Moving 'The Talk' to 'The Walk' for Black Children
In many homes across the country, “The Talk” is less often about the “birds and the bees” and more often about how we can help our Black, Brown and Indigenous children, in particular, be relatively safe from racial aggression, especially by police officers.
Watch this conversation with our guests Drs. Riana Elyse Anderson and Shawn C. T. Jones, both child psychologists who focus their work on Black families. They invite us to shift our focus from WHAT to tell our children to keep them safe to HOW, more broadly, we should be talking and "walking" as a family about the racial world around us, including police aggression. Our answers to the HOW can make all the difference in our efforts to raise healthy Black children prepared for, and resourceful in the face of, any encounters they have with people including state authorities that don’t see their full humanity.
While our focus here is on Black family conversations, most of the information and insights shared will be relevant especially to Latinx and/or Native families as well. The lightly edited transcript and resources follow!
Andrew, EmbraceRace: So, let me introduce our guests. First, Riana Anderson is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Behavior and Health Education at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. Riana studies racial discrimination and socialization in Black families to reduce racial stress and trauma and improve psychological well-being and family functioning. She's a co-creator of the video series and podcasts Our Mental Health Minute, but as you now know her biggest claim to fame is that she appreciates my bad jokes. Don't even lie, Riana. [Melissa notes: Andrew told a couple s--bad-they're-good jokes in Zoom before we got started.]
Dr. Riana Elyse Anderson: The moth one I actually laughed out loud.
EmbraceRace: That's what I'm saying.
Dr. Riana Elyse Anderson: It was good.
EmbraceRace: Dr. Shawn C.T. Jones is an Assistant Professor in the Counseling Program in the Psychology Department at Virginia Commonwealth University. Shawn speaks to improve the psychosocial wellbeing of Black youth and is particularly interested in the interplay between racism-related stress and racial socialization processes. With Riana, he is a co-creator of the video series and podcast Our Mental Health Minute. In fact, we'd like to start with one of those Mental Health Minutes, the dedication that they begin with at the very beginning is a little bit soft but it will get louder very quickly.
EmbraceRace, Andrew: So, that is outstanding. So you guys apparently didn't get the memo that academics, that scholars or researchers are not supposed to be funny.
Dr. Riana Elyse Anderson: You definitely didn't get that memo, Andrew, because you're just funny all the time.
EmbraceRace, Andrew: Thank you very much!
So, let's start from some of the basics, right. Racial socialization, especially of Black kids in families. You're both doing this. You've dedicated your careers, your young careers so far, to this work. Shawn let's start with you, but we'd like to hear from both of you.
Why? Why do you do this work?
Dr. Shawn C. T. Jones: Yeah, absolutely. So, first of all, again, I actually want to say a couple of quick things. So, the first is Ri and I are such a good pair because she loved the skeleton joke and I loved the tense joke. That's the one that I was laughing out loud on. That just goes to show that we're a team in the vibe.
EmbraceRace: Two kinds lots of people in this world.
Dr. Shawn C. T. Jones: Exactly. Right. Speaking of people, honestly for me the reason why I have, and I love that idea of dedicating my young career to this work, is for my people. When I say my people I mean that in many different senses of the word. So, as a young Black boy raised in San Antonio, Texas I can vividly remember the messages that I got from my mother, who is now no longer with us. She has transitioned. My grandmother, my aunt, so many great matriarchs in my family that really did their best to keep me safe, to keep me edified, to tell me I was young, gifted, Black, beautiful, all of those things, and to, yes, prepare me for the biases that I may face.
So, the idea that I can study that to deepen that work, to help other families do that work as effectively as possible to continue to love on their children in the same way. To me it's the way that I kind of give back to my family, my village, my ancestors.
EmbraceRace: Beautiful. Ri, what are you thinking?
Dr. Riana Elyse Anderson: You want me to follow that? That's tough.
EmbraceRace: Yep. You know you can.
Dr. Riana Elyse Anderson: So Shawn and I talk about this quite a bit, our origin story and the why. My story is very similar in that I'm born and raised ... Well, I say born in, raised for, and returned to, Detroit. So Detroit is the love of my love and it is the place that I grew up. Like other environments where certain environmental impacts can really steer and create a trajectory for your wellness, I was in a situation where my mother said very clearly, "Don't go around the corner. I need to be able to see you. I need to have hands and eyes on you at all times." So, I was in an environment where my mother, my grandmother, my grandfather were people who just absolutely said, "We need to be able to see you. We need to be able to protect you." So, this idea of protection and working with me to create my best environment inside of a house, or with other people who they trusted in that way, was a really important protective factor for me.
I knew that family was important and I really appreciated the way that you all started with who you were. So I am biracial. I am Black and Greek. Culture was something that was incredibly important for me from the beginning. You see behind me there's all this Black stuff. In my house there's, I mean Maasai warriors on the wall, or we spoke Swahili on our answering machine. It was important from day one to understand our culture. My father, who I did not grow up with, but is Greek, made sure that I understood our culture, as well as our heritage. So, understanding the protective benefit of culture and the protective benefit of family, you put those two things together and it's what I'm all about today.
