Podcast episode: Talking with our kids about racism

In this episode, Ryan confronts the racist bone in his body and, in hopes of doing better, offers five tips for guiding the next generation towards a more just future.

The only way we can stamp out racism is to assess our own roles in perpetuating it. By helping the next generation identify the where’s and why’s of racism, we enable them to remove and confront racist behaviors and systems. We can stop the perpetual existence of racism.

There’s plenty of fodder for adults to consider in the perpetuation of racism and our roles in it, too. Get ready for a challenge or two.

Episode 33: Talking with our kids about racism

Listen, rate, and subscribe: Apple Podcasts / Spotify / Stitcher / Google Play

More like this episode:

10 Things to Start Saying at Home

These are ten things my family could likely use to hear from me on a more regular basis. I know this because they’re the things I’d like to hear, too.

Podcast: 5 Minutes to Change Your Relationships

It’s so easy to take our most important relationships for granted–and when we do, they become under-fulfilling for everyone. In this debut episode, I, Ryan Dunn, accept a quest to reclaim a role as a badass dad and spouse.

Show Notes:

Much of the material for this episode originally appeared in an article Ryan wrote for another publication after the Charlottesville uprising back in 2017. That article currently lives on the United Methodist Church’s web site: https://www.umc.org/en/content/five-tips-for-addressing-racism-with-children

It’s important to recognize that we do have have our own biases. This test can help you gauge your’s: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/featuredtask.html

Episode transcript:

