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  • Writer's pictureLynn VanderWielen, PhD, MPH

Talk to your Kids! Current Events and Racial Identity Formation

It is undeniable that the past few years have been heavy for us all. We need no reminder of the COVID pandemic and polarizing political leaders and events. Cases of police brutality never cease and we see only glimpses of accountability. But -

How are you talking about race, racism, and injustice with your kids? How are we all reflecting on our own racial identities and our role in the system?

The research article for today examined how emerging adults (ie. young adults) in a university setting talk about race and with whom. They used two categories for understanding conversations about race that can be helpful for parents like us who are creating safe and intentional spaces for conversations with our multiracial kids:

Critical Reflection - When individuals think about the impact of racism and white supremacy

Critical Action - Discussing specific individual and/or group actions to confront and dismantle racial inequity

These two categories can help us to frame age-appropriate conversations with our kids. How do they feel about current events? How does the topic impact them? How does the topic impact others? How is white supremacy at play? What are we doing to change the system? What can we do to help others change the system?

The ‘with who’ part of this research shares how important it is for young people to have a safe space for conversation, especially with others who are able to relate to their experiences. Young adults in the study most frequently discussed talking with friends and peers, though talking with parents about race and current events were the second biggest category. As our kids age, it will be important that they have a diverse group of friends which will give them a sense of belonging and connection, but will also not situate them as the teacher about race with White friends who may not ‘get it’.

As parents, we need to not only create space to listen and engage with our kids on topics surrounding race and racial justice, but we also need to initiate conversations and normalize active and intentional reflection and discussion as a family.

The research article highlights differences between how Students of Color and White students engage in these conversations. Notably, the authors share that many of the White students intentionally avoid conversations about race as it ‘makes them uncomfortable, and when they do have conversations about race and racial justice they often fail to critically reflect on how they are impacted or impact others. For those of us White parents with multiracial kids, we need to recognize that these conversations are essential for how our kids come to understand who they are and how the world perceives them. We need to do the work to move through the discomfort and not seek perfection in these conversations - we are going to make mistakes and not get it right the first time. But we need to revisit these conversations and do our best to understand our kids' experiences and perspectives - and most importantly, recognize and validate them as truth (ie. not be dismissive!).

The Samahra Community was created for all parents of multiracial kids and will help us all to learn how to talk with our kids to validate their experiences and support them as they come to understand who they are. You can find the app in the Apple Store and soon in the Google Play store!

Another great resource is the Do the Work! An Antiracist Activity Book by W. Kamau Bell and Kate Schatz, though this is not specifically designed for parents of multiracial kids (though it is a great compliment to the Samahra app!).

Should I trust this research?

This work learns from a diverse group of college students, and although our kids may not be young adults yet, they will be one day. We can learn from this research to better set the stage for supporting our kids as they grow. I trust the research methods for this work (data were collected through online surveys spaced a few months apart from the same study participants). Although the study participants did not all specifically identify as multiracial, it is helpful to learn how racial identity tends to show up as related to understanding and reflect on on race and racial justice.

Article Link

Citation - Moffitt, Ursula, et al. "Race Talk During the 2020 US Presidential Election: Emerging Adults’ Critical Consciousness and Racial Identity in Context." Journal of Adolescent Research (2022): 07435584221145009.

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

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