June 25, 2021

Talking With Kids About Race: How to Promote Courageous Conversations

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Cindy Lopez:
Welcome to Voices of Compassion, CHC’s podcast series providing courage, connection and compassion, highlighting topics that matter to our community, our parents, families, educators and other professionals. My name is Cindy Lopez, I’m so glad you’re listening in today. Today we’re talking about conversations with our kids about race.  We see images and hear conversations about racial and justice almost every day. As a parent, you might find it easier to be silent, but it’s important to view these as opportunities to talk with your kids about what they’re seeing and hearing. So how do you have those conversations with your kids? For each family, this conversation might look a bit different depending on your own heritage and your experience. So listen in today as we talk with Dr. Gloria Morrow, a nationally recognized clinical psychologist speaker and author about how to talk with your kids about race and racism.

So Dr. Gloria thanks so much for joining us today. You know, at CHC we talk a lot about differences as strengths not a deficit and that we believe different is good. So Dr. Gloria, can you talk a little bit about how our differences are also our strength as a way for us to kind of dive into this conversation about race and racism?

[00:01:26] Dr. Gloria Morrow:
Well first, thank you so much for having me as your guest today. I really have been looking forward to this. So let me just start by saying historically, we have been taught that immigrants and diverse people are welcome in the United States as long as they strive to join the infamous melting pot, which suggests that all the various groups should melt into one group, which is the dominant cultural group, but more recently we have learned to embrace the idea that different does not mean deficit. Therefore we are striving to become a part of what I call the salad bowl.  And you think about that salad bowl, everything in it is wonderful and different and awakes our taste buds in a different way. So we really enjoy a good salad for those who love salads. And you can have anything in their fruits, vegetables, you know, croutons, grains, you can have all kinds of stuff in your salad and all of those diverse pieces help us to enjoy the whole salad experience. If not to me the salad is pretty doggone boring, so I love to have everything in my salad. Well, similarly, we also think about the puzzle and how important it is to have those various pieces in the puzzle in order for it to be whole. So, as it relates to CHC and other organizations, we really should be embracing and celebrating our diversity because that is really where our strength is. You know, you cannot really find an organization that does not embrace diversity and have that wonderful opportunity to celebrate differences that is you know, really struggling because when you really celebrate that, then everyone feels included, everyone feels that they are important and we are now operating from a place of strength.

[00:03:37] Cindy Lopez:
Yeah, thank you. I really love those metaphors of the salad bowl and the puzzle. We all bring so many different perspectives and experiences to the table and at the end of the day, we can make something better, we can do something better and it makes such a difference. Dr. Gloria, we’d love to hear more about your story particularly as it relates to this topic of talking with kids about race. Would you share some of that story with us?

I would be happy to and in fact, my story is so good for this topic.  You see I grew up in the fifties, but more importantly in addition to what was going on in the world at the time I grew up in a Christian home and my parents chose to focus on the love of God versus race and racism. So I can say I was very naive when I would watch television and see the protest and the civil rights movement and all of those things I thought because I was in California, I thought that that was something happening somewhere else because my parents never talked about it with us. So we really saw it as something that was happening in another place.