EmbraceRace: Beautiful. That's really great. So, that video was amazing, and you guys have been doing those for like four years, or something, right?
Dr. Riana Elyse Anderson: Yeah. We had some beta ones that were shot in some libraries over-
EmbraceRace: We've got to see those. We've got to see those.
Dr. Shawn C. T. Jones: No one has.
EmbraceRace: That's the after show. That's after. We need some outtakes. So that particular video was a great setup to talk about these four strategies for parenting around a race. You know, Riana, we based the title of the session, Moving "The Talk" to "The Walk", on a piece that you wrote.
Can you explain a bit, perhaps using those four strategies for parenting around race?
In the past month I know that a lot of media platforms have been asking about, "What do we say to our kids? What is The Talk? What is it that we should say this one time?" If Shawn and I had that answer we'd be very rich. You could not afford us on this webinar! We would be very famous and rich.
Dr. Riana Elyse Anderson
Dr. Riana Elyse Anderson: Sure. Let me just say that the title, as most things that I have done that are "good," come from conversations that Shawn and I have. I always have to credit him. I remember having that aha moment when we were coming up with these strategies of like how do we describe this to people. Because it's always about The Talk. In the past month I know that a lot of media platforms have been asking about, What do we say to our kids? What is The Talk? What is it that we should say for this one time? If Shawn and I had that answer we'd be very rich. You could not afford us on this webinar. We would be very famous and rich.
There is no one thing to say, so let me just clarify briefly and then maybe I can pass it off to Shawn to talk a bit more about the walking strategy. So, The Talk and what we were sharing in the video is that over the past 40 years what the literature, and what our research has shown, is that there are four common strategies that Black families typically use when they're having racial conversations with their children.
So the first is this idea of cultural socialization, or pride, and so that's where Shawn indicates going to the African-American History Museum, or singing songs like Say it Loud. I'm Black and I'm Proud.
Then, there's this concept of "preparation for bias." So, where do I put my hands? Do I take many hoodie off? Do I go into stores that people are looking at me in a certain way? What are the behaviors, or the things that I can do to prepare for the bias that I am anticipating in the world?
The next two strategies are the ones that don't show as much efficacy and as much strength relative to the first two.
So, "promotion of distrust or mistrust." You can imagine that you've had an experience as a parent, because you're human too. As a parent you are a human being first and foremost. Before you have to parent anyone else, you have to take care of yourself. So, if you think back to some of the experiences that you had growing up or, shoot, maybe something that happened just the other day to you. You have to think about, how am I going to tell my child messages about that experience?
Then, for some parents it's, Well then you can't trust any of those people, so it generalizes then to a whole group of folks that parents don't think their children should trust. Again, makes a lot of sense. We don't take anything away from parents believing that. It's just that sometimes those outcomes, as you can imagine, might be a little more anxious or depressive for those kids because they have so much weight from what you just told them about not being able to trust a whole group of people.
The last category, briefly, is egalitarianism. You can call it post-racial. You can call it colorblind, but it's really about, We don't have to worry about this whole racial thing. We're all good. Everybody is equal. That has demonstrated actually some pretty good effects at first, and then when the child actually faces discrimination, or racism, you can imagine that dissonance of like, "I thought ... My parents told me this. But this is the way that the world really is." And that's psychologically challenging for kids. So that's what The Talk is. Would it be okay to kick it to Shawn for what The Walk is?
EmbraceRace: Yeah. Actually, I wonder, Shawn, if I can ask you, or we can come back to it if that makes more sense, but promotion of distrust and preparation for bias can sound similar. I wonder if just before, just so we're clear on the conceptual differences between the two.
Can you say more about what distinguishes promotion of distrust from preparation for bias?
Dr. Shawn C. T. Jones: I'm happy to talk about that. So, one of the biggest distinguishing factors between promotion of mis- or distrust and preparation for bias. So, think about promotion of mistrust as literally like a message that says, "You just can't trust them. You just got to stay away." It's this idea of, as Ri spoke to, this wariness that you're just saying, "Nope, just stay away from those folks. Just stay away." Whereas, preparation for bias, or racial barrier messages as they're also sometimes called, we tend to see a little bit more of this kind of more active, or this more kind of what to do about that.
So, it's not just, You may face barriers of many kinds, and when you do this is how you respond. Or this is why you should wear a hoodie, or this is why you should put your hands there, not just these kind of broad general messages, but more kind of drilled down kind of instructive in some ways, is one way to think about one of the distinctions between those two types of messages. Hopefully that clarifies things.
EmbraceRace: Yeah. That is helpful. Yeah, and The Walk.
Tell us, what is The Walk?
Dr. Shawn C. T. Jones: Again, thank you so much. My colleague, she's so generous. That's why I've loved working with her for a decade. So, as she kind of set up, over the last 40 years or so, we're really thankful that we can understand and really catalog those different types of talks. Now we're in a stage where the question that we are starting to, and have been over the last several years, to ask back when folks say, "What do I say?" The Walk is the how do I do that? How do I as a parent, a caregiver of a precious Black child, how am I able to competently - we talk about this as racial socialization competency. How am I able to do this in a way that feels good for me, that I feel like I have efficacy? I feel like I'm able to actually talk to my children in ways that they can understand.