Talking with kids about racism

  1. This is the Bad-Ass Dad Pod.
    1. We’re going to live our best lives, right now, no matter what age we are.
    2. My name is Ryan Dunn
      1. I am a level 5 relationship ranger
      2. A level 6 gym warrior
      3. A level 3 debt mage
      4. A vanquisher of complacency
      5. Questor of testosterone
      6. Seeker of the holy dunk
      7. Your lawful good podmaster.
    3. And, if none of that makes sense, I’ll invite you to check out this podcast’s website: thebadpod.com
      1. For I have just posted a detailed description on how I’ve gamified my life quests
      2. And how I’m leveling up by rewarding my good habits with experience points and cool boosters.
      3. So check out the experience points and level up your life article on thebadpod.com.
  2. [MUSIC OUT] We’re not going there in this episode.
    1. We’re going somewhere I should have gone weeks ago.
    2. And that is to talk about racism.
      1. And I want to talk about it now… and I want to talk about it in relation to our kids…
      2. Because the current political climate is making racism a partisan issue.
      3. And it shouldn’t be: it’s a human issue.
      4. And to say that standing against racism means you stand police or vice versa…
      5. Or to say that those who are fed up and are protesting stand for anarchy and want to break away from law and order…
      6. All those are scare tactics meant to divide people for political purposes.
      7. Don’t buy it.
      8. To stand against racism is to voice an opinion that I believe about 99% of us out there can agree with:
        1. Everyone should be treated fairly and with the same dignity and respect for life.
        2. I think just about everyone can agree with that statement.
      9. I guess where we experience divide is in identifying where and when we believe that statement is being denied.
    3. The people demonstrating on the streets believe that there are structures where it has become implicit procedure to deny that everyone gets the same treatment.
      1. Either their lived experience or their witness of data and events have led them to conclude that not everyone gets treated the same.
        1. They’ve witnessed or experienced the divide people of color experience in being judged and sentenced more harshly for crimes.
        2. Or the increased likelihood of facing violence when confronted by police.
        3. Or being less likely to receive employment offers.
        4. Or living under a view of greater suspicion in public places.
      2. So, having observed or experienced that, they’re saying something about it.
      3. THAT very reason is why a vast majority of the demonstrators are out there.
        1. Not to cause anarchy.
        2. Not to enforce mob rule.
    4. Modern day racism may not explicitly say that not everyone is created equal. 
      1. You get that? There’s like this classic, stereotypical racism that says that white people are just inherently superior.
      2. Today’s racism doesn’t explicitly say that. Instead, it says that not everyone gets the same dignity and respect–thereby it implicitly says that not everyone is equal.
    5. So, if we’re going to live our best lives… for everybody… I think we have to address racism.
    6. Because, obviously, I believe that modern-day racism exists.
      1. To deny its existence comes out of a place of privilege
      2. And that denial is motivated by a fear of losing that privilege.
    7. So, I hope to convince and remind that uplifting the lives of others does not mean a loss of status or accessibility for oneself.
    8. And I definitely think we can teach our kids to have a healthier view of race and equip them to better deal with racism.
    9. So that’s where we’re going with this podcast episode… I’ve got five recommendations for talking about race and racism with our kids.
  3. But first, I think we need to take a good, clarifying look at our own implicit prejudices and biases.
    1. Because they are there. Even if we don’t want them to be.
    2. I don’t think anybody can actually, truthfully say “I don’t have a racist bone in my body.” Or “He doesn’t have a racist bone in his body.”
    3. Because we are animals who once lived in a world where our survival depended on a sense of suspicion and fear of that which is different or unpredictable, right?
      1. We hold a certain amount of fear and suspicion today for that which is different than us.
      2. And that can include race.
      3. Because it definitely means we hold suspicion about people who are different or unknown to us.
    4. So guess what: you have a racist bone in your body.
      1. Or, let me say this… I have a racist bone in my body.
      2. I don’t want to. I don’t want it there.
      3. But it is there.
      4. And the only way I can defeat that tendency or, at least, make it impotent–is to recognize that I have internal biases and then consciously work to nullify them.
    5. My first confrontation with my own racism came when I was in college.
      1. I had a Black roommate–actually a very proud Black man. 
        1. He was proud of his heritage.
        2. And he was way into Black advancement.
        3. Which I didn’t get, because I thought large-scale racism died in the 70’s.
        4. And this was the 90’s.
          1. It was Clinton’s America.
          2. We had affirmative action.
          3. We also had Rodney King… which I don’t recall how that made me feel. 
      2. Prior to that year of college, I honestly never had much interaction with Black people.
        1. Town I grew up in was predominantly white.
        2. The few people of color I went to high school with must have definitely felt pressure to assimilate to the white culture around them.
      3. But my roommate didn’t feel that pressure to assimilate.
        1. Well, no, let me say he didn’t seem interested in assimilating to whiteness.
        2. He is a smart, capable person who was, at that time, interested in living into Black empowerment.
        3. And it took me years to figure this out…