[00:04:50] Dr. Gloria Morrow:
We were taught in our home that you know we were as good as anyone else. Could go anywhere we wanted to go and could be anybody we wanted to be. And so our parent’s strategy was to not focus on racism, but rather to focus on what you can be in your life and that you are just as good as anyone else. And my parent’s decision not to talk about race and racism was good in some ways. However, I remember sitting in an auditorium of my high school as an 11th grader, and I was taught a very important lesson about race at that time. You see, one of the speakers at my predominantly white high school informed those in attendance that his organization was going to help send the blacks back to Africa. Well at first I was excited because I’m thinking wow what a wonderful field trip I would love to go to Africa.  I was just excited because our parents had always told us about traveling and we had gone on vacations, you know, they were local or they were, you know, to another state, but we traveled. And so we were looking forward to this wonderful first international trip. I didn’t know where they were going to get the money from, but I said, okay, this sounds good. Well, it wasn’t until I started observing kids from all racial backgrounds throwing things at this guy and the police having to be called so that they can escort him from the auditorium that I realized I don’t think he’s really talking about a field trip. You see, I was sadly taught about racism that day because our speaker wasn’t talking about a field trip, actually, he was talking about sending blacks back to Africa permanently. And that was my first real encounter, but I will tell you that I would go on to experience many more throughout my years. And my parents still weren’t very good about talking about it.  In fact, it would really anger my father and it wasn’t until I was a full adult and he was in my home going through hospice that he actually told me stories,  and told me things that he had experienced and told me why we didn’t stop at a motel or hotel while we were traveling, while we slept in our car close to a lit freeway so that people could see us if anything happened or why we didn’t eat at a restaurant and how we took our food with us, and we would eat in the car. He only at that time told us it was because of racism and he was afraid he would have to defend his family. And then he told me that he also worked on the railroad and was actually working on a train that was taking Asians who were going to concentration camps and how sad and how horrible he felt about working on those trains during that time. And so I will tell you not knowing I get what they were trying to do, but I think we should have had some information because that would have helped us to know how to manage the things that were to come, because then when they did come and they start coming like a flood gate opening then I was really messed up because I had never experienced it, heard about it or anything. And when it started coming so rapidly, I didn’t have all the tools I needed to know how to handle it.

[00:08:43]Cindy Lopez:
That’s quite a story and so interesting. I mean, your dad had an amazing story that you didn’t really hear until late in his life and of course later in your life, So, I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about that. What is race and racism, how are they different?

Dr. Gloria Morrow: I’m gonna use the Anti-Defamation League’s way of looking at race and racism. Historically again, we have looked at race as something that refers to those categories where society places individuals on the basis of physical characteristics such as skin color, your hair type, your facial form and eye shape. And so we have believed erroneously that race is determined by biology, but now we have learned that there’s really no scientific evidence that race has anything to do with biology. Rather that whole idea has been created for social and political reasons. By the way, there’s a little book everybody should read if you want to understand more about race and it’s entitled, Even the Rat was White. Even the Rat was White. I believe it was written in 1976 and Robert Guthrie is the author and it really kind of sheds light on how race was used as a way of oppressing people of color and it really had nothing to do with the fact that they were a certain color, rather they wanted to prove that there were these biological differences in black people. So they were able then to use the next word, which is racism you know, and they were able to justify it because they say, well these people are just biologically inferior to white people. So we really can oppress them there’s a reason to do that because they’re, you know, they’re not the same. And so it was really important when you think about racism to know that it is the marginalization and or oppression of people of color based on a socially constructed racial hierarchy that privileges white people.

Cindy Lopez: Thank you for tuning in!  Just a note, before we continue on with today’s episode, we hope you’re following us on social media, so you don’t need to wait a whole week between episodes to get engaging, inspiring and educational content from CHC.  Our social handles are linked on our podcast webpage at  podcasts.chconline.org.

So Dr. Gloria, kind of shifting our focus a little bit. So as a parent, it is important to understand how your own biases might come across in ways you don’t realize. So it seems like some increased self-awareness with parents is important as they think about how to talk with their child about racism. Dr. Gloria, what do you think, do you agree with that, does that make sense?

Dr. Gloria Morrow:
Absolutely parents will never be able to discuss racism with their children or anyone else until they’re able to own their own biases and privilege, and then begin the ongoing process of self critique and self-awareness. And in our field, we call that cultural humility. You see, without cultural humility, it is very difficult for parents to have courageous conversations with their children about race and racism, because they do not have the necessary skills number one to do that, but also they don’t have the thought process and even the heart to do it until you really start walking in someone else’s shoes, you’re able to learn from various communities, and because of that learning and those experiences, you’re able to sit down and have these conversations with your children.

[00:12:54] Cindy Lopez:
So important to understand ourselves and what we are bringing to the conversation. So given all of that what’s your advice to parents about how to talk with their kids about race and racism? Do you have some strategies or talk tracks or anything like that you might share?