My children, also as a result, feel like they're more equipped. They feel like they have the toolkit, so to speak, to be able to go out and actually navigate these things. I'm not stressed. I'm not daunted by the task of saying, You know, I have to talk to Susie about what happened to Brother Floyd, and I'm shaking in my boots because I'm still processing it. I'm still making sense of it. The Walk is how do we start to help parents, caregivers do that work competently. So, let's tether to what you specifically say and how you do it with affection, with efficacy, with confidence, with skills, and hopefully in a way that reduces your stress.
"The Walk" is how do we start to help parents, caregivers do that [racial socialization] work competently. So, let's tether to what you specifically say and how you do it with affection, with efficacy, with confidence, with skills, and hopefully in a way that reduces your stress.
Dr. Shawn C. T. Jones
EmbraceRace: So I know we're going to get to the what that looks like. I wonder, Ri, if I can come back to you. You said an interesting thing around racial pride and preparation for bias as a stronger strategy.
What you mean when you say that racial pride and preparation for bias are more effective strategies, and how do we know that? And maybe an example of how you use them together.
Dr. Riana Elyse Anderson: Oh, wow, just keep adding things. So, when we're talking about the strength, there are a few ways that we can measure this. One is this idea of frequency, which is something that the literature has looked at quite a bit over the past 40 years. So, how do we, by either observation or asking from a survey, how often might you say something like this to your child. And there might be a number of endorsing statements that people might check off and say, "Oh, I do that very frequently. Or I do it like four or five times out of the six-month period." So people are able to quantify just how frequently folks are saying that to their child. So, that's one way that we're talking about strength.
Another is to think about from a profile approach, and this is something that a lot of our mentors and colleagues have been utilizing to think about if we cluster those four different strategies in ways that indicate maybe a high frequency of the first two, so cultural socialization, and preparation for bias, and maybe lower frequencies of the other, and we use that cluster approach to predict psychological wellness in kids. So, maybe said another way, if you want to figure out what are the variables, what are the best ways of having a child that has lower depression or lower anxiety, then some of the strategies that our mentors have been thinking about is, Oh, well just use a lot of this. So, say this more frequently and say these things less frequently. So, both the cluster and the frequency approaches have been able to predict, or to show us, what are the best psychological outcomes that pair with how frequently, or in what manner, you might cluster these strategies.
So, the way that you might go about doing this, to your last point, so how would you "Walk that out" might be a question that is asked about this. If we're talking about it just from the approach standpoint, and we're not looking at it from the how yet, or like The Walk yet, then you might say something along the lines of, as we did in the video:
"I'm really excited to take you to the African-American History Museum today. Our history is such a rich and wonderful place, or space, to be in. I really love learning more about who we are. You are so beautiful. I'm really excited for you to see other people that look like you. You know, sometimes your beauty is so resplendent, is so brilliant, it's so fantastic that people might not be able to take it all in. So your hair, the way that it curls so perfectly, and the way that we lovingly condition it and give it strength at night by braiding it and protecting it. Sometimes people don't understand just how complex and wonderfully made that is. They might point, or they might talk about you in a very disparaging way. When that happens, I'm wondering if there are things that we might be able to say to protect our heart, to protect our spirit. I might say something like, 'I know you are so what am I?' Or, I might say something like, 'You just don't understand how beautiful I am,' and walk away. What do you think you might want to do?"
So, that's how we would blend some of those things, and that couples, not only just "The Talk," or like the what, but some of the things that Shawn was saying, how do we walk that out? If I have confidence in what I'm saying, because I practiced it, clearly you know that I've practiced what I just said a lot, because it just came off the top and I'm able to give it to you today. That has taken us to write it. That's taken us to speak it to each other. That's taken me to say it in webinars. I literally practice what I'm going to say, so that it sounds good.
That's a part of my competency. It is a skill that I've developed. I'm now confident when you ask me questions like that that I can deliver it on the spot, and my stress as a result is reduced. I'm not sweating up a storm. I'm not feeling like, "Oh, my gosh, what if they just call me and I'm not prepared." I've done this before. So, that's part of the competency. I've taken the elements of "The Talk" and I've now figured out what skills do I need to have to deploy it? Do I have enough confidence to deliver it well? Am I stress free enough to deliver it in a way that my child is going to receive it?
EmbraceRace: I think that sometimes people think that families of color and Black families are so good at all this and sort of don't get stressed about it. I wonder, maybe Shawn you could tell us a little bit about in your research what you're seeing. What's really true there?
Dr. Shawn C. T. Jones: I think that's such an important question.
First of all, anyone out there, PSA! Yes. Parents of color, Black parents, I am not one but I work with many. Yes they get stressed. Going back to what Ri said, you are a human being first. We've all had to exist for as long as we have been fortunate enough to be on this planet. We've had to exist in our skin and in our context. That has come with our own experiences.
For those of us among us who have the honor and the privilege of being caregivers, of being parents, we're saying, Walk through your own experiences, perhaps the racial discrimination that you've faced, perhaps the messages that you've received, both positive and negative. And now all of a sudden we want you to turn around and like implant all of that into your youth so that they are health and strong, and can make it out the door and make it back home safely? I don't know about you, but even just talking about that is stressful.