          1. It took me years to discern why he and I did not become better friends.
          2. We were friendly with each other.
            1. We ate together. Sometimes and we talked.
            2. But we were not close buddies.
          3. At the time I probably would’ve said that he wasn’t that interested in making friends.
          4. But, honestly, with the truth of hindsight, I need to admit that I was probably the obstacle.
          5. I was cool with him looking Black.
          6. But I was unsettled by him being proudly Black.
          7. In other words, I put distance between us because I wasn’t comfortable with him not being interested in growing into the same thing I was growing into.
            1. Which, essentially, was a middle-class white guy.
          8. So my bias–no, my racism–was that I expected my roommate to conform to me… or, at least, my cultural way of being.
        4. I’d like to think I’ve grown since then.
          1. I have grown since then.
          2. BUT, it took recognition of my own biases to allow that growth to happen.
        5. I’d love to reconnect with that roommate and explore what was going on in his mind at that time… and to see if we could move past the roadblocks I tended to throw up in the way of a closer relationship.
          1. But he doesn’t have a digital footprint.
            1. No social media, nothing.
            2. So he’s a person who wants to not be found right now, and I’ll respect that.
          2. BUT, in case you ever listen… and you know who you are: University of Iowa, school year 1995-96. 
          3. Email me: ryan@thebadpod.com.
  4. At the time, I was totally afraid to talk about any of this with my roommate because I had a belief that race wasn’t something to be discussed.
    1. At the time, the dominant belief in encouraging diversity was actually to ignore diversity.
      1. We were supposed to be color blind.
      2. So I wasn’t going to address our Black and white issues because I was scared that the whole subject was taboo. 
        1. I didn’t think I was supposed to see my roommate as a Black man.
        2. That was superficial.
        3. I was just supposed to see him as a man.
          1. Now you can imagine how that put a barrier between us.
          2. Because he definitely wanted to be recognized as a Black man.
    2. ANYWAYS, our way of attempting to promote non-racism during that time and place was not to discuss race.
      1. It was almost like: maybe we can avoid racism if we just avoid race altogether.
      2. Obviously, that is not a proactive way of dealing with something.
      3. We need to root out and address our biases.
    3. In my day job–my full-time gig–we promote a considerable amount of anti-racist material.
      1. And, even now, we get some surprising reactions… things like (this was an actual social media comment) “You need to stop using terms like black and white.”
      2. The idea of avoiding race as a way of dealing with racism is still alive.
      3. And it’s totally ineffectual.
  5. I believe I can offer a more proactive way of being for my son.
    1. A way of addressing race that is not merely non-racist (which, I’ll insert here, is actually implicit with racism… I think we can see that from my experience).
    2. Instead, I think we can address racism in a way that is anti-racist.
      1. And that’s what we need to finally push racism off the cliff of existence.
      2. It is not enough to simply bar racism from advancing–because denying it actually just allows it to fester and grow.
      3. Instead, we need to push back against racism and throw it off the cliff.
    3. And, for sure, one of the ways we’ll push against racism is to uproot the generational existence of racism.
      1. What I mean by that is… I did not view myself as racist when I was in college.
      2. We didn’t have the term at the time… but if we did, I probably would have proclaimed myself as being woke.
      3. But I wasn’t woke. I was in denial of certain assumptions I inherited from the generation before me… who inherited ideas and assumptions from the generation before them and so on.
      4. So by addressing racism with our kids, we can uproot and throw out the little weeds of racism that still linger in the garden of human compatibility.
    4. So I’ve got 5 tips for addressing racism with the younger generation.
      1. This is based on an article that I researched and wrote a couple years ago–in the wake of Charlottesville and the ugly scene that happened there in 2017.
      2. I wrote it for an organization called Rethink Church. 
        1. The article then got picked up by the United Methodist denomination’s web site.
        2. And, just recently, was re-promoted by the World Council of Churches.
      3. It’s had some legs.
        1. Which is hopeful news for those of us wanting to grow in our own view on race and racism.
        2. I think it’s hopeful that this one-time denier can help to actively push racism over the cliff of existence.
  6. So the first tip I have for us is simply to be ready to talk about race and racism with your kids.
    1. Racism is real. Our kids are witnessing that. And they’ll need to recognize the when and where of racism in order to push against it, too.
    2. So it’s a good idea to decide what core beliefs you want to tell your kids about.
      1. What are the key things you want them to understand about race and racism?
      2. What do you want them to take away from a conversation with you about race?
    3. In our family, we’ve chosen NOT to suggest that everyone is the same.
      1. Instead, we want our son to understand that humans are diverse.
      2. And that diversity is beautiful.
      3. AND, every single one of us has immense value and we’re all capable.
        1. For us, it helps to frame things in a religious language.
        2. So I tell my son that every person is equally loved and valued in God’s sight.
        3. And our job is to show God’s love by showing others how loved and valuable they are.
        4. On the flipside, there are people who don’t understand how God loves everyone–and we need to call that out.
