardians can engage in advocacy, political participation, and other actions. Get involved in anti-racist, color-brave work and involve your children when you can. This will teach them that working for justice is an important part of life. To guide your action, listen carefully to those who know more than you about racism and racial justice.
4. Tolerate Your Emotions: Learn to manage difficult emotions. It is normal for White adults to feel guilt, shame, worry, and other challenging emotions when working on color-brave caregiving. Try not to let these emotions interfere with your goals. Accept that discomfort and mistakes are part of the learning process. Be kind to yourself when you face challenges.
5. Connect with Others: Consider joining or forming a parenting group focused on anti-racism. This community can help you with motivation and accountability. In addition, extend the conversation by engaging with friends, family, and others in your social network on anti-racist topics. Be brave in these conversations.
6. Use Your Connections to Act for Justice: Many people believe that systemic racism is too big and complicated to change. This is not true. When we work together, our power to create change multiplies. Think about the communities and institutions that you are connected to. Work with others to take collective action and make change beyond individual behavior.
Conclusion: Color-brave caregiving helps children learn to notice racism and act against it. It is an ongoing process of learning and action for caregivers. Finding support and learning together may help you be effective in this process.