So, this idea that families are able, or should be able ... I don't even know what that actually means. My grandmama used to say it all the time. Just any old kind of way be able to just do this work without stress. I think we have to be careful about that because it's almost imposing this almost kind of superhuman quality on our parents, our parents of color, our Black parents, to say, Yeah, yeah, life hasn't been a crystal stair for you, and it's not going to be for your child, but just do this and they should be fine. Why are you stressing about that?
What we know, and what we've actually been able very recently to kind of distill and parse out, is that when parents talk about their stress when it comes to talking to their children about race, we're seeing that there's this kind of distinction. There are some kind of general stress about talking to their children about race, and then there is what we have called, Dr. Anderson, myself, and our mentor, what we are calling Call to Action stress. Which is where we're really saying, Okay, we really need you to specifically teach a strategy or really teach your child how to, as Dr. Anderson just said, talk back to the person who fails to see the brilliance of your skin tone, or your hair texture.
We know that there are distinctions. We have been able to quantitatively distill between different types of stresses, or different aspects of the racial socialization process that might be stressful for Black parents. So, the work, and I'm definitely never going to take my colleague's thunder, so I'm going to give her this lovely alley-oop but there's a program that I think she might talk about perhaps that is actually equipped to help parents through practice, parents and families, parents, children together and individually, work through their competency so that they arrive on the other side. So that we over time through practice, through exercises, through discussion, through psychoeducation, can reduce that stress. We know that parents have to do this, but we also don't want to burden them additionally. We want to find ways that we can help them do this very important work in ways that also is not causing their heart to jump out of their chest.
EmbraceRace: Exactly, yeah. What's your program called, Ri ....?
Dr. Riana Elyse Anderson: I have to tell people the story because that's the only way that we can get this appropriately so. So, I was on the job market a few years ago, and I was out and about, whatever city I was, and I came back and my research lab was like, "Dr. Anderson, we have something to tell you!" I was like, Ooh perish, like everybody looked so stressed out. I was like, "Yes, guys, what's going on?" They were like, "There's a group called EmbraceRace and they do really similar stuff to you!" I was like, "Okay."
So, we looked it up and, essentially, my lab was trying to find something about my program which is called, The EMBRace Program, and they found something about EmbraceRace and found these two amazing folk over here with a whole community of parents who are doing kick tush stuff, and they were like, "It's so similar! We have to meet!"
EmbraceRace: And we turned out to be not so scary. Am I right? Not so scary! Not so scary.
Dr. Riana Elyse Anderson: I mean, you guys are little scary, but the point was that our programs are both trying to figure out what to do about race.
So, the EMBRace program stands for Engaging, Managing, and Bonding Through Race, so EMBRace. When you put those elements together the engaging, like how do we talk about racial socialization stuff comfortably? How do we have confidence when we talk about it? How do we have confidence when we engage? Management is stress reduction, so how do we talk about these things and reduce our stress in the process? The B, the bonding part, how do we continue to be a family that relates well together throughout this challenging thing. It's really taking the skills that we brought up with racial socialization competency, stress, skills confidence, and putting them into one program.
Without going into too much detail, and I'm happy to give more information about what it is that we do, but Shawn has been a clinician. I've been a clinician on the program as well. What we're doing is really engaging in what you all are doing already right now, which is how do we immerse ourselves in this space? How do we ask questions? How do we inquire rather than give these declarative statements that people typically want, this really easy like, I gave "The Talk." I have done it. It is over. I don't have to talk to my kids about race ever again. And then they want to walk out the door. That's not what parenting is about. We're constantly doing challenging things with our family. You have to tell your kids 78 times to buckle your seat belt, so why would it be any different with anything else? As they develop they're going to ask different questions and be aware of different things.
So, what EMBRace is trying to do is to make it more normal to talk about, to practice, to think, to ask questions, to engage in this dialogue, to find things like books that you can ask questions about and it can be a resource for you, to look at the media and create questions that come from that. So, we take all of these different tools and have families to work through some of these skills so that at the end of the day, your family unit is what's going to create healing and wholeness within your family.
How do we inquire rather than give these declarative statements that people typically want, this really easy like, I gave "The Talk." I have done it. It is over. I don't have to talk to my kids about race ever again. And then they want to walk out the door. That's not what parenting is about. We're constantly doing challenging things with our family.
Dr. Riana Elyse Anderson
EmbraceRace: Let me ask a particular slice on that, which is we know, and I'm sure that you find, too, that when people talk about our work, when people approach and sort of try to characterize our work, so many go straight to the "What do you say to your child?" Of course that's important and, of course, it's not the only thing that's important. Some would say it's not even the most important thing, or it's really interactive, what you say, what you model.
It's not only what parents say to their children. It's also about modeling. Can you give us some examples of what modeling looks like?
Dr. Riana Elyse Anderson: For me it really is question based. We do have a manual, and we have our clinicians ask questions, or say things, but it's really about the level of inquiry that we can start with our children. So, again, the media in the past month has just been bananas with like, "How do you talk to your kids about race?" I've been interviewed so many times, and I start the same way, which is if you can ask your child what they notice, whether they're three, seventeen. It doesn't matter. If you ask your child, "Tell me what it is that you saw," you're going to get data. You're going to get a baseline. You're going to get an understanding of where your child is at. Then you can respond based on what it is that your child is talking about.