      4. To reframe that without theological language, I might say that every person has value to the world and everyone has a capability to make the world a kind, loving and fair place.
        1. And our job is to show others how valuable and capable they are.
        2. But there are some people who think they’re more valuable and/or capable than others… and we need to work against their messages and actions…
      5. I think the message of diversity is what was missing, or, maybe, ignored by me, in the early years of my anti-racist journey.
        1. I was taught that we were all equal and capable.
        2. And I think what I took that to mean was that every person in the world had the right and the ability to be just like me.
        3. Which is a really privileged way of looking at the world–like my way of being is the pinnacle of human existence.
          1. And, uh, in speaking that,
          2. It sounds really ugly.
        4. Therefore, I think it’s important to name that people are different and our differences are beautiful. 
        5. Diversity is good.
        6. And people being different does not undercut our core value and capabilities.
    4. So, there you go, first tip: be ready for talking racism with your kids by figuring what key ideas you want them to hear.
  7. Second tip, when you actually do have the talk with your kids, let them speak!
    1. You’ve probably noticed this: kids express strong realizations of fairness.
      1. Especially if your kids have siblings… they’ll tell you quite often what’s fair and what isn’t, right?
      2. Lean in to that.
      3. Let your kids take the lead in answering questions about racism…
        1. Like, “Is it right or fair to treat someone badly because they look different?”
        2. You already know what your kids will say that, right?
        3. It’s a shame that in our adulthood we forget such simple principles.
        4. Other questions to throw at your little fairness judges include:
          1. What should you do if someone treats you badly because of how you look?
          2. What should you do if you witness someone else doing it?
    2. You can even get into issues at the heart of racism with a conversation like this.
      1. Ask your kids “Why would people be mean like that? Why do they think like that?”
      2. I’m going to posit here that the real heart of the issue is fear.
        1. We perpetuate racism for a whole number of reasons.
        2. But fear drives each one of those reasons…
          1. Fear of the other.
          2. Fear of losing status or privilege.
          3. Fear of change.
      3. If you look at the political ads coming out… it’s easy to see what a motivating factor fear is.
        1. Because about 90% of them use fear as a motivator for garnering your vote.
      4. So, of course, we can begin to root out fear by familiarizing ourselves with diversity…
        1. And offer that to your kids, too.
        2. It’s important to watch media representing other cultures.
        3. And, as much as possible, put our kids into contexts where they’re engaging with a diversity of people.
  8. And that, actually, is what the third tip is all about: relate things to your kids’ experiences.
    1. Whatever you’re saying needs to relate to their world.
    2. And these relative experiences are going to differ depending on family circumstances. 
    3. For example, children of color have different experiences that white children.
      1. Children of color will need affirming.
      2. They need reassurance of their value worth–because, let’s face it, our institutions, right now, devalue them.
        1. That’s the ongoing narrative.
        2. So provide some reminders that they are deserving of respect.
    4. White children, in the context of Western culture, will need reminders not to make assumptions about others.
      1. It might be helpful to point to a movie or book where a character makes a misguided assumption about the abilities or value of another character.
      2. Zootopia is an example of a movie… all kinds of stereotypes bandied about in that film.
        1. Assumptions made about what kind of character a fox has.
        2. And about gender.
        3. And about a rabbit’s capabilities.
        4. Lots of fertile ground there for addressing diversity and value.
          1. You know, how did stereotypes hurt the characters in the movie?
          2. Where did you see the characters being treated unfairly?
          3. How did they work against unfairness in the movie?
      3. Deep stuff.
  9. Fourth tip for talking race and racism with kids: Show kids the ways in which they can help.
    1. Meaning, it’s OK to ask them to share their experiences without dismissal.
      1. That’s empowering to them.
      2. It encourages them not to ignore unjust or unfair situations.
      3. Which, let’s face it, we adults get kind of good at.
      4. Instead, let them tell their stories of injustice or unfairness and then ask a couple follow up questions…
        1. Like: “What could you say when that happens?”
        2. Or “Are there others you can tell about it?”
    2. With younger kids, a great way to show them how to help is to encourage them to look for things they have in common with other children–especially those who look different than them.
      1. The more similarities they see across our human panoply, the more comfortable they will be around each other.
      2. So look for the those points of commonality: Maybe you can point out “Look, Luis likes to play tag just as much as you do.”
    3. With older kids, it helps to encourage them to point out the differences they appreciate in others.
      1. There was a study done by researchers at Northwestern University that revealed when older children were encourage to look for and celebrate diversity, they were more able to detect racist behaviors than kids who had been taught the message of color-blindness.
      2. Again, that message of color-blindness is this supposed veneer where we pretend we see all people the same. 
        1. Like, we might not notice our buddy Malcolm is Black.