[00:13:14] Dr. Gloria Morrow:
Well, the first thing you have to do is prepare the environment. You know, if you don’t have the right environment these conversations will not end well. So you want to do what I call build the beloved community. And I didn’t coin this conversation, Dr. Martin Luther king Jr. helped to popularize this concept because he believed in order for justice to prevail, we must all work diligently with intentionality to build the beloved community where everyone can feel safe, everyone is included and is able to have their basic needs met. And so if homes are not prepared to be inclusive and to embrace diversity and to educate their children about different racial issues and educate them about various groups, it’s going to be very difficult for them to have that right environment to do that. So when parents work to build the beloved community in their home, they will help their children to become anti-racist. In homes where the beloved community has been built and maintained, when those societal issues around race and injustice emerge, parents will sit down with their children to discuss those issues, and they will seek to educate them about diverse cultures on a routine basis. And not only that, but to provide opportunities for them to get to know other children who are different from them. So you have to go beyond eating at a Mexican restaurant in order to teach your children about the Latinx community. There has to be an opportunity for engagement with those who are different so that children can develop a real appreciation for diversity, but before all that can happen the parents themselves must develop those relationships with people who are different and participate in activities to learn more about those who are ethnically and culturally different, because if you don’t do that, you will not be able to be a good role model for your children. So even as it relates to programming, you know what we’re going to watch, the movies we sit down and watch together, the documentaries, you know we got to point out those things that are glaring as it relates to injustice, you’re going to talk about those things. I remember as a kid watching cartoons and there were cartoons in my day that were as racist as race could be. And nobody knew it, we laughed at them, we watched them our parents didn’t know any different. We just sat there and enjoyed them, and now having studied and understood more, I’m able to look at some of those images and say that was just not appropriate. And so parents have that opportunity to help their children to learn how to become anti-racist and how to be inclusive of others.

[00:16:32] Cindy Lopez:
Hmm…  yeah thank you so much for sharing that, especially the idea of the beloved community and how you can build that in your own home So, this is an understatement, right, there is so much going on in our world today that our children see or hear through the media and I won’t go into all of the stories and all of what’s happening, but how should parents handle that with their kids?When their child sees something on TV, whether it’s protests or shootings, or you know, the things that are really hard to explain, how should parents handle that with their kids?

[00:17:12] Dr. Gloria Morrow:
Well, first of all parents should do as much as they can to shield their children from becoming overexposed to the media. I was on a news show recently, actually when they were having the court hearing for the officer who murdered George Floyd and you know, the issue of trauma came up, and I was asked this question, does it provide trauma for kids now when they’re watching the news and of course it does. It’s like, you know we’re inundated with traumatic events and they’re shown over and over and over and over again. And so that’s not the proper way to teach kids about racism. And so you’ve got to protect them from becoming overexposed. You see the information children receive should come primarily from home. So parents have a rich opportunity to teach their children how to become anti-racist and to be embracing of those who are different. And when there is an issue that comes up in the media, parents should respond right away by making it a teachable moment for their children and then sharing their position on the matter, and then asking their children to turn to something else okay, we’ve had our lesson, let’s move on to something else.

[00:18:36] Cindy Lopez:
I think our clinicians would also agree with you on that, that you know, protect or shield your child from too much exposure or overexposure to all of that. I’m wondering Dr. Gloria, you shared so much with us today, so many valuable thoughts and ideas. What do you want to make sure that parents really heard?

[00:18:56] Dr. Gloria Morrow:
Well thank you again for having me. It’s been my absolute honor to be with you. And if there’s one thing that I think would be good for parents to know, is that parents you are the greatest teachers your children will ever have. They will learn about race and racism by not only what you say and do, but by what you do not say and do, and it is all of our responsibilities to teach our children so that they will live in a better world than we have. So let’s leave them with a legacy of hope, love and justice.

[00:19:39] Cindy Lopez:
Thank you, Dr. Gloria. I love that, really appreciate you taking the time to have this conversation with us. And also to our listeners thank you so much for joining us. And we hope that you’ll join us again for more of our Voices of Compassion podcast series.

Find us online at  podcasts.chconline.org.Also, please follow us on our socials. Find us on Facebook at chc.paloalto and Twitter and Instagram at CHC_paloalto. You can also visit our YouTube channel at chconlinepaloalto. And we are on LinkedIn. Subscribe to Voices of Compassion on Apple podcasts, Spotify and other podcast apps, and sign up for a virtual village email list so you never miss an update or an episode. I always love to hear from you so send me an email or a voice memo at podcasts@chconline.org or leave us a rating and review. We look forward to you tuning in each week. After all we are in this together. See you next week.

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