So, as an example we, again, use a lot of free resources because that is what we want people to have available. There is a New York Times Op-Doc series in which they show children, and they show parents talking about race. In one of those videos a child is talking about his experience of feeling hunted. He uses this term and it's really visceral, and we have the families watch it.
We've just selected that term, and we ask the parents, how does it feel to hear a child talk about being hunted? And then we ask the children, how does it feel to have a parent who might hear that you're being hunted? What does that feel like for you to be in that situation?
The media in the past month has just been bananas with like, "How do you talk to your kids about race?" I've been interviewed so many times, and I start the same way, which is if you can ask your child what they notice, whether they're three, seventeen. It doesn't matter. If you ask your child, "Tell me what it is that you saw," you're going to get data. You're going to get a baseline. You're going to get an understanding of where your child is at. Then you can respond based on what it is that your child is talking about.
Dr. Riana Elyse Anderson
EmbraceRace: How old is the child, Riana?
Dr. Riana Elyse Anderson: In that video I think he is either sixteen or seventeen, but there's a range of like ten year old's to twenty two year old's in that particular video. It's the best. You all have to check it out and I'll put in the chat.
What we're doing is saying, of a five-minute video, we're selecting just one word. We're pulling it out, and we're asking a question about it. And you can do this when you're watching Black-ish, which we love to pieces, and we absolutely use that as a strategy to create a kind of, "You're watching a family talk about race. Now your family can talk about race," kind of meta moment. Whether you're watching a sitcom, or the news, as we use with our newspapers, we're very literal about how do you take headlines? How do you do these things that are going to be commonplace in your lived experience with your family? How do you create inquiry from those types of experiences?
EmbraceRace: That's beautiful. Yeah, we get that all the time, just "what about my specific child?" I guess another part of it is also I heard you guys say, or read, is that you're the expert in your child. So you don't hand that over. You ask questions and they also are the expert in how they're feeling. You know what conversations you've had before. It's not like a one-size-fits-all, the conversation. It really has to be very specific to the context and the people.
We have a lot of questions. Let me start with one. Another thing that we hear often that you probably do, too. Shawn, you mentioned that you're not a parent yourself. A lot of people think this is all about parents, right? So, we know that, of course, parents are really important, probably especially for younger children, and there are a lot of other adults in the lives of children. Even if you're a parent, even if you're an educator, you probably wear some other hats with respect to the children in your lives.
A pediatrician asks, how do people who are not parents, but wear different hats in children's lives, think about the role that they play in socialization?
Dr. Shawn C. T. Jones: So, a couple of things I want to talk about. The first is, we've alluded to this often. But I think Ri just said a beautiful thing. Whether you're three or seventeen, and in that you can ask those questions, but we know that the way that you might ask the three year old a question, and the way that you might ask your seventeen year old a question are different. I only say that to mention that depending on where in the developmental context, we're talking about these other important figures of support. There's a difference between a coach. There's another clip that we really love where there is a coach and a young man named Tyquan are having a conversation about being stopped and frisked in New York. So, in that way the coach is able to also impart and share his own experience, also provide socialization that is not parental, but it's still certainly racial socialization and it's done in affirming and loving way.
So, I would say to the folks who are representative of pediatricians, of educators, I think there are a couple of things. When it comes to specific perhaps messaging or things that you say, I do think it is important, and we know that the literature in terms of what we might call in terms of congruence in messaging may be important. So, if you have a relationship with your families, and I know for some educators that's a lot of students and a lot of families to try to maybe have one-on-one conversations, but I do think that in terms of some of the messages that are imparted, being able to have collaborative kind of team-working conversations between caregivers and important others in children's lives, I think is important.
The other big thing that we know in terms of racial socialization is that oftentimes it's not just what you say, it is also what is in the atmosphere, as Ri alluded to. What is in the environment? What is modeled? I also think that folks who are in roles of educators and pediatricians, and spaces like that, is what is your space saying about race? We've had a lot of conversations recently about the notion of anti-Blackness and how anti-Blackness can be things that people say but also in the culture, and in the structure, and in the space. So, I think maybe considering ways in which there are modeling of images that show people of different skin tones and colors that are represented in certain spaces. Having those sorts of, maybe we might call them behavioral or symbolic messages that are available in your child's world, or in the children-who-you-come-across' world, I think there are also some important things. I'll stop now to kind of allow for some follow up.
Dr. Riana Elyse Anderson: Just a like 30-second quick follow up on that. So, the EMBrace program actually does think about the clinician as a component here. So, we are absolutely not a-racial, a-contextual. It is impossible to not bring our own bias into the room as we are working with our clients. So for anyone who is interested in clinical implications please feel free to follow up with me, as well, because we do study that, and we do have some data indicating how a program like EMBrace can actually build competency in providers themselves.
EmbraceRace: So, we have a lot of questions about, in these times, Black and Latino kids at various ages who, mostly younger, who are afraid to go outside because of police. I hear that anecdotally a lot, and I just wonder if you're seeing that and what you would say.
