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The Grand Adventure How do you talk to your grandchildren about racism?

February 15, 2019

As an American, I am having a difficult time seeing the turmoil in our country at this time because of racism. I grew up during the Jim Crow era when a poll tax was charged to keep minorities and the poor from voting. Waiting rooms at the railway station, all restrooms and schools were segregated, as were some restaurants and most hotels.

At our house, we were taught that we’re all human beings or, as the Bible said, we are all God’s children. My parents also taught us the Golden Rule — to treat other people like you would like other people to treat you. Period.

Actually, teaching inclusion (as opposed to racism) is pretty simple. You model this lack of discrimination for your grandchildren.

But if your grand darlings have somehow been corrupted with racist ideas, I want to pass along some good ways grandparents can get their grand darlings back on a good track.

These suggestions are not mine but those of Dr. Beverly Tatum, president of Spelman College, in a book she wrote called, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race.

Tatum said, “Don’t be afraid to bring it up.”

It’s sort of like the birds-and-the-bees talk. Timing is everything. Some parents think if they bring up race, their kids will notice differences more. Not true, but if you need help, ask your trusted librarian for a book that discusses race and then read and talk about it together, or use those wonderful “teachable moments” as they present themselves.

Think “age-appropriate” when you discuss race.

Once kids are old enough to understand fairness and/or are learning about slavery in school, talk about how slavery ended because a lot of people of all races worked to end slavery.

“I think it is important to emphasize no racial group is all bad nor is no one racial group is all victims,” said Tatum. “For example, in the U.S., white people were slave owners, but white people also worked to end slavery. African-Americans were enslaved, but many resisted being enslaved by running away and helping others escape. Offering examples of people working together is extremely important.”

Tatum also gives guidance on what we can do if our grandchild makes a questionable remark: “Don’t freak. Children often repeat what they hear others say, and it doesn’t necessarily mean the child believes it. Ask questions. ‘What made you say....?’ Gently disagree with the stereotype or prejudiced attitudes. ‘I’ve heard people say X about Y, but my experience with Y people is...’ and give an example to challenge the stereotype.”

Tatum also offers guidance about teaching grandchildren about not being prejudiced toward those who are different — whether they are of a different religion, skin color, age group or look different because of birth, injury or illness.

“Whether you live with your grandchildren, live across the city or across the world from them and only see them once a year, you can model inclusiveness by having friends of all backgrounds, treating everyone with the same patience, human caring and respect,” she said. “Avoid any of the common stereotypes or using any phrases, such as, “She throws like a girl” or, “Wouldn’t you know, I’d get behind some old coot who’s too old to drive.”

If we do our part as grandparents now, our grandchildren may be able to live in a better world.