        2. The only way color-blindness could work is if Malcolm’s blackness had no effect on his life experience.
        3. Which is not a reality in today’s America.
        4. Being Black is part of who he is… and it’s OK to recognize that he is Black… and, as my college roommate did.. To celebrate that distinction.
      3. I think this celebration of diversity encourages another important lesson for our kids–and it’s a lesson that, honestly, a lot of adults need reminders of, too.
        1. The lesson is this: lifting others up does not diminish my own well-being. 
        2. I am not of lesser value because I want to say that Malcolm has value.
        3. This is the antithesis of the “All lives matter” saying.
          1. Yes, all lives matter.
          2. But right now, I don’t need an advocate before the eyes of society saying that my life matters.
            1. I don’t fear fear for my life when talking to police or driving out in the country.
          3. So we say “Black lives matter” as a way to advocate for those who do feel those pressures.
          4. Saying black lives matter does not lessen my value.
          5. It only adds my voice in uplifting others.
        4. You know, justice is not a competitive endeavor.
          1. There doesn’t have to be have’s and have-not’s 
          2. As a Christian, I believe in a vision for the world where all humanity is moved into a realm of the have’s–as it pertains to having dignity, respect, love from and towards one another, and the basic necessities of life that allowing human flourishing.
          3. And I think it’s possible for everyone to have that… without some people being denied respect and dignity so others can have it.
      4. I kind of tangent-ed there… I hope the lesson is clear: noting that there is something to uplift or celebrate in others does not diminish our own worth.
        1. In fact, I’ll suggest that being a person who is high on praise of others only makes one more valuable in the eyes of others.
        2. And that’s kind of a note to self, because I tend to run on the critical side, not the offering praise side.
  10. So you might want to start offering praise of points of diversity yourself, which is an example of our fifth tip for addressing racism with kids. 
    1. That tip is to be a role model for your children.
    2. It is up to us to model the behaviors we hope to see in our children.
    3. What step can you take today to help advance the cause?
      1. Want a suggested first step: Go back to tip one and have a conversation with your kids about racism–show them that it’s important enough to you that it warrants a special conversation.
      2. Another step helps teach our kids resiliency: and that is to work towards a resolution.
        1. Racism is a big mess. And therefore it’s tempting to just toss our hands in the air and say it’s too much to deal with.
        2. Instead of dismissing frustration, how can you constructively vent anger and frustration?
        3. What proactive steps can you take leading towards change?
        4. We need some more bridgebuilders, so what can you do to build a bridge of relationship and justice?
      3. I’m going to posit here that, in the eyes of our children, taking some action is better than waiting for the right action.
        1. It’s easy for a lot of us to sit on the sidelines–well, let me clarify–it’s easy for those of us who have the privilege to do so to sit on the sidelines and complain about the status of things without entering into it.
        2. We wait until the right opportunity presents itself to take action–meaning we wait until we are directly confronted with the problem, we wait for it to become an issue in our personal lives before entering the movement of change.
        3. You don’t need to wait–you don’t need to wait. You don’t need to wait for someone to invite you in to the pursuit of justice.
        4. You can talk to your kids today.
        5. You can use whatever platforms available to you to advocate for fairness and justice.
        6. You can try to be better, today.
  11. And maybe that’s a good parting idea for all of us.
    1. There are mistakes I’ve made in the past that I can’t really make up for–things I can no longer bring to just resolution.
    2. I have treated people poorly in the past.
    3. I can’t always make amends with those people.
    4. But what I can do is say “Today I’m trying to do better. I’ve learned since then, and I’m trying to do better.”
    5. Honestly, I can’t change how I treated my college roommate way back in the day.
      1. But today, I’ve learned.
      2. And I’m trying to do better.
      3. And, you know what, I hope you’ll join me in doing better, too.
  12. [MUSIC] So, let’s tie this episode up
    1. And let’s do that by noting a take away list of the 5 tips for addressing racism with kids:
      1. First, be ready to have the conversation.
      2. Two, let them share.
      3. Three, relate to their experience.
      4. Four, show them ways to help.
      5. Five, be a role model.
    2. That’s it. My name is Ryan Dunn this is the Bad-Ass Dad Pod.
    3. Find more episodes pertaining to parenting, fitness, finance and relationships at thebadpod.com.
    4. If this episode has been helpful for you, leave a review on your podcast platform of choice–like Apple Podcasts.
      1. It all helps spread the word.
    5. Music is by Eyoelin.
    6. Thanks for listening.
    7. OK Bye.

Published by RyanDunn

Ryan Dunn has a bunch of certificates on his desk. A few are awards for content production and marketing. Another marks his ordination as a minister. One says he’s earned a BA in English from the University of Iowa. The certificate next to that says he earned an MA in Christian Practice from Duke (with honors!). Ryan is most proud, though, of the things he’s created: The Compass Podcast, some deep content on RethinkChurch.org, a series of practical spiritual advice videos, a long-lasting marriage, and fantastic little boy. (He enjoyed A LOT of help on all of those projects, especially the last two.)

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