Dr. Riana Elyse Anderson: I'll jump in quickly, Shawn. It is a point here of normalizing and respecting what might be fearful for children and parents frankly. That's really what we're talking about is, how do we reduce fear and be honest in ways that show balance? That's really what a lot of our work has been about. I think the important piece is being honest with our children in developmentally appropriate ways. If you have a three year old the discussion of the United States as a capitalist, racist society that does X, Y, and Z, eh maybe it might be a little premature. And so you might have to think about what are the things that they do understand? Again, elicit from them, "What do you know? What do you see? What's around you?" If they're able to talk about someone who drinks chocolate milk and that's why they're brown, or someone who does X, Y, and Z and that's why they're this, then they have some conceptualization of how to discriminate amongst characteristics, or groups. You can build from that and talk at their level there.
Again, based on the research that we know, if we only use distrustful messages, or if we validate, "No, you can't trust that person or the police officer because of X, Y, and Z," we're really prone to drive depression and anxiety outcomes in negative ways. We may want to validate, "It is totally normally to fear. You've seen it a lot on TV, and that can really make us think that it's happening a lot more frequently than it is. We know so many people that have had interactions and have not experienced the same type of outcome as George Floyd or Rayshard Brooks, so it could be a scary place but it's not as common as we might think. "
I want you to go out and enjoy your day because you have so much of the world to explore and to enjoy." That might be a way that I create balance. How about you, Shawn?
Dr. Shawn C. T. Jones: Absolutely.
EmbraceRace: Let me interrupt you, Shawn. I want to press on a particular point. So, Riana, I totally know what you're saying and, of course, that makes sense, and that issue of on one hand being honest with our children but stating all fear, not having to be overlying anxious, all of that. That's clearly important. We also know that a lot of parents, especially white parents of white children, but not only white parents of white children, can use that as what looks like an excuse not to have the conversation, right? We're going to protect the racial innocence, the racial sort of naiveté of our children. We're not going to go there because, boy, aren't they going to engage that later on and we want to save this precious childhood time.
I also think - gosh, well in the world, there are parts that are hard. There's some hard bits, and surely there's a place for saying even with your quite young child, Yeah, it is a little scary. Somehow the question, it feels to me is how do you manage your big feelings? How do you deal with them? But allow the feelings, right? Again, it's more in the gray area, what's the line you cross? I just wonder if you have any wisdom for us there, Shawn?
Dr. Shawn C. T. Jones: So, the thing is, and I already know this about you all, but that's so spot on. A big portion of what you just said, which is, and not just normalize the idea that police can be scary, but also saying, "Look, I'm a little scared. I'm a little angry about this. As your parent, I'm nervous." Being able to actually be honest and look into your child's eyes and say, "Look."
Again, we have this idea sometimes that parents, caregivers, as super people. In a world where there is dehumanization on one hand, one of the things that we can do sometimes is go the opposite way and go super, super, super saying superhuman on the other. In the midst of either extreme, we lose humanity.
The opportunity to sit with your child, to cry with your child, to hug on your child, to say, "I'm scared too, baby. And we're going to be all right." Adding in those messages I think is so important. So, those big feelings, A, are really important to share because they help with connection. The other thing, and this sort of speaks to what you raised in the first part of your reaction, Andrew, I know again I'm not a parent out there, but I know many of you who are know this, probably, that we don't always give youth the credit that they deserve for picking up on stuff.
Sometimes we think, Well, if I just don't talk about it, they're not going to see me cry. We see it in so many other spaces where the child says, "Mommy, I heard you crying last night," or "Dad, you know, I see that you're mad." You thought you were doing the best job of hiding that. So, we know that that's another aspect, that children pick up on that. We think that it's better to be, again, developmentally appropriate and using, as you said Melissa, using yourself as the expert of knowing your child, and your family context, but also being honest and sharing.
The last thing that I'll add to that is also to do that work not just parents to child, but some of the research that I do is also saying, How are the adult caregivers having those conversations? How are we talking about how we're both feeling and what that means about how we want to raise our children together? That can be any constellation of adult caregivers, but also having those very real conversations about our own experiences, our own feelings, our own hurts, our own lessons learned.
EmbraceRace: Can I just tell you, I just love, with the caveats and the nuance there, but I just love the, Be honest when you can. Start there. Children know, If you say, "Oh, you're going to be okay," and you're terrified, and your kid's going to pick up on that. Your kid's going to be terrified, like more terrified, right?
Dr. Riana Elyse Anderson: Yeah, absolutely.
EmbraceRace: Again, going back to that great video. There were two preferred strategies and two less preferred, the promotion of distrust and egalitarian. Sometimes I wonder when I hear those four, why even mention the other, the ones that are less effective? And I'm guessing maybe it's because we actually all do use those strategies in different ways. It's very hard because, to Shawn's point, you're a human being. You end up like sometimes just being like, "Ugh! This is what they're like!" Whoever. You have those kind of human moments, or with the egalitarian it can be kind of ... Sometimes you want that to be true. I'm not entirely sure.
Why do you keep the two less effective strategies in the model?
Dr. Riana Elyse Anderson: That's beautiful. I'll address it pretty quickly. First of all, I think you're Reviewer 2 on the paper that we sent out, because the Reviewer 2 is always the one who has like all the critical stuff. It's always like, "Well, why do you do that strategy?" Let me tell you, Melissa, and other Reviewer 2s out there. So, again just to be clear, when we talk about the four strategies, these are not things that we recommend. These are the things that are occurring, so those are frequencies, and people are observing the ways that people are using the strategy. To your point, this idea of hopefulness is such a robust association with things like egalitarianism.
Let me tell you who uses this the most, and you all will be probably shocked by this. Black dads use egalitarianism the most - still not a lot, but they use it more. They use it more than mothers or folks of other backgrounds. The why, even though we know that Black men face discrimination, or at least they report facing it more frequently, and with more bother, than Black women. It's this idea of, "Well, maybe my child doesn't have to grow up in a world like I did. Maybe they won't get pulled over, and maybe this will be the generation to what EmbraceRace is about. Maybe this will be the generation that is not facing discrimination." But that's not the case.
So, why we would use those strategies, why we would have a full session devoted in the EMBRace program, for example, to talking about distrust and talking about egalitarianism is to the last point which was we want to make sure that we are validating what people are experiencing. It is completely natural to not want to mess with any police officers walking down the street after someone just kneeled on someone's neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. I don't want to talk to you. I don't want to see you. I don't want to see your car. I don't want to hear a siren. I don't want any of that. You just snuffed out the life of my brother. I don't want to deal with you.
If you listen to Shawn and my podcast, like immediately after this thing occurred, and we're supposed to be on break this summer. We aren't supposed to be doing none of this. We filmed a 45-minute podcast and our anger and our frustration, was just visceral. It was just coming out. And that is the case with Black Americans and, frankly, people across the world demonstrating how upset they are at police injustice right now. It is only human to feel that way. So why would we ask parents, and I keep saying "we" like I got a kid, but why would we ask people who have children in our sphere not want them to see and feel that anger? So, that's one.
We keep it around to keep us human, but because we know that it's a natural reaction, and people will want to say, "Don't bang with them," or "Baby, it's okay. Like none of that's going to matter in your generation." We have to be able to ask the parents, "Tell me a bit about why you want to use that strategy?" And then they'll unpack it, and they'll say, "Well, I think it's important for my kid not to know about race." Actually, the data shows this and, actually, your child has already told us this in a prior session. So, now with that information is that something that you still want to use?
Again, it's inquiry based for us. We're not telling them you can't use it, or should use X, Y, and Z. We're saying, "With this information, do you think that's the way you would want to go? If not," and our question from both of those sessions, "if not, what do you think the balance would be? What would a better strategy be?" We're still putting that onus and that power, back in the hands of the parent.
EmbraceRace, Andrew: Shawn, I'm coming to you. First I've got to tell you we are just loving you guys. So, first of all, you start out with the humor. You're not supposed to do that because you're academics, you're scholars, you're researchers. You're not supposed to do it.
EmbraceRace, Melissa: That's a broad brush, Andrew.
EmbraceRace, Andrew: I'm going to use that brush. ... and then you do your podcast, and you're talking about like letting your anger show which, again, we know that the academy is supposed to leach all emotions out of your work and certainly anger is largely rendered, there's an effort to render anger invalid even though we're so often dealing with things that if you can't be upset about that I don't know what you can be upset about. Really glad to hear it.
Shawn, I want to come to you. Of course feel free to add on the previous bit. There's a whole cluster of questions. A lot of folks in our community, the EmbraceRace community, who are white parents of Black-identified children, either biologically or transracially adopted, or foster parents.
"Is there something I need to know as a white parent to this child of color, this Black child in particular who I love, as I come into this work and hear what you're saying?"
Dr. Shawn C. T. Jones: So, the first thing I want to say, I love this question and I always want to make sure that I properly contextualize this question, because the earnest focus of my work thus far has really centered on thinking about the Black family, and I could talk about that forever, and we don't have forever, so I won't do that. But, I can still speak to, and there is definitely research, resources, for white parents of Black children out there. First of all, I think it's important to ask this question, Is there anything that I need to do?
So, one of the first things that I would say is that the idea of socialization, of racial socialization, is something that all parents, I believe, need to do. So white parents of white children, also it is important for them to also engage around racial socialization, to interrogate those same sorts of elements, or aspects, of privilege, of oppression, of anti-Blackness as it has come up, and allyship, these different elements, as well. So, it maybe look a little different but racial socialization, I would argue, is something that all families should engage in, although the texture, and tenor and tone of that is going to look different in each.
I think one of the important things is, and I do this work often when I talk with parents, and particularly in some of the kind of interracial dyads that I have worked with, which is this idea of I don't have that experience and so I maybe need to find someone else who looks like them, who does have that experience so that they can talk to them. I would say to that element, or aspect, or if that is out there at all, is that it's important to also interrogate how you understand, and feel, and make meaning, of race, racism, privilege, oppression first.
Again, that idea of going back to what my dope sister said at the beginning, we're human first, so I think the first important thing is to make sure that you interrogate those things for yourself and how you feel, and what you've learned about race, what have you, and then also in the same way to have those honest conversations, to not steer away from difference, to not paint with the brush of colorblindness per see, but to say, "Hey baby. We're different. I'm your mom, or I'm your father, I'm your tía," but we're different, and explaining and unpacking that and being honest about that, as well, I think is really critical and crucial. I'll stop there.
Dr. Riana Elyse Anderson: So, it's about the child. So, a lot of parents stop short because they're like, "Oh, well, I don't know. I don't have the experience," as Shawn was saying, but your child is going to face racial discrimination, and so the question is, How can you be the best supportive system for them to ensure that what discrimination does, which is to break down virtually every single psychological, physiological, physical, academic. We can name every single outcome that discrimination messes up, but it's a lot of them. If you don't want discrimination to jack your kid up, which left alone it might do, you want to intervene, and that intervention is racial socialization.
Very briefly, too, Shawn was saying that every parent should racially socialize. Every parent does racially socialize. So if you're quiet, if you're not saying anything about race, you are socializing your child to believe that the world can do its worst to your child and that you're not going to do anything about it, and that people like you aren't going to do anything about it either. So, it's incredibly important for you to verbalize, and to explicitly indicate how you feel and how you want your child to feel about race.
Every parent does racially socialize. So if you're quiet, if you're not saying anything about race, you are socializing your child to believe that the world can do its worst to your child and that you're not going to do anything about it, and that people like you aren't going to do anything about it either.
Dr. Riana Elyse Anderson
EmbraceRace: We don't have much time here but we do have several questions about Black families with Black kids concerned about how to talk to people who live, or who work in white institutions that the family is interfacing with. It can be hard. Part of why you want everyone to be intentional about their socialization is that we're concerned if our kid's friends live in homes where they're not being socialized. We worry about them going there. If there's no intention, you worry about what your kid's going to encounter in that home, or at school, or whatever it is.
Shawn, you talked about the need to coordinate. So, you have to coordinate with a teacher if you're a parent.
How do coordinate with a white teacher if you're a Black parent of a Black child? Thirty seconds.
Dr. Shawn C. T. Jones: Thirty seconds.
Dr. Riana Elyse Anderson: Go. Go, Shawn, go.
Dr. Shawn C. T. Jones: All right. Quick like brass tacks. I would say like ... So, in the same way that we might think about a parent/teacher conference where we're talking about grades, and GPA, and extracurriculars, and I think this is tricky. I do not want to dismiss that, but I think having a conversation with the teacher just about what sorts of things, when it comes to matters of race in this classroom, or in these spaces, or in this school, asking questions and then from those questions then maybe kind of engaging and integrating kind of your perspective. "I just want to let you know that at home it's important for us to also talk to our children about ABC, 123." Just so that there's kind of that mutual kind of understanding, and that you also understand what kind of socialization is happening in those spaces. That's what I got in 30 seconds.
EmbraceRace: Beautiful for 30 seconds. That wasn't fair at all. Riana, we're giving you 15 if you want to get any last word.
Dr. Riana Elyse Anderson: So, again, your family unit, that dyad, or the larger unit, is effectively the most important and powerful unit that can come about. If you practice enough with each other, and literally in the EMBrace program we have like a letter from a teacher said this. I was a former first grade teacher, fifth grade teacher myself, so I know that these things exist. If you practice enough in group you take that into your classroom, the child is in there, the child is able to exert and to assertively state, "This is what I know," and then they can bring that back home and say, "Mom, this is what happened. Dad, this is what happened," and then you all, again, as a unit can go and address it.
I yearn for the day that we have systems that are going to protect and to promote our kids but unfortunately, it is not what we're going to be seeing anytime soon and hopefully, we can make that change. You have to prepare and practice with your kid enough to be assertive and vocal so that you all can get your needs met, whether it's them in the classroom setting or you after that.
EmbraceRace: Beautiful. Great conversation. A lot of wisdom there.
EmbraceRace: We're going to share all of it so you can find out more about these guys, and Our Mental Health Minute, and all of that.
Dr. Riana Elyse Anderson: Yeah, reach out. We're happy to address you all, as well, on our site, so reach out to us. Thank you both so much for having. Thank you to EmbraceRace and to all of you for hanging out.
Dr. Shawn C. T. Jones: Yes. Thank you so much, y'all.
EmbraceRace: Thanks again. Good night!
Resources (return to top)
How Adults Can Support the Mental Health of Black Children – A Greater Good Magazine interview with Dr. Riana Elyse Anderson
“Shall We Dance?” How Parents Can Work Together to Teach Kids About Race – article by Dr. Shawn C. T. Jones
Moving 'The Talk' to 'The Walk' for Black Children - article by Dr. Riana Elyse Anderson
The EMBRace Program - Twitter: @EMBRaceProgram | IG/FB: @TheEMBRaceProgram
Our Mental Health Minute - Riana and Shawn's video and podcast shorts meant to bring awareness of mental wellness within the African American community. Also follow the project onTwitter/IG/FB: @OurMHM.
A Conversation About Growing Up Black - NY Times Op-Doc interviews with Black boys from 10 to 17 about how they navigate living in a world that often doesn't recognize their humanity.